On a recent fishing trip to Fort Walton Beach Florida, Tastesliketravel.com ran headlong into a 59 year tradition that is the Billy Bowlegs Festival. This annual tradition has a reputation for being both family oriented and and an excuse for a weekend of debauchery. Occurring on the first weekend of June (Actually Thursday through Monday) this event commemorates the dastardly deeds of William Augustus Bowles, a pirate who plagued the area way back when. The official website gives the following as a history of the event:
It started out as a water skiing festival in 1953, and has turned into one of the nation’s longest-running and most popular pirate festivals. Sponsored by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce and its annual sponsors, the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival always takes place on the first full weekend in June. People come by land, sea, and air to join in this family-friendly event. The Billy Bowlegs Festival was the brainchild of some enterprising young businessmen, the JAYCEES, eager to latch onto a project that would warrant their time and efforts, be fun, and bring more tourists into the area. The idea of a Gasparilla-type observance centered on a “pirate” theme, and they unanimously chose as their patron pirate the notorious and legendary William Augustus Bowles, a pirate of controversial authenticity whose alleged dastardly deeds were widespread throughout the area. Nathan Fleet, a downtown Fort Walton Beach retail merchant at that time, was chosen as the first Captain Billy Bowlegs to reign over the Festival and lead the pirate “raids.” (In later years, his son, Judge Erwin Fleet, reigned as Cap’n Billy XIV.)
Now for the Good and Bad. If you want to go somewhere and part with the younger crowd, drink, Watch scantily clad women, and eat until you pop, this is the festival for you. If you are going to Fort Walton Beach to fish or catch some rays, pick another weekend. The hotels are all full and somewhat overprices. The traffic is horrendous starting with the Parade Thursday night and not ceasing until very early Tuesday Morning. Crab Island is over run with boats, some of which are driven by inexperienced and inebriated captains. There were well over 300 boats parked there each day making it quite difficult to navigate to the fishing grounds. There are police and Coast Guard everywhere, usually chasing some boat or car that is trying to evade capture. It is a frigging madhouse.
Tasteliketravel.com recommends staying clear if you are over 32. If you are younger than that…..Argggghhhhhhh Matey have a good time but budget in some bail money just in case!!