Fore Street is mostly tawdry now, charity shops and tourist tat, but on a fine spring morning the water in the harbour stills gleams blue and the coloured cubist cottages climb the hills above it. The trawlers - it is still a proper working port - have moved around the corner, but the inner harbour still bobs with small craft and boys cast optimistic fishing lines from the quay.
But this Bank Holiday was a wet one. Crowds of cheerful but bedraggled pirates huddled in knots out of the rain. Who knew there were so many? Dreadlocks and parrots and more heaving bosoms than you could shake a cutlass at. Apparently its a Thing. Re-enactment has moved on, and (maybe thanks to Johnny Depp) this is how some people now like to inhabit the past. For of course, it's piracy of the yo-ho-ho sort: no starving Somalis with Kalashnikovs or ruthless Indonesians with inflatables. It's a chance to make an exhibition of yourself - and your imagination too. For far from being naff and plastic, immense care is taken in recreating in poetical detail the clothing and weaponry of a vague period around the turn of the Seventeenth century. Some of the recreators take it more seriously, others strike a more anachronistic pose, producing an effect like steam-punk two hundred years before its time.. But they are all having great fun.
I was there as part of the Old Gaffers Shanty Crew. Shanties too are having a moment, which all began with Port Isaac's Fisherman's Friends. We sung two sets, under cover on the quay, and then retired to a pub packed with faux ne'er-do-wells whom we soon got singing in the best possible way - with a pint in hand. No-one cares that there is little history of true shanty singing before the start of the Nineteenth century: they just want some raunch and a good chorus. That's fun too.
Folk-singing and re-enactment meet in a Venn diagram sector where history and community and entertainment overlap. They share an important spirit, the desire to experience the past that we half-know forms a deep hidden stratum in our consciousness. But Piracy? I suppose Piracy is not so far from the world of the Sealed Knot and the Civil War Society. It's the same romantic re-creation of death and plunder but without the discipline of drill and manoevres. We know in our hearts that piracy was a frightful thing in a frightful age. The true civil war has been re-enacted for us, in Bosnia and Ukraine. Our re-enactors may simply be exorcising demons that we hope have fled.