Gasp, A Pirate!

The name Gasparilla comes from legendary pirate José Gaspar, “last of the Buccaneers,” who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th century. Since 1904, the city of Tampa  annually re-enacts the historic pirate invasion of the city.

I waiver on going to the event as the crowd estimates are 300-500,000 people. I’m just not convinced I want to dive into that mess. I awake early and the local TV stations have already started their event coverage with interviews and shots of the bay.  They mention that Gasparilla is the 3rd largest parade/event in the US. I have since been unable to find the source of that ranking, but it was enough for me to scramble to make the 1.5 hour drive to the party.

I arrive and feel a bit of discomfort being in a bright blue shirt amidst a see of black and red.  The revelers certainly take to the theme of the event dressing in all manner of pirate garb.

There are thousands of pirates. Tall and short; young and old.

Black, white, latino but the Asian pirates surprise thee if truth be told.

Pirates of all sizes abound but some should have left their bustiers and fishnet stockings in Davy Jones locker.

Thee in a Columbia quick dry shirt and cargo shorts, I’m the lanlubbing gawker.

The majority of pirates arrive on foot, some by boat or bike, but a few should have swilled their grog at home.

Most pirates are straight but then there were the rainbow buccaneers Karl and Jerome.

It was fun to see such a dynamic group of people just wanting to have a good time.

The Invasion

The world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla,  magically appears at the south end of Hillsborough Bay. A multitude of pleasure crafts, all intent on defending the city, boldly sail forth to meet the ship. But quickly seeing the error of their ways, they turn to join forces with the Captain and his Krewe’s flotilla. The colorful Gasparilla Flotilla makes its way across Hillsborough Bay, with guns and cannons blaring.

Gasparilla ShipThe report and puffs of smoke recreating cannon blasts, are exciting.  However, being nestled in a crowd surrounded by tall buildings my thought are of those gunned down recently in Las Vegas.  I get a real sense of how that chaos and confusion must have ensued.   I am thankful those tragic events didn’t stop the organizers from changing the format of this event. It’s unfortunate that a bit of my mind is consumed with my “what-if” contingency plan.

The Gasparilla Flotilla – led by the Jose Gasparilla teeming from bow to stern and capstan to crow’s nest with swashbuckling pirates – creates a spectacular sight as she heads up Seddon Channel towards downtown Tampa.  When the ship docks at the Tampa Convention Center the Mayor surrenders the Key to the City of Tampa into the hands of the Captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

After the Invasion the party continues on to Bay Shore Boulevard for the Parade of Pirates.

The Parade

It seems like forever between the invasion and parade. After waiting for over an hour, I am getting restless and cranky.  Finally, the sheriffs motorcycle patrol zig zags up the street and the energy of the crowd heightens.

After another long pause the Budweiser Clydesdales appear to a raucous ovation from the crowd who appear to be avid consumers of the brand.   After the Clydesdales, things go quiet again.  With no floats in sight for what seem an eternity. After about 1/2 hour,  the first float finally appears.

What is it about a string of cheap plastic beads that gets the fun started?  I had planted myself on the front roll of the viewing area strictly for photo purposes. But once that first string of beads hit the air, it is game on and perma-grin.

A bit irritated that the guys on the floats seem to always throw the beads to the girls and the kids, I finally hit my stride when the more season female bead flingers came by.

Beads not specifically tossed to a particular spectator are fair game.  My long reach allows me to garner my fair share, but something took over and I needed bigger and better beads. My apologies to the tween girl for the body check for the coveted extra large pink stand; I’m pretty sure those were intended for me anyway.

Most parade participants are pirate themed but the Second Time Arounders were a crowd favorite.  A large group of Silver Citizens reliving their marching  band, flag waving, baton twirling days was a treat.

Various politicians also participate in the parade and I expect cat calls and boos from those of the opposing party. But as long as the beads keep coming everyone is happy.

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Let the Good Times Roll

The parade rolls on for well over an hour. The beads that I covet,  now just fall to the ground unless they are thrown right at me.   Once my bead addiction is fed, I really appreciate the effort of the float builders and begin to focus more on the crowd.  I never see any sorts of conflict or strife. Everyone just seems to be enjoying a beautiful Florida day. As did thee!

Yo Ho Ho!!


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