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Arrrgh! Pirate Invasion in Tampa

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The world’s only fullyrigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla II
The world’s only fullyrigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla II - Image Courtesy of Tony Miro


A century-old tradition draws thousands to the city’s waterfront

On Saturday, January 28, over 300,000 people gathered at Bayshore Boulevard in downtown Tampa to witness a Pirate invasion.

The world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla II, magically appeared at the south end of Hillsborough Bay. Hundreds of pleasure craft, intending to defend the city, boldly sailed forth to stop the pirate’s ship, but changed their minds and joined forces with Captain Jose Gaspar and his Krewe’s flotilla.

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The colorful Gasparilla Flotilla made its way north across Hillsborough Bay and into Seddon Channel. Shouts from the legendary pirate Jose Gaspar and his band of marauding buccaneers rang out across the waters of Hillsborough Bay as they returned to invade the City of Tampa.

The 2012 Gasparilla Invasion had begun!

The annual re-enactment of Tampa’s historic pirate invasion, the Gasparilla Flotilla – led by the Jose Gasparilla II, teeming from bow to stern and capstan to crow’s nest with swashbuckling ‘Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla’ pirates – created a spectacular sight as she headed up the bay towards downtown Tampa. When she docked at the Tampa Convention Center, the Mayor surrendered the Key to the City of Tampa into the hands of the Captain of ‘Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla’.

With the Key to the City in their hands, the jolly Krewe launched their victory celebration with the Parade of the Pirates down Bayshore Boulevard sharing their wealth of beads, doubloons and other treasures.

Since 1904, pirates with ‘Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla’ (YMKG) have invaded Tampa Bay, looking for a rollicking good time. Tampa already had an annual May Day celebration during the turn of the last century, but a group of about 50 people decided they wanted to liven things up. So, they sent a few letters to the local newspaper warning that the pirates were about to invade.

In Tampa, the legend of the aristocrat-turned-pirate Jose Gaspar is well known. The legend goes that he plundered 36 ships along Florida’s West Coast during the end of the 18th century and the early 19th century. Because of YMKG, Jose Gaspar went from a legendary pirate to a deep-rooted tradition in Tampa Bay.

The very first invasion wasn’t the invasion we know today, but rather an invasion of 50 ‘pirates’ – on horseback! The people of Tampa loved it and the tradition continued. The pirates made their first invasion by borrowed boat in 1911. There were some years when YMKG didn’t know if they’d have a borrowed boat until the night before the parade, so as you’d imagine, the men would have to move fast to decorate it.

It wasn’t until 1937, when the YMKG bought its first pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla I which they used until 1954 when they purchased the ship we see today, the Jose Gasparilla II. The Gasparilla II is an engineless flat bottom boat, so it has to be towed. The early years of the Gasparilla parade went through downtown Tampa, ending at the South Florida Fairgrounds.

Up until 1966, Ye Mystic Krewe was the only ‘krewe’ in the parade. The Krewe of Venus, the Knight’s of Saint Yago and the Rough Riders soon followed. In the 1990’s, Gasparilla added dozens of more krewes that represent a variety of charitable causes and organizations.

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla has also grown over the years, from about 50 members in 1904 to about 800 members today.

And what’s a parade without beads? The tossing of beads started in 1985. Before then, parade goers went after the coins and shell casings from the pirates’ guns and cannons, which were firing blanks, of course. The Bead Barn in Tampa claims to have sold more than 40 million strands of beads so far this year.

So, when you step out in your best pirate gear, remember how the Pirate Fest got its start – more than 100 years ago, on horse back by a group of 50 Tampa residents.

Capt. Tony Miró and his family joined the flotilla aboard their friend Capt. Eddy Jimenez’s Sea Ray 45 Seven C’s, and had a blast! So, mark your calendars and join them next year for this awesome Tampa tradition and become a pirate for day…Ahoy, Matey!

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