Yo-ho-ho season starts Friday with a new event on Tampa's mothership — the SS American Victory.
Battle Fest promises plenty of beads, beer and ballyhooing, fueling the local belief that there are never too many ways to celebrate Gasparilla.
Officials at the American Victory Mariners Memorial and Museum Ship put together Battle Fest as a preview for next weekend's annual pirate invasion and a fundraiser for the restored 1940s military cargo vessel.
Ship leaders are in the process of raising $250,000 for a required maintenance check. The World War II ship does one or two public voyages a year but has had to suspend them pending certification by the Coast Guard. The ship is permanently docked behind the Florida Aquarium in the Channel District.
Battle Fest is one of several events the ship has planned this year to raise money and awareness of the maritime treasure. Other events include a M*A*S*H party, a crawfish boil and a Halloween ghost tour.
"We can't live on museum admissions alone,'' said Cindy Bosselmann, the ship's marketing coordinator. "We started doing fundraising events last fall, and they are really going well. How many other World War II ships can you go on?''
Battle Fest will take over the ship's decks with live music, bars, food stations, pool tables and a cigar lounge showing Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Members from various Gasparilla krewes will roam the decks in their full pirate regalia yelling "Blimey!'' and "Shiver me timbers!" and whatever else pirates say. Everyone will get beads.
Then at noon Sunday, the ship will host the Ybor Naval Invasion, an annual water fight and Cuban bread toss between Tampa, Ybor City and naval forces that clears the way for next weekend's pirate invasion.
The American Victory is open Tuesdays through Sundays for self-guided tours and docent-led group tours, which should be reserved in advance. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 4 to 12. Visitors get a bottom to top look of the ship, from the cargo holds to the radio room, hospital, galley, wheelhouse, crew cabins, captain's quarters, crew mess and lifeboats.
The 455-foot-long ship launched in 1945 and served during World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars, carrying supplies and troops around the world. Saved from the scrap yard in 1985, it's the only restored Victory class merchant cargo vessel on the East Coast that's open to the public.
After $3.5 million in donations and years of repair and restoration — done mostly by 150 volunteers — the ship set sail on a passenger cruise in Tampa in 2003. Ship officials tried to get it named Florida's official flagship but were turned down. Executive director Bill Kuzmick says a new effort is under way.
Museum tours offer a look at the working and living conditions of the Merchant Marines and Naval Armed Guard who once served on the ship. Above are some objects and points of interest, as explained by Michael Scharneck, a three-year docent who worked on submarines.