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After Gasparilla pirates invade with cannons blazing, parade begins

TAMPA — Starting with a tribute to two slain St. Petersburg police officers, the annual Gasparilla Parade of Pirates set off down Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday afternoon.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m., a police escort in honor of Officers Thomas Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz, who were killed Monday in the line of duty, led off the parade.

The tribute was meant to inspire a moment of silence before the festivities.

The throngs of revelers, though, barely quieted down.

Gasparilla continued its boisterous tradition.

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With its cannons blazing, and make-believe pirates waving from every crow's nest, the Jose Gasparilla invaded the city Saturday afternoon.

The pirates, many with cigars in their mouths and beers in their hands, fired rounds of fake — but nonetheless loud -- pistol fire as the ship came in beside the Tampa Convention Center.

Many of the pirates wore headphones to muffle the bangs. The crowd was not so fortunate.

Still, people surrounded the pirates as they disembarked, some even crawling on their knees to get beads the pirates threw and strung around necks.

Bedecked with beads, Nancy Kasacca from Naples shared her secret for getting so many: "eye contact."

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After the parade ended Saturday evening, police Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said 273 arrests had been made.

The weather was good, the crowds were larger than at last year's soggy parade, and for the second year police maintained a zero-tolerance police on underage drinking and drunken behavior.

"For the amount of interaction, everything went relatively well," Hamlin said. "We have the same posture as we did last year. ... We hope our campaign worked."

He said one officer was assaulted at the intersection of Tampa and Whiting streets, but did not know the seriousness of the incident.

There likely would be more arrests as Gasparilla activities continue into the evening. Last year, there were 420 arrests made at Gasparilla.

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Despite a light breeze, sunshine caused many revelers to shed layers.

"It's hot," said Lindsey Gelcich, 25, of Tampa. "I wish did not have black on."

Brett Coover and Mark-Anthony Phillips took a breather from break dancing to sit in the shade on Bayshore.

The guys said their tip for staying cool is to "drink a lot of cold beer."

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With the parade about to start, a group of girls near Bayshore Boulevard and Howard Avenue had some PG-rated tips for getting beads.

"Girls should have big smiles and flirt," said Sam Major, 21, who came from Orlando. "For guys, good height."

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The parade took its time getting to Greta Brooks, 42, and her sons, Spencer and Garrett. The young boys stretched out in the grass, hot and tired after leaving their safety zone at Brooks' father's Bayshore condo to get beads.

When they floats arrived, the boys readied themselves to collect loot. But even as they stood on a cooler and stretched their arms above their feathered hats, the long arms in front of them snagged every colorful strand.

Garrett pouted. Spencer frowned. And Greta rubbed their backs.

Then, as the end of the parade passed them, the tall long-armed strangers in front of them loaded their necks with beads.

And the kids grinned.

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Corporate interests, with a front-row view of the parade with their VIP tents, showed appreciation to guests — and sought to impress.

Tech Data, the Clearwater technology company, honored 150 of its top salespeople. Caption Morgan, the rum company, entertained 320 bar and restaurant owners. Hard Rock Casino hosted 300 of its biggest players.

And the city's visitors' bureau, Tampa Bay & Co., teamed up with the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. to host five national site consultants who are scoping out locations for businesses to locate.

"They already know Tampa for its business advantages. This gives them another view of the character of the city," said Keith Norden, president and CEO of the development agency.

He said the visit included a stop at the University of Tampa, where the original Gasparilla was held in 1904.

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Sounds of blow horns mixed in with the music along the parade route. Vendors said the horns are selling more this year than ever before.

Nate Box, 28, of St. Louis said he bought one because it reminds him of sports. J.D. Bonham, 30, of Nebraska, had a different thought.

"Jersey Shore," he shouted, referencing the use of the horns on the popular MTV reality series.

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Boats laden with thousands of beads, and lined up so close together in the bay they resembled lily pads, greeted the Jose Gasparilla.

With MC Hammer's Can't Touch This blasting, a sleek yellow boat called Group Therapy pushed off.

Two women on board were making 280 water balloons. Twelves cases of beads awaited.

What were they doing with all that?

"Invading," said the boat's owner, Kenny Marshall, 45, of Bradenton.

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At Magnolia Street between DeLeon and Horatio streets, a competition developed between parking lots — each advertising spots for $20 a block and a half away from Bayshore Boulevard.

"Parking's been slow today," said Linda Brown at the Hyde Park United Methodist Church lot. By 1 p.m., only 13 out of 63 spots were filled.

"I don't think price is the deterrent," Brown said. "There's a much bigger police presence this year and I suspect that might be keeping partygoers away."

Brown started giving away beads to compete with a lot across the street.

Tom Archer started passing beads out in the morning, bringing traffic to the Edgewater office complex lot.

"It doesn't feel like much of a competition," he said. "It's all gravy."

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As people lined up along the bay to watch the invasion, a 5-foot-2 Roxanne Rignola, 24, stood a few people back from the rail. She tried standing on her tiptoes but still couldn't see past the crowd.

Luckily, 6-foot-tall boyfriend Kenny Smith let her hop up on his shoulders.

What does he get in return? "A stressful back," Smith said

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Cheri Stroup, 40, of Wesley Chapel shares a tip: "Bring your own toilet paper."

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Hours before the parade, people walked up and down Bayshore Boulevard, drinking and looking for a spot to claim.

Kyle Sipola, 26, showed off her homemade Gasparilla garb, a black T-shirt with gold-painted pirate stencils.

"It's classy but spirited," she said.

Pam Pritchards, 59, got to Bayshore at about 8 a.m. with her daughter and daughter's husband, who made her a bandana with coins sewn along the edge.

She said getting to the parade early is a family tradition.

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By 12:30 p.m., the line waiting for port-a-potties outside the convention center: 57 people.

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Beatriz Weiss won two VIP passes to the parade at the Hard Rock Casino, the festival's title sponsor. She and her friend Cammi Pellerin were drinking from a pirate's jug marked with an X, with a big cork in it.

But the pirate theme seemed to stop there. Pellerin was dressed half as a pirate, half as a vampire.

She said she was representing her people.

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Michael Catapano, 42, of Ybor City, got up at 5:30 a.m. to start dressing up. And you could see why.

His costume included an axe in the head, with blood. An eyeball hung from its socket. His head was shaved, saved for three bright yellow strips in the back. Of course, he was wearing full pirate regalia.

His girlfriend, Vicki Renois, 44, said he's usually a laid-back guy. But he cuts loose for Gasparilla.

"I accept him," she said.

•••

Cheryl Donnes, 33, headed toward Bayshore Boulevard carrying a large inflatable dolphin. Her plastic sidekick, nicknamed Jose Gaspar, wore an eye patch and pirate hat.

"Everybody loves him," said Donnes, a St. Petersburg marine biologist.

Donnes said she uses Jose Gaspar to teach people on the parade route about dolphins. She lets people party with Jose and take photos.

Then, she reminds the partying pirates not to feed or ride wild dolphins.

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Along Ashley Drive, vendors were firing up grills and putting beers on ice as paradegoers trickled in to claim spots.

At 10 a.m., Joel Wainwright, 45, of Land O'Lakes, arrived with family and friends to spread out a blanket for a group including seven kids ages 3 to 15.

For now, the kids are keeping themselves entertained by throwing beads back and forth across the street.

Wainwright said there's no immediate plan in place for if the kids get bored. But he isn't too worried.

"We'll improvise if things get worse," he said. "That's what parents do."

•••

A couple from Toronto came down to St. Petersburg to escape the cold and found out Friday that this is Gasparilla weekend.

So they pitched beach chairs at a prime viewing spot of the bay outside the Tampa Convention Center.

"I've never seen so many pirate hats before in my life," said Dave Thomas, 65, originally from England. "I'm sure I saw Capt. Jack Sparrow or at least three guys that look like him."

•••

At a vendor stand on Ashley Drive, Tara Wilkinson of Universe Novelty in Riverview said she started selling pirate merchandise at 7 a.m. Businessmen grabbed up beads to take back to the office. Doctors and nurses from Tampa General Hospital bought hats and costumes for a work party. Even a surgeon bought a scrub cap with skulls on it to wear while he was working.

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Pirate garb makes for brisk business today.

In just over an hour outside the Tampa Convention Center, Butch Stevens sold more than $50 worth of pirate hats, T-shirts and beads Saturday morning.

The vendor comes down from Ohio every year just for the Gasparilla Pirate Fest. He says he will make more than $1,000 selling his gear today.

•••

With fishing line and miniature alcohol bottles like they serve on jetliners, Carrie and Angelo Setta made their own pirate beads.

The couple from Trinity were outside the convention center with their daughter, Gaby, 5.

They've turned down offers of $20 in past Gasparillas buy the homemade strands.

"You know they're special when the pirates want them," said Angelo, 41.

•••

Ryan Aldrich says he's a pro at this pirate thing.

The Daytona Beach man, who left there with a friend at 4 a.m., is just a spectator at Gasparilla.

But he's also a professional pirate re-enactor, with a doctorate, whose business card says: "Ruthless Ryan."

And his garb was well above that of the weekend pirates: a miniature sword through an earlobe, a real sword on the hip, and a frilly shirt.

He's been coming to Gasparilla for seven years. This celebration, of course, is not the most authentic. For that, he says one in Key West is the most professional.

"They're so serious they'll throw you out of there if your clothes are machine-sewn," he said.

As for Gasparilla: "We refer to the goers of the Tampa Bay festival as polyester pirates."

•••

This is the first year at Gasparilla for Don Nakelski, 63, who moved to St. Petersburg last year. His wife was taking pictures of seemingly everything with an iPhone.

"We're trying it. We're beginners," he said, wearing an amateur pirate costume.

•••

As 80 tables and covered trays of steaming food awaited a Gasparilla brunch inside the convention center, boats ringed it outside.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of strands of beads hung from a collection of boats.

"Krewe of the Drunken Bearded Clan," a sign said.

And the events hadn't even started yet.

•••

Pirates, or at least people pretending to be, invade the city today.

Hundreds of thousands of people will stream into downtown and South Tampa starting this morning, driving around to find a place to park, trying to stay a step ahead of street closings, but probably getting caught in traffic anyway.

Gasparilla Pirate Fest, the city's biggest annual celebration, is here.

And it's expected to be a spectacular day for a parade.

"It looks nice," said Juli Marquez, Bay News 9 meteorologist.

Before the invasion of the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship and flotilla of private boats sets off at 11 a.m., temperatures will still be in the upper 50s.

But by the time beads start flying and the pirate parade gets going at 2 p.m., it'll warm up to the upper 60s.

If you spend the day on a boat, expect winds at 5 to 10 knots.

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, from 2 p.m. to about 5 p.m., begins on a somber note.

A motorcade will lead the parade in honor of two St. Petersburg police officers killed in the line of duty Monday.

St. Petersburg police will lead the parade with the patrol cars of the fallen officers, Thomas Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz.

Between the parade, a street festival, the pirate ship invasion and a George Strait concert tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum, revelers trying to get around will need patience.

The city began closing South Tampa streets near the parade route Friday, and will tow vehicles today from streets that are marked for no parking.

Tickets cost about $30, but could be more for cars in handicapped spots or for those with outstanding parking citations, said Andrea Davis, a Tampa police spokeswoman.

"If you're in doubt, I wouldn't park there because it'll be an expensive day," Davis said.

Instead, parking garages are available throughout downtown Tampa at different prices, including some at $4 or $10.

Parking is also available in Ybor City for $4. Streetcars from Ybor will run from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. to downtown Tampa and the Channel District.

An unlimited day pass for the service from Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, or HART, is $5. Buses will also be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This is the second year in a row that police have declared a zero-tolerance policy on underage drinking and drunken behavior.

"We want everyone to leave with a neck full of beads, not in handcuffs," Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said earlier this week.

The entire police force will be working, with hundreds of officers staged along the 4-mile parade route.

Adults can drink alcohol from beer vendors or their own supplies in a wet zone alongside the route and in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. (Text the word "pirate" to 333222 with a smart phone and a map of the legal drinking zone will appear.)

Drink anywhere else except there or private property and adults will be handed citations on the spot.

Underage drinkers will be held at a holding facility until their parents or guardians show up.

Times staff writer Sarah Whitman contributed to this report.

SCHEDULE

Gasparilla Invasion

Time: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Location: The Jose Gasparilla sails at the south end of Hillsborough Bay, north to Seddon Channel, then docks at the Tampa Convention Center.

Admission: Free.

Parade of Pirates

Time: 2 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Location: Begins at Bay to Bay and Bayshore boulevards. Continues on Bayshore to Brorein Street, turns east on Brorein, then north on Ashley Drive. Ends at Cass Street.

Admission: Free and reserved seating.

Pirate Street Fest

Time: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

Location: Ashley from Kennedy Boulevard to Cass.

Admission: Free to street fest and park concerts.

Curtis Hixon Park

5-6 p.m. Daniel B. Marshall.

6:15- 8:15 p.m. Skycoasters.

8:30-10 p.m. Kings County.

After Gasparilla pirates invade with cannons blazing, parade begins 01/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 9:38pm]

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