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Pirates of Gasparilla descend on Tampa


Eye patches and swashbucklers were in rowdy evidence, and so, too, the roar of faux cannons. Euphoric pirates toted euphoric beverages. Police kept an eye out for mayhem. And mayhem — well, it kept an eye out for the police.

And then those flying plastic beads, treasured beyond most measures of reason.

Yup, it must be Gasparilla.

Perfect weather greeted boisterous crowds Saturday for the Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest parade that wound from Bayshore Boulevard to downtown Tampa in a loud, lively and mostly well-behaved procession of pirate-inspired merriment.

In a departure from previous years, Tampa police issued citations for anyone caught with an open container of alcohol rather than make arrests, while maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking.

Arrests were down substantially from previous years. Tampa police said they made about 52 arrests, compared with more than 340 last year. Most arrests were misdemeanors. Police issued 302 citations — similar to traffic tickets — for carrying an open container of alcohol. In addition, eight people were arrested for boating under the influence.

Tampa police said they arrested only two juveniles for underage drinking this year, compared with the average of 80 to 90 in previous years, perhaps because of an alcohol education campaign for Tampa students.

Otherwise no major incidents spoiled the festivities, police said.

• • •

Sasha Ozgood, 33, comes to Gasparilla from Arizona every year. He has been doing it for at least five years.

But for six months before every visit, he starts letting his beard grow out. The beard was the natural part of the full pirate garb he sported.

"This is the premier event of the year," he said. "It's bigger than Mardi Gras."

Tampa people are just friendlier, he said. "God loves Tampa because God loves Gasparilla," he declared.

• • •

Two weeks ago, Jon Almodovar tore his Achilles tendon playing soccer. It looked like he was going to have to miss his first Gasparilla in years. His friends weren't going to let that happen.

A group of them built Almodovar, 29, the ultimate Gasparilla ride: a plush green recliner, resting atop a rolling rig.

Together, they rolled him down Howard Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard and back again — his leg in a brace on his throne. By 4 p.m., his neck was bulging with beads.

• • •

She has been going to Gasparilla for a half-dozen years, but this is the first time Tampa resident Jen Arnao brought the kids. They missed the Gasparilla Children's Parade last week, so the children — ages 7, 8 and 9 — were in tow Saturday. "I think it's okay as long as we keep them close," Arnao said. "There's a lot of drunk idiots here."

• • •

Geoffrey Zakarian, who won last season's Iron Chef competition on the Food Network, has visited Tampa several times to see his in-laws, who live here. But this was his first Gasparilla. And he said he loved it.

Zakarian, who was attending a private party at his sister-in-law's Bayshore Boulevard home, served up two cocktails — a Mad Man cosmopolitan that includes rum and mandarin juice and a Gold Rush with honey and bourbon — and confirmed some news.

Already the chef-partner at the Lambs Club and the National Bar and Dining Rooms in New York and the Tudor House in Miami Beach, Zakarian said he likes Tampa so much that he's scouting locations for a restaurant here, too.

• • •

Then there was Pineapple Man, otherwise named Chris Hall. "It builds character," Hall said when asked why he carried the fruit. "But really, it's an ice-breaker with women." Hall, 26, and his friends have been coming to Gasparilla from New York for five years. At the end of the day, if the pineapple he carried survived, Hall planned to eat it.

• • •

It is the accessory du jour for the well-prepared pirate: the CamelBak.

Josh McAndersen, 23, of Orlando filled his bottle with Captain Morgan. Ron Shaw, 25, of Columbia, S.C., had Captain Morgan and Mountain Dew. Cody Khork, 21, a student at Florida Southern in Lakeland, had a batch of "Venom": green Hawaiian Punch, green Monster energy drink, a Limeade vodka, Everclear and grapefruit soda.

For some people, a CamelBak wasn't enough.

Angela Rossiter and her friends brought a virtual bar, spread out across four backpacks: Pinnacle Whipped Cream Vodka, cans of Gubna IPA, several types of rum and red Solo cups, plus mixers including fruity protein drinks.

Said Rossiter, 25, of Tampa: "I spent enough years drinking warm rum out of a CamelBak."

• • •

Well before the pirate ship Jose Gasparilla could be spotted from the Tampa Convention Center, its cannons could be heard booming. From her perch near the Platt Street Bridge, 5-year-old Hanna Varga, wearing purple beads, vowed to fight them off. But as the ship got closer and the booms got louder, she screamed.

"She was really brave before, but I think now that they are almost here she changed her mind," said her mom, Sarah Varga from Clearwater.

• • •

Politicking along the parade was discouraged by organizers, but with the Florida Republican presidential preference primary coming up on Tuesday, supporters for at least one candidate could not resist: A yellow plane towing a banner — "Vote Ron Paul" — flew overhead.

Gov. Rick Scott made the rounds at the Tampa Yacht & Country Club early in the day without the requisite pirate attire or beads. He wore a buttoned-down shirt and khakis. Members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, their families and friends and members of the yacht club gathered to eat, drink and put on makeup before setting off on the pirate invasion.

What did the estimated 1,700 people expect for breakfast on Gasparilla? So many scrambled eggs that chefs use shovels to cook them. Sausages. And yes, fried chicken.

The most popular cocktail to get the day started, said yacht club general manger Scott Fairbairn, is the club's signature milk punch. They go through about 60 gallons of that.

And another 50 gallons of Bloody Marys.

Times staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report.

Pirates of Gasparilla descend on Tampa 01/26/12 [Last modified: Sunday, January 29, 2012 12:07am]
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