Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

The Seven-Headed Dragon is a blast for pirates

TAMPA

Each year, the pirates who fire the 22 cannons aboard the Jose Gasparilla try to make the invasion a little noisier. • They compete in an informal challenge to see who can fire the most shots during the voyage from Ballast Point to the invasion site at the Tampa Convention Center. • J. Scott Taylor, the original cannon master of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, claims the record: 700 black powder blasts from his small-but-mighty signal cannon during the 90-minute voyage that starts the Gasparilla Pirate Fest. • "It's a righteous count,'' he insists with a sly grin.

Taylor, 65, doesn't waste time using a lanyard to trigger the cannon. He uses his hand, and he has scars caused by little blowbacks from the breech.

"I spend most of the springtime with my pocketknife, picking out unburned powder from the web of my hand," he said.

A Tampa lawyer in his other life, Taylor founded the Gunners' Guild in 1988 and served for 12 years as cannon master. Krewemate Bill Curtis held the job for the next dozen years. Now, the duty has passed on to C. Vance Smith, a third-generation cannoneer.

Smith said he's flattered to be asked to fill the position, but noted that he would be learning his duties on the job.

"It's very informal,'' said Taylor. "His hardest duty is to assign floats — who gets to shoot on what float during the parade.''

Smith, whose real-life duty is director of Florida operations for the New York Yankees, said he doesn't keep score during the voyage from Ballast Point.

"I know better than to compete with gunner Taylor,'' he said.

The holder of the winning "righteous count'' is recognized with the Israel Hands Award, named for the gunner who was shot in the knee by the pirate Blackbeard as a demonstration to keep the crew in line. (He's also a fictional character in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.) The winning pirate gets a plaque and a red scarf to wear around his right knee.

The Seven-headed Dragon isn't part of the competition. It's a seven-barrel cannon that was built in the factory of Mack Trucks Inc., hence its golden Mack bulldog emblem. Swen Hansen, the former CEO of Mack, had it built, Taylor said. Hansen was a good friend of the late D.R. Hall, the Tampa Mack truck dealer. The two liked to fire signal cannons on the Fourth of July and other occasions and felt they needed something that could speed up the 21-gun salutes.

The city's ersatz pirates have been firing cannons for most of the festival's 109-year history. But the cannoneers were never very organized, Taylor said, so the Gunners' Guild was formed. Each member buys his own cannon, which sell for about $700 each, and 10-gauge blank shotgun shells for $1 each.

As part of its duties, the guild makes sure that each new Krewe member who fires blanks from his revolver during the parade takes a gun safety awareness course. And the only pistols allowed are five- or six-shot, .38 Specials.

The biggest blaster of all, of course, is the Dragon. When all seven barrels fire at once, the table supporting the cannon jumps in the air from the recoil, Taylor said.

For the consummate cannoneer, that's what it's all about.

"Smoke and noise and concussion — it's not for everybody, but for those of us that like it, it's exciting,'' Taylor said. "And more smoke, more noise, more rounds is better.''

Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.

   
Comments
Rays DFA Rob Refsnyder to make room for Kevin Kiermaier

Rays DFA Rob Refsnyder to make room for Kevin Kiermaier

The Rays made official after Monday's game that CF Kevin Kiermaier would be activated on Tuesday.And to make room on the 40- and 25 man rosters, they designated for assignment OF Rob Refsnyder.Acquired from the Indians for cash considerations just be...
Updated: 4 hours ago
St. Petersburg residents will see higher water, sanitation bills

St. Petersburg residents will see higher water, sanitation bills

ST. PETERSBURG — Residents can expect their water and sanitation bills to increase between $7 and $11 starting in October.That represents an average of a 7-percent increase. Customers who use an average of 4,000 gallons a month, including reclaimed w...
Updated: 7 hours ago
The Daystarter: South Florida rapper gunned down; murals adorn reclaimed water tanks; the album we’ve all been waiting for

The Daystarter: South Florida rapper gunned down; murals adorn reclaimed water tanks; the album we’ve all been waiting for

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• It’s here: summer. Highs this week will all be in the 90s, with feels-like temperatures near 100 degrees, according to 10Weather WTSP.• As you head out for your morning commute, check...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Romano: A Tampa Bay

Romano: A Tampa Bay "superstar’’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Review: On ‘Everything Is Love,’ Beyonce and Jay-Z emerge from chaos defiant, triumphant

Review: On ‘Everything Is Love,’ Beyonce and Jay-Z emerge from chaos defiant, triumphant

In 2016 Beyoncé dropped Lemonade, a culture-quaking song cycle about her troubled marriage to Jay-Z, and more broadly about the black female experience in America. It was her best and most meaningful work, and it was nominated for Album of the Year a...
Published: 06/19/18
Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

HOUSTON — The Rays brought up several of their top prospects so they can get as much experience as possible.And Monday that included seeing how the relentless defending champion Astros worked their way back from an early four-run deficit to sco...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella pondered upside-down pitching in 2005

Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella pondered upside-down pitching in 2005

HOUSTON — Well before the idea of using a reliever to open games, as the Rays did against the Astros Monday for the 12th time, and then bringing in a starter was even a gleam in the eyes of the current Rays staff, former manager Lou Piniella wa...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Nazi or not? Tattoo sparks Twitter storm over wounded New Port Richey veteran

Nazi or not? Tattoo sparks Twitter storm over wounded New Port Richey veteran

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is pushing back against a social media post implying that a combat-wounded New Port Richey veteran has a Nazi symbol tattooed on his arm.In a tweet Monday afternoon, ICE officials denied the vete...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Pinellas protesters: Stop separating families at the border

Pinellas protesters: Stop separating families at the border

Protests were held on both ends of Pinellas County on Monday in opposition to the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents as they seek asylum at the U.S. border."Children are not pawns," "No kids in cages" and "I would...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation ...
Updated: 8 hours ago