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Gasparilla invasion imminent by land and by sea

Crowds will fill Tampa today for the annual celebration, which includes the impressive invading flotilla.

Before the pirates invade and parade down Bayshore Boulevard, there is the other part of Gasparilla that begins offshore: the Water Parade.

Hundreds of private boats _ speedboats, sailboats, yachts _ fill Hillsborough Bay. The leader, a replica of an 18th-century West Indian sailing vessel, Jose Gasparilla.

"Not only is it beautiful to see all the boats in the water," said Peggie Sherry, who will be on the 65-foot Lady Cortez with the Krewe of Agustina de Aragon, a women's krewe. "It's also stunning to see all the people lined up at the Tampa Convention Center waiting for you to come in. Their faces are in awe as much as ours."

The flotilla starts filling the waterway near the Tampa Convention Center about noon. Pirates invade at 1:15 p.m. today and parade along Bayshore beginning at 1:45 p.m. The parade route begins at Howard Avenue and Bayshore.

It might be wise to bring a sweater. Although the forecast is for mostly sunny skies, the high in the afternoon will be near 60 degrees, said Tom Dougherty, of the National Weather Service. For boaters who are up early, temperatures are expected in the low 50s.

Gasparilla goes on until late into the night. The Pirate Fest starts in downtown Tampa, along Ashley Street, at 10 a.m., ending at 10 p.m. with a fireworks show at Curtis Hixon Park.

Activities for children include midway rides, food and live entertainment. The Pirate's Chest Arts and Crafts Show runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, in front of the Tampa Museum of Art, 600 N Ashley Drive.

The Pirate Fest and Pirate's Chest Arts and Crafts show continue Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free, but ride tickets are extra. On Sunday, people can ride all day for $10.

Entertainment highlights include Amber, who takes the 93.3 FLZ stage in Curtis Hixon Park at 5:30 p.m. today. Her dance-pop single Sexual (the Li Da Di song) is currently on the charts.

Also tonight, Rare Earth, Iron Butterfly, Sugarloaf All Stars band plays on the Thunder 103.5 stage at Ashley and Madison Street. The four members of this group include Jerry Corbetta, former lead singer of Sugarloaf (Green-Eyed Lady); and Mike Pinera, guitarist from Iron Butterfly.

Other downtown venues also get into the Gasparilla spirit and host their own events in conjunction with the main activities.

The Indigo Girls play Cold Storage Cafe, 102 S Tampa St., today. Opening acts Safka and Dreamtime start at 4 p.m. The Indigo Girls go on after 8 p.m. The cost is $5 and some tickets will be available when doors open at 2 p.m.

Also, behind the Florida Aquarium on Channelside Drive will be docked the guided missile destroyer USS Ramage. Free guided tours are available today from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Parking is available in parking garages throughout downtown, but it is expected to fill up fast. Much of Hyde Park will be a no-parking zone. Three streets west of Rome Avenue near Bayshore Boulevard will be restricted to one-way traffic.

A shuttle service runs today from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. The pickup point is at the Florida State Fairgrounds and the drop-off point is at Kennedy Boulevard and Marion Street in downtown Tampa. Parking at the fairgrounds is free; use the U.S. 301 entrance. Round trip on the shuttle is $5.

Handicapped parking is available on the lower level of Ice Palace garage, the Channelside Drive entrance.

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