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OUT TO SEA, SMILING

With a festive sendoff, the Jose Gasparilla crew is gone until '09.

Two weeks ago, more than 500 cigar-smoking, beer-drinking pirates invaded the town, ripped the keys out of the mayor's hands and welcomed debauchery and lawlessness.

Rest easy, citizens of Tampa.

The city is finally swashbuckler-free.

In a revival of a tradition discontinued in 1964, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio on Saturday sent the rogues - better known as the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla - packing. Well, she really just shooed them away from Channelside until next year.

"We look forward to plundering and pillaging once again," said John Timmel, the sail master who commanded the Jose Gasparilla. "Though we're leaving, we shall return."

Krewe members have wanted to revive the Triumphant March and Outbound Voyage since 2004. Since the Sant'Yago Illuminated Knight Parade will take place Saturday - a week later than usual - this year seemed appropriate, said Jim Tarbet, executive officer of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

The result Saturday, however, was far from a gigantic sendoff of Gasparilla proportions. The resurrected event drew just a few thousand spectators, according to EventMakers, the company that puts on the Gasparilla parade and events.

Organizers said they weren't disappointed, that they in fact hadn't hyped the event on purpose.

"I had no expectation because this was the first year of doing it again," Tarbet said. "We wanted to see how this would be done this year."

Sharen Overstreet was one of the ones unaware of the day's event - and she ran in the Gasparilla Distance Classic earlier in the day. "If our friends hadn't told us, we wouldn't have known," she said.

Earlier in the day, it appeared more than just Overstreet were in the dark about the voyage. The only place that was crowded was Hooters.

But a few families came specifically for the afternoon festivities, including Lauren DeAngelis and her children, Christina, 9, and Robert, 8, who was pleased to get his face painted with a dolphin jumping in front of a setting sun.

Another roughly 20 children took advantage of free admission at the Florida Aquarium by showing up in pirate costumes.

Among the pirates were princesses Sophie Bogdan, 4, dressed as Disney princess Belle, and her cousin, Sydney Dupree, 3, as Cinderella. They came with Sophie's older brother, Dustin Bogdan, who drove down from Daytona for the Gasparilla event, said Wendi Jones, who joined them.

Terri Weston and Amy Holloway arrived at noon with their children. The Tampa natives, wanted prime seats for the culmination of the city's premier event.

"We know how Gasparilla is," said Weston, who lives in South Tampa. "It was a good reason for Tampa to party. We weren't sure how many were going to show up."

And eventually the adult pirates arrived, milling with spectators-to-be outside Stump's Supper Club and other restaurants drinking and talking.

Just after 6 p.m., the sky rained with beads as the pirates boarded the Jose Gasparilla, leaving for a private party at the Tampa Yacht Club.

They didn't leave without a fuss. They launched 500 rounds from the cannons, their last act of rebellion. After a brief fireworks show above the Channelside rooftop, the Jose Gasparilla sailed into the distance and the crowds dispersed.

At least two people were sad to see the ship and the pirates go.

Stump's general manager Mike Crave said he hopes the event becomes a Gasparilla mainstay. The sign above the restaurant's entrance read: Welcome all pirates, come get sum booze, return to the sea, we will be here in '09.

Weston, who brought her children at noon, plans to return next year.

"If New Orleans can Mardi Gras for a month straight," Weston said, "why can't we have Gasparilla?"

There's always this coming Saturday. The night parade hits Ybor City at 6:30 p.m.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5303. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

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