A sharp-eyed reader of the Tampa Bay Times noticed something peculiar in a recent picture of the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship, which will lead Saturday’s “invasion” flotilla into Tampa before the big parade.
The name “Jose Gasparilla” is spelled with a flourish on the stern of the ship, but if you look closely, the second A in Gasparilla looks different from the first. It looks upside-down and backward.
Larry Binder of Apollo Beach, who is also part of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 75, spotted the odd letter in a recent story about the harbor pilot who captains the pirate ship on parade day.
“Someone needs to tell the crew of the vessel that the second ‘a’ in Gasparilla on the stern of the vessel is upside down. Maybe they’ll give you a ride on board during the boat parade,” Binder wrote.
Peter Lackman, the current captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, didn’t notice it either. The krewe is the prominent group that founded the event in 1904 to promote Tampa, and it remains the parade’s lead organizer.
His late father, George Lackman, helped build the ship in 1954 and served as its first sail master. It is modeled after a fully rigged pirate ship and gets decked out in colorful lights and flags, with cannons blasting. Its appearance in the harbor midday, with more than 1,000 private boats following, creates an armada-like scene to get the party started.
Hundreds of krewe members, dressed in elaborate pirate gear, will be hanging from every fixture. They will be swilling Milk Punch, a strong brandy drink (sometimes also spiked with vodka, rum and bourbon) which has been likened to the mint julep during the Kentucky Derby as a signature Gasparilla drink.
Susan Carter, curator at the Henry B. Plant Museum, which has a current exhibition on Gasparilla’s history and traditions, said her staff checked all its resources and have not discovered anything about the tipsy A as seen on the ship now. She suggested checking with the krewe’s historians.
Krewe historians uncovered an image of the pirate ship taken in 1975 that shows a different name stamp on its stern. Each letter on that stern is in its proper place. The current stern nameplate, installed around 2000, a krewe spokeswoman said, has what appears to be the tipsy A. It seems no one has noticed for more than two decades.
Peter Lackman said it was a puzzle, but it’s on brand for Gasparilla.
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“Our historians did some digging, and at the end of the day, we can’t quite nail down why the A appears backward or when it was added that way,” Lackman said. “Whether it was a couple of scalawags having some fun or a sailor who had one too many glasses of Milk Punch, we may never know.”