After a year off in 2021 due to the pandemic, Gasparilla, Tampa’s signature pirate celebration was back.
The Jose Gasparilla pirate ship set sail at noon and docked at Tampa Convention Center, where Mayor Jane Castor “surrendered” the key to the city and kicked off the Parade of Pirates, which marched north on Bayshore Boulevard into downtown on a cold, windy day in Tampa.
5:35 p.m., More scenes from the parade
5:01 p.m., The parade has arrived in downtown
4:20 p.m., Some faces in the crowd
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3:45 p.m., Showing off the Brady beads
With reports that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady may be planning to retire from football (or maybe not?) surfacing during the Gasparilla parade, these beads caught by Kareenah Abdullah, 7 and her little sister Kamara, 3, may take on a special meaning.
3:30 p.m., Leading the parade? Gaspar’s ‘tomb’
There’s something new at the head of the Gasparilla parade this year. Two black horses are pulling a cart carrying the “tomb” of dreaded (and mythical) pirate Jose Gaspar, the parade and pirate festival’s namesake. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla is marking the 200-year anniversary of Gaspar’s “death” in 1821 (by leaping into the sea during a battle with the American Navy) during this year’s festivities.
Not far behind were the Clydesdales.
2:49 p.m., Tom Brady retiring: ‘It feels like a funeral’s taken place’
“I’m shocked,” said Caven Kern, 25, a lifelong Buccaneers fan celebrating Gasparilla in downtown Tampa. Reports had just surfaced that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady intends to retire from football. The Buccaneers organization said it’s still waiting to hear Brady’s plans from Brady.
“I thought he’d come back another year,” Kern said of the quarterback who led the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory in 2021. “Because no one’s ever played at 45, and I thought he’d want to be the first guy to do it. This is probably the saddest day not for the Bucs, but for the NFL. Cause he’s the greatest of all time. It feels like a funeral’s taken place.
“I wonder if it was his plan to announce it on a pirate day like this.”
Along Bayshore Boulevard, Jeffrey Feliciano was wearing a Brady jersey waiting for his first Gasparilla parade to start when he heard the news.
“I’m not feeling good, man, but Brady deserves it. He proved himself in the Super Bowl and even in the playoffs. He proved himself taking us back from so far behind.”
“I’m from Boston, so I’m a Brady fan before I’m a Bucs fan,” said Andrew Allekien, 18, a local college student.— Hannah Critchfield (@HannaCritch) January 29, 2022
“You can’t hate him — he’s still the man. The Bucs won’t be as good, but we still support him.” pic.twitter.com/i2PjgqABQx
University of Tampa student Andrew Allekien, 18, said, “I’m from Boston, so I’m a Brady fan before I’m a Bucs fan. You can’t hate him — he’s still the man. The Bucs won’t be as good but we still support him.”
Others showed off the Brady-themed beads they caught from the Buccaneers parade float.
— Hannah Critchfield and Sharon Kennedy Wynne
2:30 p.m., Waiting for the parade to start, in the cold
The sun is shining, but it’s a cold day for Gasparilla. Although the thermometer says it’s about 50 degrees along Bayshore Boulevard, the wind blowing off the bay is making it feel significantly colder.
2:07 p.m., Making the best of it
“I had foot surgery two weeks ago, and I figured if I was gonna come out on this thing I might as well make it fun,” said Matt Jerome, 43, as he rolled away from the Tampa Convention Center after the invasion. ”People are signing it in all different languages — in Portuguese, Spanish, English,” said his partner Susie Albrecht. ”
Permission to board?” a man asked as he passed. Then a group gathered around Jerome’s boat for a photo. The couple hadn’t been to Gasparilla in years, but after the pause last year, they decided it was time to have some fun with friends, regardless of injuries.
— Hannah Critchfield
1:30 p.m., Mayor Castor surrenders the city
Cannons and cap guns firing, the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship docked at Tampa Convention center and a large contingent of Ye Mystic Krewe pirates disembarked, coozied beers and cocktails in hand, as a large crowd awaiting them cheered.
“Gasparilla is back,” Mayor Jane Castor said from a lectern after pirates hung beads around her neck. “Now just because I’m a nice mayor, I’m going to let these gnarly pirates have a word ... .”
“Well here we are everybody,” growled Ye Mystic Krewe captain Peter Lackman. “Is Tampa ready to party? Has it been two years? Tampa let’s party!”
Castor then handed over a box containing the key to the city, officially kicking off an afternoon of more celebrations.
12:35 p.m., Covid shots?
With today marking the first Gasparilla to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic (the event was canceled in 2020) some revelers seemed to be finding dark humor in the situation.
One pontoon boat sailing near the mouth of the Hillsborough River was decorated with signs reading “covid shots.” A group of passengers wore nurse costumes and held up oversize plastic syringes holding, presumably, alcoholic gelatin shots. Another passenger appeared to be dressed up as a virus cell.
New COVID-19 infections in Hillsborough County are still average more than 13,000 a day this week.
Outside the Tampa Convention Center where a crowd had gathered, the only mask visible in the immediate vicinity was in the image of 1980s sitcom alien, Alf.
“I’m a space pirate,” said Justin Oppenheimer. It’s his eighth #Gasparilla. “I think it’s all about respect at this point,” said Oppenheimer, standing with friends on a dance floor. “If people want to wear a mask, respect that. If people don’t, respect that too.”
12:02 p.m., The crowd swells at Tampa Convention Center
Crowds gathered along the Riverwalk behind the Tampa Convention Center waiting for a view of the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship.
“Give me a reason to dress up and I’m all for it,” said Enola Memminger, 47, a Wesley Chapel resident. She crafted her pirate outfit with the help of an old Nicki Minaj Halloween costume. This is her and her 43-year-old partner Tareek Jones’s first Gasparilla.
It’s Beck Springstead’s second, and she’s thrilled to be back. ”I’m a pirate by nature,” said the 36-year-old. A few years ago, the Pennsylvania native sold all her possessions to live on a boat and sail the coasts of Florida. Now a Lutz “landlubber,” she’s happy to be back in good company. ”I’m a real pirate, see,” she said, lifting up her trousers to reveal a prosthetic leg. “I love everything to do with water, the ocean, pirates. Whether they’re elite or the peasants, they’re fun — and I like rum.”
11:52 a.m., Fewer boats, perhaps, but some brave the water
With Gasparilla organizers and city officials suggesting that smaller vessels stay off the water today due to windy weather, there appeared to be fewer boats out on Hillsborough Bay than a typical Gasparilla morning. The weather did not scare off everyone, though. Before the Gasparilla Invasion set sail, boaters had anchored and tied together near the sea wall along the downtown Tampa waterfront, waiting for a view of the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship sailing to Tampa Convention Center.
Here’s a look from photographer Luis Santana:
11:28 a.m., Kid entrepreneurs capitalize in south Tampa
For those who live near the Bayshore Boulevard parade route in Tampa’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Gasparilla can present an opportunity.
Liam Mosby, 10, is on his third year profiting off pirates. As Liam filled an inflatable pool with Gatorade, Mosby explained the lesson he learned after getting $50 for filling a guy’s cup with ice: “There’s a lot of drunk people, that are stupid.”
Other young entrepreneurs, Miles Mobley, 13, Alex Neske, 14, and Nelson Maddux were setting up a stand on the sidewalk selling hot cocoa. Others brought out extension cords to sell a precious commodity: phone charging time.
Some parents see it as a good way to teach their kids that drunk in public is a bad look. Diane Siler, who lives in Hyde Park a block away from the parade route, said her girls Cassie, 14, and Lilly, 12, once got $20 for a brownie from a drunk guy dressed as a pirate headed to the parade. “I’m never going to drink,” her daughter told her.
Others who live along the route help out in other ways. Tish Thornberry, 79, has for the past 10 years opened her Hyde Park home to law enforcement officers working the parade as the “Gasparilla Security Staff Welcome House,” allowing them to use the restroom and grab a snack. Thornberry said having them around also “cuts down on the nonsense.”
Thornberry also puts out a table of free water and snacks along the sidewalk, accepting donations to the Humane Society. “I just want them to hydrate,” she said.
— Sharon Kennedy Wynne
11:14 a.m., Trading a pirate ship voyage for a bus ride
Normally, members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla would board the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship at Tampa Yacht Club and sail north from Ballast Point, across Hillsborough Bay, and into downtown Tampa for the Gasparilla Invasion. This year, due to high winds on the water, they traveled by a safer vessel — 16 charter buses.
The buses are carrying the krewe to Port of Tampa Bay (with a police escort), where they’ll board the pirate ship for an abbreviated sea invasion, sailing around Harbor Island and docking at the Tampa Convention Center to confront Mayor Jane Castor and demand the key to the city.
10:43 a.m., Rough Riders ready to sail
Cigar smoke wafted through the damp cold air aboard the Rough Riders boat, docked at Tampa Convention Center. The boat, belonging to Gasparilla’s second-oldest krewe, traditionally sails directly behind the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship. A.J. Matthews, 61 and a 20-year member, was aboard with about 100 other Rough Riders members, thinking about how the windy weather and rough seas were affecting things.
“Normally we have about 3, 400 boats out there,” he said. “Today that number is going to dwindle to about 150.” The conversation was punctuated with joyous screams from other krewe members.
He was happy Gasparilla was back after taking a year off due to the pandemic. “We’re happiest for the residents,” Matthews said “Because Gasparilla’s great for the economy of Tampa. We’re glad it’s back.”
— Hannah Critchfield
Photos: Line up to get your scars
At the Tampa Yacht Club this morning, members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla were lining up to get scars and other makeup applied, registering for the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and picking up the strands of beads they’d later toss to the crowd.
10:03 a.m., Starting early in downtown
“I think they’re drinking heavier this year, which is awesome,” said Summer Cox, 25, a bartender on the Krewe of Sant’ Yago ship, which was docked at the Tampa Convention Center. Krewe members were aboard, having some cocktails and preparing to set sail for the Gasparilla Invasion.
”After the invasion,” said her colleague Courtney Proctor, 26, “We’ll get our own drinks. It’s great to be back.”
“I think this year is very special because for the last two years we haven’t had one,” said Joseph Procopio, 45, a knight and 12-year member of the Krewe of Sant’ Yago, a predominantly Latin krewe. “It’s the best time to be in Tampa.”
Nearby, along the Tampa Riverwalk, bartenders at the Tampa Bay Cocktail Co. stand were pouring shots, even though it was only 10 a.m. They plan to go through at least a case of each liquor they sell today: gin, tequila, vodka, rum (of course) and whisky.
“We’re going to stay busy as the only legal liquor stand,” said Yamid Quiroz, 45.
— Hannah Critchfield and Josh Fiallo
09:20 a.m., Taking the trolley, with pirates
“Please drink responsibly,” a HART public transportation employee said as a crowds boarded the first trolley leaving Ybor City for downtown today. “And have a shot for me.”
Earlier in the morning, a rooster crowed on the street near three other HART workers.
“You don’t need to wake me up,” said José Márquez, a 50-year-old HART employee, with a laugh.”We’re already up,” said his coworker Chandra Span, 48. “We took the morning shift — better to be cold than to be there for the crazy later.”
It might not matter, though.” Our friend, he’s working down in Channelside,” Span said. “He said the pirates are already walking around, drinking. At 7:30 in the morning.”
— Hannah Critchfield
9 a.m.: Weather forces flotilla change
Rough seas have driven the Gasparilla pirates to change their Invasion voyage today and discourage small boats from trailing along behind them. Instead of sailing south to north from the vicinity of Ballast Point into Hillsborough Bay, its traditional path, the flagship Jose Gasparilla will set off at noon from Port Tampa Bay. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla said it strongly discourages “small vessels from participating in this year’s flotilla and recommend guests enjoy the invasion and parade from land.” More info here.
— Dennis Joyce
Who’s driving the pirate ship today?
The “Jose Gasparilla” pirate ship is an emblem for the parade and the Tampa Bay area, but it’s a tricky job steering it, and actually requires three tugboats to pull it.
Since 1995, licensed harbor pilot John Timmel, 65, has taken the helm for the tricky job of steering a top-heavy ship through Hillsborough Bay while hundreds of private boats join in the Gasparilla flotilla “invasion.”
“It’s the funnest thing I do all year, but it’s the least sensible thing I do professionally because there’s only like 1,400 boats out there that want to bump into you,” Timmel said. Read more about how Timmel navigates the crowded waters here.
— Sharon Kennedy Wynne
Where’d you get that outfit?
Tucked on a quiet street, the plain building at 4006 W Cayuga St. is easy to miss — until you spot the pirate flag waving near the entrance of the parking lot.
Inside, Pirate Fashions is anything but subtle. A swashbuckling crew saunters around in character, stuffed into corsets and long coats, greeting visitors with a friendly, “Ahoy!” There are racks of flowing shirts, breeches and sweeping skirts made with 25 yards of fabric. An entire section is devoted to hats, pins, feathers and ribbons. Then there’s the “armory,” stocked with weapons.
Thousands of shoppers turn to this specialty store ahead of Tampa’s annual pirate parade. Go here for a look inside.
— Gabrielle Calise