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Young Republicans plan to ‘save Gasparilla’ with Tampa boat parade

Gasparilla was canceled, but an unofficial “Gasparilla” boat parade on Saturday aims to make it happen anyway.
The pirate ship Jose Gasparilla bears down on Tampa  for the annual Gasparilla pirate celebration on Jan. 25, 2020. The event was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla says the next one won't be held until January 2022.
The pirate ship Jose Gasparilla bears down on Tampa for the annual Gasparilla pirate celebration on Jan. 25, 2020. The event was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla says the next one won't be held until January 2022. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 14
Updated Apr. 15

There’s a map of the parade route, a newsletter announcement and a T-shirt for the so-called “Official 2021 Gasparilla Boat Parade (NOT CANCELLED!)” taking place Saturday on Hillsborough Bay.

And yet a main organizer of the boat parade said he wants it abundantly clear: the people who’ve run Tampa’s official Gasparilla Parade of Pirates for over a century have absolutely nothing to do with it.

“(Ye Mystic Krewe) asked us quite aggressively to not put on any events under the name ‘Gasparilla’,” said Jake Hoffman, owner of Tampa-based marketing agency Invasion Digital Media and president of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans, which is promoting Saturday’s event.

Hoffman said they’re not worried about legal threats from the Krewe, the elite Tampa social club that controls Gasparilla, because of its shaky hold on the “Gasparilla” trademark that Krewe lawyers have tried to pin down in recent years.

“Any use of the Gasparilla name in this manner is unauthorized and improper, and may be subject to legal action,” Ye Mystic Krewe said in an unsigned statement sent to the Times.

“I respect them,” Hoffman said, “but they should understand that this Tampa holiday, Gasparilla, is bigger than just that krewe.”

The Young Republicans are organizing their own Gasparilla because they believe the city and Krewe caved to political, party-line pressure when canceling the 2021 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates due to the pandemic.

Hoffman cited recent championship boat parades for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as proof that canceling Gasparilla, held most years since 1904, made no sense.

He also said his group considers masks “political theater,” and that with vaccines widely available, people should be able to decide for themselves on attending crowded events.

Ye Mystic Krewe announced the cancellation in February. Unlike the Lightning and Buccaneers boat parades, Gasparilla normally includes a large land parade where pirates toss beads to the crowd, in addition to a boat parade.

“We went through the iterations of what a parade would be like, working to be as COVID-safe as we could possibly be” before deciding to cancel, Ye Mystic Krewe captain Peter Lackman said in February. “Knowing how Gasparilla is, it’s hard to imagine social distancing going on as Gasparilla brings hundreds of thousands of people to Bayshore.”

Although he is president of the local Young Republicans, Hoffman, 30, said he wants his Gasparilla to be a non-political event for anyone wanting to dress like a pirate and enjoy the water.

He does however expect “overlap” with Trumparilla, a pirate and Donald Trump-themed boat parade, which will be happening at the same time on the same route on Saturday.

The “save Gasparilla” event T-shirts are being sold at cost, Hoffman said, so he expects no profit. If there is any, he’s considering donating it, possibly to Ye Mystic Krewe.

Boats will gather Saturday morning off the southern tip of Davis Islands before sailing up Seddon Channel at 11 a.m. The plan is stop at Tampa Convention Center then sail back into the bay toward Pine Key, also known as “Beer Can Island,” where there’s a party from noon to 6 p.m.

Details of the event are posted at facebook.com/events/429338798306515/. A number of other “Gasparilla” events on land are being promoted for Saturday in Tampa, including a “Barrr Invasion” pub crawl and “Gasparilla Brunch Party.”

There are several, annual events that use the Gasparilla name, including the Gasparilla Music Festival, Gasparilla International Film Festival and Gasparilla Distance Classic, but organizers of the famed pirate parade have in recent years tried to gain control of the federal trademark.

The Krewe first filed to register “Gasparilla” in 2016, but was denied because a Hernando County woman beat them to it. Federal records show that woman, who initially fought to keep her trademark, voluntarily surrendered it in June after reaching a settlement. A dispute between Ye Mystic Krewe and a car show, Gasparilla Concours d’Elegance, is still awaiting a ruling.

The Krewe filed three more times to register “Gasparilla” in the past four months, for various uses. If approved, it would be easier for Ye Mystic Krewe to decide who can use the Gasparilla name, and what they pay for it.