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Hockey, wedding and heavenly condemnation — this year's Gasparilla wasn't the usual

CHRIS URSO   |   Times The Jose Gasprilla, packed with members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla is towed up the Seddon Channel as hundreds of boast join the flotilla as part of the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 in Tampa.
CHRIS URSO | Times The Jose Gasprilla, packed with members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla is towed up the Seddon Channel as hundreds of boast join the flotilla as part of the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 in Tampa.
Published Jan. 27, 2018

TAMPA -- As Lord Stanley's Cup, surrounded by swashbucklers, barreled toward the shoreline on the deck of the Jose Gasparilla around noon Saturday, the singularity of Tampa's spirit was on full display:

Only here, in a city that canonized an apocryphal pirate and built an ice palace on the Suncoast, could such a merging of bucs and pucks come to pass.

Gasparilla, Tampa's 114-year-old bead-tossing, booze-induced brouhaha, came and went Saturday marked by its familiar sights and sounds — music punctuated by cannon blasts, costumes that tested the boundaries of appropriate attire and the occasional retching of marauders who followed Captain Morgan off the plank.

But this year's celebration had a frozen twist: It coincided with the National Hockey League's All-Star Weekend at the nearby Amalie Arena.

Not since Gasparilla aligned with Super Bowl weekend in 2001 has Tampa's biggest party shared the stage with another event. But the marriage seemed natural as hockey fans and pirate cosplayers bonded over a mutual affection for beards and gap-toothed smiles.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman donned colorful beads and a feathered tri-corner hat as he begged Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to give up the key to the city to invading pirates in exchange for the Stanley Cup. The trophy, awarded to the league's champion, first traveled with Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi before the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office airlifted it to Tampa.

"Mayor, I respectfully and strongly urge you to give it up," Bettman said. "We want the cup back."

Buckhorn relented.

"You want me to give it up? All right, to Ye Mystic Krewe and to our guests from the National Hockey League," Buckhorn said. "Tampa, let's have a parade."

• • •

The NHL embraced the pairing of its All-Star festivities with Tampa's Gasparilla celebration, featuring a pirate ship on everything from its T-shirts to pucks sold at its pregame fan festival.

And that doesn't include the macaw spotted at Saturday's media day at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay hotel.

As for the players themselves, they weren't sure what to make of the sight of thousands of people dressed as pirates.

"I thought they were just dressed up and trying to be like me," joked San Jose Sharks defense­man Brent Burns, known as much for his long beard as his booming slap shot. "It's something I would have liked to be a part of to see it a little bit."

Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who could pass for Johnny Depp's stunt double in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with his long, dark hair and goatee, was all in.

"I wished I was dressed as a pirate," Karlsson said. "I love pirates. Maybe I'll figure something out for tonight."

It wasn't just wishful thinking. Karlsson and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman headed to the NHL Skills Competition dressed in full pirate garb.

• • •

Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley, Gasparilla's first all-female krewe, marked its 25th anniversary in the parade Saturday at a time when the #metoo campaign has drawn huge attention to the problem of sexual harassment.

While pirate culture has a history of demeaning and sexualizing women, krewe head Kimberly Anderson said her group of more than 300 women has found power in their presence and charity work.

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"I would never do anything other than be with my krewe, with my ladies, on this day," she said, donning her customized red velvet Elizabethan garb. "To me, it's better than Christmas."

She also noted that unlike the all-male Ye Mystic Krewe, the O'Malley Krewe is based on a real historical figure.

"Grace O'Malley was an extremely brave woman," Anderson said. "Her father, a pirate, forbade her to go with him, but she cut her hair as a teen, dressed like a boy and stowed away as a pirate."

• • •

Paul Dalton threw a Gasparilla party at the Davis Islands Garden Club for nearly 300 of his closest friends.

It's a bring-your-own-everything party, with guests setting up picnic blankets and sitting on coolers as their kids climb trees and toss footballs.

"It's a safe place to enjoy Gasparilla," said Dalton, who owns an outdoor patio screen installation company. "And watch the invasion."

That desire for safety was born 16 years ago when the now-46-year-old took his kids to Bayshore Boulevard to watch the parade and spent the entirety of the festivity worrying for his kids as drunken revelers pushed their way to beads.

So the next year he began renting the Garden Club. It has grown every year.

Jessie Porter had a different plan to mark the day.

"This is the real parade, the stumble parade," laughed the 22-year-old as he and six friends made their way past the row of shops and restaurants on Davis Islands.

They were heading for the Gasparilla parade route. Destination: under the Davis Islands bridge.

"That's where the real partiers go," he said.

His day began hours earlier. He and his friends woke at 6 a.m. to drove from Land O'Lakes to a "kegs and eggs" party at Davis Islands.

Then they danced along Channel Drive before heading to the parade.

"No photos," he said, and then laughed, "well, maybe a mug shot later. Just kidding."

• • •

Meanwhile, overheard in the Tampa Yacht Club ladies' room:

"Did anybody leave a Bloody Mary in the stall? No? All right, it's mine now."

Woman A: "I'm worried I might be dressed too skimpy."

Woman B: "Oh, don't worry. I look much sluttier."

"You will not believe how rude my husband has been this morning. You know what he said to me? Right out loud, in front of everybody, he turns and goes, 'Are you afraid of heights? 'Cause your zipper is!'

"I'm worried we might run out of champagne on the boat. Should we swap out some of the water bottles?"

• • •

A pirate's life isn't for everyone. Members of the KJV Baptist Church in New Port Richey held signs and preached to revelers walking the parade route.

About a dozen members at three locations told people to repent or go to hell. Church members demonstrate at most events where there are large groups and have likely attended every Gasparilla, said Carlo Iaffaldano, 59, a church elder from Chicago. He said Gasparilla glorifies all the wrong things.

"The pirate is a scoundrel," Iaffaldano said. "This event glorifies pirates and death. This is in line with what the devil would want."

Others found the yearly event problematic for different reasons.

Aleniah Roacher, 20, emigrated from the U.S. Virgin Islands. As the boom of cannons and loudspeakers signaled the start of the 114th Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, Roacher stacked chairs at the Yacht Club under the watchful eyes of plastic pirates dripping in beads and black and white photos of the men who dreamed them up.

It's been hard to find work, Roacher said, so he jumped at the chance to prepare Gasparilla's exclusive Yacht Club for Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla — even though that meant reporting for duty about 5 a.m.

Roacher had never heard the legend of Jose Gaspar.

"I know it's just a party where you can be fun-loving and loud, but it seems kind of degrading to females and not really open to African-Americans like me and my friends," he said.

But could Gasparilla ever change?

"I think that's a hard question to answer," Roacher said. "But yeah, I think everybody would like to enjoy their time without being judged."

• • •

Gay Hartman's vision of a pirate wedding is not what you would expect from someone who lives the pirate lifestyle nearly year-round.

To the London transplant, a pirate's life is not only rough beards, eye patches and hooks — it's a lot of pink.

"I want it to look like a Pepto-Bismol bottle threw up on it," the bride-to-be said about the pirate ship float that would serve as her wedding venue Saturday during Tampa's pirate invasion.

"There have been Gasparilla weddings before, but there has never been a pink Gasparilla wedding," she said.

The wedding party arrived to the float-staging area before noon ready for Hartman to exchange vows with fellow pirate John Kelso. The couple met on an online dating site just over a year before.

The wench of honor and bride wenches clutched a Captain Morgan bouquet. Everyone was decked out in Hartman's signature color.

"Gay and John wanted their wedding to be shared with their krewe. You guys 'arrrgh' their family," the wedding officiator said to the krewe members standing below.

Immediately after exchanging "I dos" the pirates began their chant:

"Black pearl, black pearl, argh!"

Times staff writer Steve Contorno and correspondent Claudia Guerrero contributed to this report.