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Tampa’s Pirate Water Taxi expanding its fleet, stops and routes

The service, owned by the operator of Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises, is investing $1.6 million in three new vessels and adding a long-desired stop near the Florida Aquarium.

TAMPA — Four years after it launched, the Pirate Water Taxi is adding vessels and expanding its routes both ahead of the Super Bowl as well as to support long-term growth.

As part of the expansion, the taxi will double the number of boats it runs from three to six, with the goal of adding a seventh vessel toward the end of the year. Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises, the water taxis’ parent company, does not disclose how many passengers the taxis carry beyond saying the service has sold 2,218 annual passes, which cost $89.95 each.

Yacht StarShip owner Troy Manthey projects the expansion will result in a 25 percent increase in passenger counts.

“This has been a great business,” said Manthey, who moved Yacht StarShip from Biloxi, Miss., to Tampa in 2001 to ferry passengers for Super Bowl XXXV. “It is economic development in its purest form. We bring customers at every (venue) we touch. They have to park. They have to dine. They have to visit somewhere. ... They come down for the sole purpose of riding on the water taxi, spending the day, hopping on and hopping off all day.”

Related: "We always knew Tampa would support something like this as the waterfront evolved"

The largest of the new taxis will be the Captain Jack II, a $1.4 million vessel built for 100 passengers. It will include a bar, air-conditioning, heat, open-air seating and a bathroom large enough to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The service has acquired two more water taxis at a cost of $100,000 each to carry passengers to its newest stop, a dock near the Florida Aquarium and American Victory Ship and Museum. New taxis were needed because the bridge connecting the S Meridian Avenue in the Channel District to Beneficial Boulevard on Harbour Island is only eight feet above the water at high tide. By comparison, Tampa’s other down bridges are 12 feet or more above the water at high tide.

As a result, the two new vessels have a profile a little under 8 feet, allowing them to clear the bridge.

The water taxi also plans to split its routes, with one covering the waterfront between the aquarium and the Tampa Convention Center, plus Davis Islands. The second will cruise from the convention center, which will be a transfer hub, north to Rick’s on the River. The additional boats and routes will allow the water taxi to increase its frequency, Manthey said.

Last week, the company also debuted the Lost Pearl, a bright red pirate ship that will offer cruises and charters from a dock at the Tampa Convention Center.

Related: Debuting this Gasparilla: Lost Pearl, Tampa’s newest pirate ship

On Tuesday, the board of Port Tampa Bay approved the aquarium water taxi stop, which has been years in development. Combined with the city’s Riverwalk, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said, the water taxi has “brought the river alive.”

“It’s really opened up an area of our city that has been ignored for so long,” she said.