The Gasparilla Pirate Festival held on the last Saturday of January is a local tradition too large for us to miss. We headed to Tampa after a tennis match to discover that the roads to the marina where we were to meet friends to view the boat parade were closed. Parking was easy to find but finding the marina was another story. People dressed as pirates flooded the streets with their ales in hand. Steve and I using our handy cell phones to find the marina and walked the two miles to meet friends. By the time we arrived, the boat parade had passed. But the Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates on land had just begun about the time we had decided we better get started on our walk back to the truck.
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival is a tribute to the legendary pirate Jose Gaspar who liked to call himself Gasparilla. Gaspar is known as the "last of the Buccaneers" during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Legend has it that he served in the Royal Spanish Navy until 1783 when he sized a sloop of war and headed for Florida to begin a life as an outlaw. In 1821 Gaspar had accumulated much wealth and decided to give up his life as a pirate, split his fortunes with his crew and retire. However, one last merchant sailing ship seemed like the perfect victim for a last thrilling raid. A little too late, they discovered that their intended victim was a United States Navy warship in disguise. Legend has it that as the commander of the USS Enterprise was boarding the defeated pirate ship, Gaspar wrapped himself in a chain and leaped into the water, to his final resting ground at the bottom of the sea.
In 1904 Tampa's civic leaders adopted the pirate Gaspar as the patron rogue of their city wide celebration. Forty Tampa citizens formed "Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla" and planned to surprise the locals with a mock pirate attack on Tampa. They captured the city during the Festival Parade which to this day involves two parades--one for children, one for adults, a boat parade, the pyrotechnics show Piratetechnic and much more. 700 of the most prominent citizens of Tampa are now members of Ye Mystic Krewe.
In 1954 the Krewe commissioned the building of the world's only fully rigged pirate ship to be built in modern times and named her the Jose Gasparilla, . She is constructed of steel at 165' long by 35' across the beam, with 3 steel masts standing 100' tall.
Steve took these pictures that show just how many people attend this event in Tampa
It appears that no expenses were spared in the preparation of the floats. It would be my suggestion to purchase tickets to sit in the stands which are in a fenced area to get the best view of the parade.