Beware, landlubbers – pirates are afoot in Tampa! On Saturday, January 29, at 11:30 a.m., the Jose Gasparilla Pirate Ship will hit the fair city. Starting at Hillsborough Bay, a reenactment of Tampa’s historic pirate invasion will take place.
This event was inspired by legendary pirate Jose Gaspar, who called himself “Gasparilla.” He wrought havoc to the waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th century. Gaspar was a lieutenant in the Royal Spanish Navy until 1783 when he took over a Spanish sloop-of-war, and with mutineers in tow, headed for the Florida straits. He became an outlaw, according to his diary, which gives details of the capture and burning of 36 ships. He terrorized the area until December 1821, when Gaspar and his crew decided to pillage a ship that turned out to be a United States Navy warship in disguise. A bloody battle ensued and, according to legend, Gaspar wrapped a chain around his waist and neck and leapt into the water, while brandishing his sword.
The first Gasparilla celebration took place in May 1904 in Tampa Bay, but the invasion was portrayed on horseback instead of by ship. During these earlier celebrations, a U.S. Navy ship would be “attacked” by small boats with crew that would throw Cuban bread and black bean soup. The event was held the second Monday of February until 1988 when it was moved to a Saturday in February. This way, more revelers could join in the celebration. And instead of bread and soup being thrown, the crew now throws beads.
The event has been compared to Mardi Gras- the Captain and his Krewe throw beads and treasures out to the crowd along the 3.8 mile parade. And what a parade it is – there will be 90 floats, 14 marching bands and general outrageousness. Because of this, the event draws tons of college kids from University of South Florida, University of Tampa and Florida Gulf Coast University.
There is also a Gasparilla Brunch event at the Tampa Convention Center’s Riverwalk, for those who would the best view in the area of the invasion and a meal. Those interested in attending the Gasparilla Brunch should visit www.gasparillapiratefest.com for tickets.
This day long event features a street festival in addition to the parade. There will be several stages with live entertainment and refreshments. The entire event takes place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and always attracts a huge crowd of revelers.
Gasparilla Pirate Fest is free to attend. Visit www.gasparillapiratefest.com for further information.