My Gasparilla Adventure…..Arggggggggggggg
Well, shiver me timbers and wash it all down with a grog of rum and ale. It was time again for the Gasparilla Pirates Invasion and this being the third adult holiday of the year, I had to get on another boat this year. I had a friend who has been trying to get me into his Krewe for about 10 years. I finally agreed if I could venture out on the water again with them this year. He made a few calls and got the okay for me to stowaway on board during the festivities this year.
I got down to the dock behind the Tampa Convention Center and he greeted me on the gangplank to the boat. I loved this boats, it was an old fishing boat that did day charters out into the Gulf of Mexico fro grouper and red snapper. The boat was decorated in red and black and had a pirate feel to it. My buddy was dressed to the nines as a pirate, and he got me a costume top and a leather pirate hat to wear with a huge feather in it. About 50 people had already arrived at the boat ans were in various stages of celebration or cigar smoking.
If you do not know about this annual event in Tampa, it is the celebration of Jose Gaspar, a ruthless pirate who plundered this fine city a long time ago. And being that we are on the Gulf stream just off the west coast of Florida, pirates and scalawags were known to come into port and do pretty much whatever they wanted until the U S put a military garrison in the city. So we have this annual event to celebrate the pirate tradition and the various adult activities that surround it. I had been selected by a local radio station to come out on the water last year and see what it was like from the water-side of the parade.
It was an exciting time and one that stuck in my mind all year. So when the idea came that I should join a Krewe and really see how the event is celebrated by the participants, how could I refuse. The best thing about this Krewe is it was both men and women in the organization, and I was happy as a clam about that fact. I got on board and quickly was presented with a huge bag of booty to throw off the boat during our cruise today. The bag must have weighed about 60 pounds and had T-shirts and beads up the ying yang. So I put the bag down and strolled over to the galley to get a breakfast bagel and a Pepsi and take in the ever changing atmosphere of the boat.
I looked out on the water and saw a sea of glass as the channel was free of boats and the activities were slow and meandering at 9 a.m. But I already knew of what would await me when I got back in at 1 p.m. The scene the year before was chaos mixed with some energetic confusion, and I love it all. So we all boarded the boat, about 125 of us and we began the slow trip out into old Tampa Bay to wait for the lead vessel to arrive from another location. Already the seawalls on both sides of the channel were becoming crowded with people and there were a fair amount of party settings going up at homes bordering the channels streets.
The smell of roasting BBQ and meats were in the air already and I took it in with the sea air and felt amazing today. The boat finally got into the channel area and we were ready to begin some serious fun. The Captain brought out the water cannon and the slingshots and about a few hundred balloons to be filled with warm water. He asked us to do warm water because of the chilly air, and to also be a good surprise when they hit the boats or the people. I liked that idea and my friend and I went up to the top deck to scout out opponents to fire upon.
The Krewe of Roughriders were right besides us and their D J on board was cranking some serious music, The blue uniformed soldier Krewe were all teasing us with their 34 degree Budweisers and rum-soaked cigars. So you know they were the first boat to get a bombardment of balloons and water cannon shots. We all just basked in the warming sun for a bit until the first water balloon hit the side of the railing just beyond us. It was now on like Donkey Kong, and we got the slingshot positioned and began to fire shot after shot. Of course we were taking on shots at the same time, but they did not know we had a water cannon that could boost water 50 yards if we wanted to use it.
I think the Roughriders knew this and got about 30 yards away, just within the range of the slingshot, but far enough for no thrown shots at them. At this time the smaller boats with hordes of women and bead hungry crews began to stroll by the boat. We pelted some with beads and balloons and a few with younger kids got T-shirts and cups and bandannas. A few of the boats also flashed via Mardi Gras style and that got cheers from both boats. No I do not condone that kind of activity, but I am a single guy, so I cheered too.
Anyways, the lead boat finally arrived and we got into line about 4 boats behind them and we started back into the harbor towards the Platt Street bridge area again. Boats were again coming along side and we tossed a huge amount of beads on them and I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the day. From hearing the cannon shots to the firecrackers the air was full of gunpowder smells mixed with suntan oil. A very unusual smell in deed. While we were coming back into the docking area, I saw a huge cabin cruiser with a guy sitting in a dinghy on the stern area. I was so taken back by this I had to have a picture and got my camera out and was laughing so hard at this great antic by the guy.
We slowly got to the mouth of the channel and that same area that earlier in the day you could shake a stick and hit only air was now filled with hundreds of boats and people surrounding the seawalls. We went back up on the top deck and began to throw the rest of our bags full of booty and beads to the waiting crowd. I knew how crowded the dock could be by my past years adventure, but it seemed like there was an endless sea of people this year and I began to get caught up in the energy of the area. Throwing beads and medallions as far as I could to get people away from the seawall as we docked, I finally threw my hat to a cuter, young brunette on the dock.
As we disembarked to a hero’s welcome my buddy asked me what I though of the adventure. I must looked at him in the eyes and asked him where I sign up, I was caught up in the moment and was loving every minute of it. He told me it was not over yet. I did not understand until we were standing in front of a charter bus and he asked me if I wanted to continue this on the parade route. Okay, I am not a fool of course I went on the bus and threw beads to the kids and crowd for about what seemed like 4 hours from Bayshore to the middle of Tampa’s downtown. I had a blast, and I was hooked to become a member of this Krewe from that moment.
Tampa is the only town I know that has this event to this extreme. Town like Destin have the Billy Bowlegs event, but it is not on this grand a scale. If you ever get a chance to attend a Gasparilla event, you should. It will change your life in some ways, but always remember, about 350,000 people hit the streets of Tampa for this event. And even like the pirates that hit the city years ago, you have to plan you day, or you will be gobbled up in the excitement of the event.
All pictures aquired from the RRCollections.