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Gasparilla 'pirate ship' awaits next excursion

TAMPA - The 165-foot Jose Gasparilla makes its final cruise of the season later this month, carrying a crew of 600-plus pirates on their 2010 outbound voyage. The so-called pirate ship is as mythical as the legendary pirate for which it is named. The tri-masted vessel lacks a motor and never sees three sheets to the wind - its rambunctious crew excepted. "A lot of people think it's got its own propulsion and everything else," said Jim Tarbet, executive officer of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. "It's a big barge; that's what it is."
The make-believe pirate ship atop a barge bought new a half-century ago provides only a couple of small areas offering protection from the elements. There are no below-deck luxuries, no galley. That means all hands on deck, rain or shine. Even with a full crew aboard, "there's a little bit of room to move" about the ship, Tarbet said. Tarbet, who has tallied the crew during recent years, expects 640 of the 800 members will set sail on the 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 outbound voyage from the Tampa Convention Center. Their destination is not unknown, but is somewhat secret. "They leave the city and go to their island, somewhere in the Caribbean," Tarbet deadpanned. Some landlubbers, however, might spy the ship being towed by tug across Hillsborough Bay to the Tampa Yacht Club for a krewe party and, later, to the Port of Tampa. The vessel's off-season caretaker there, Gulf Marine, will perform annual maintenance to keep the craft seaworthy and attractive, including pressure-cleaning to remove accumulated seagull droppings. The eye-catching ship, moored temporarily behind the Tampa Bay Convention Center, attracted the curiosity of a few of the 2,000 delegates at the recent annual meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council. "What a nice attraction and addition" to the city, Doug Graves of Cookeville, Tenn., said while examining the ship after lunch behind the convention center. "Why don't they leave it here as a tourist attraction?" he suggested after being told the Jose Gasparilla soon will be shipping out. "If you leave it here it's not going to be a big to-do when they bring it in" for the annual festival, offered Bobby Canterbury of Akron, Ohio, another first-time Tampa visitor in town for the same convention. "I figured it was for something special," considering the many colorful pennants, she said as she snapped several photographs of the ship. "I think it's pretty cool." THE PIRATE SHIP
Commissioned: 1954
Design: Replica of 18th century West Indiaman
Construction: steel
Length: 165 feet
Beam: 35 feet
Masts: three, also steel; 100 feet tall
Propulsion: none
Source: Gasparilla Piratefest Web site SHIP'S LOG
1916: Krewe of Gasparilla borrows a "pirate ship" that normally hauls pigs and chickens, some of which lap up spilled liquor and drown after going overboard
1927: Pirate firing from the ship's crows nest puts a hole in a blimp; the aircraft lands safely
1948: First Outbound Voyage held at end of weeklong Gasparilla festivities
1951: Final voyage of original Jose Gasparilla
1952: With original Jose Gasparilla declared unseaworthy, krewe borrows ships until current vessel is completed
1954: Second Jose Gasparilla christened with a bottle of Jamaican rum
1956: Abandoned, original Jose Gasparilla "mysteriously" burns and sinks against Hillsborough River bank
1975: Ship sails up river for last time, as new Crosstown Bridge is too low for its 100-foot masts; ship begins landing at Tampa Tarpon Docks, then later at the Tampa Convention Center
2004: Krewe celebrates 50th anniversary of maiden voyage of the second Jose Gasparilla, 100th anniversary of Gasparilla.

Reporter George Wilkens can be reached at (813) 259-7124

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