It was a long day for Gasparilla celebrants, many of whom gathered around mid-morning and stayed with the festivities well into the evening.
Upriver from the invasion and parade, and long before either got under way, boaters and their crews at Rick’s on the River were decked out in pirate apparel and ready to party. They took seriously the slogan on the restaurant’s T-shirts: "You can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning."
Boat captain Brian Catt said he never has used his 24-foot boat, "Cattitude," for fishing.
"It’s just a party boat," he said, "600 watts and eight speakers. It’ll crank when the time’s right. We’re going to cruise around. The girls will be dancing."
The mood was more laid back on the Black Pearl, a pontoon boat with a wooden bowsprit, covered with shining beads.
The boat’s captain, Rodney Riggio, said last year he and his brother had their wives at the vessel’s bow to attract bead throwers. But this year his wife took part in the ground parade, Riggio said, so he planned to try his luck with friend "Cayman Mike."
"We’re hoping Mike can do some pole dancing on the mast and be our hook to grab some beads," Riggio said.
Riggio’s son, Reese, and his best friend, Nicholas, also were preparing the boat’s armamentarium, two pump-action squirt guns with 40-foot range and a water-balloon pump for refills. Riggio’s brother and aunt also joined the cruise.
Rick’s on the River owner Ken Brackins said the real party begins after the parade, when boaters return up the Hillsborough River.
"By the time they come back they’ve got a good 10 or 12 hours of drinking in," he said, "so you see about everything you can imagine."
"We fended off anarchists. We fended off Occupiers. We even fended off a few Republicans," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, moments before giving up the keys to the city to "a group of toothless, smelly pirates."
And with that, the Gasparilla celebration commenced in downtown Tampa on Saturday.
While Buckhorn was surrendering the city, a few feet away, on the other side of a metal railing, Eva Summerfield was in pirate heaven.
"I love pirates," said Summerfield, 93, of Sun City Center, dressed in a black pirate hat and sporting a fake nose ring. "I hope I meet some pirates. I like to cause trouble."
Summerfield was attending her eighth Gasparilla with her daughter, Barbara Dumont, 75, also of Sun City Center.
"She is a man magnet," said Dumont, of her mom.
"I am hoping to pick up some pirates," Summerfield admitted.
Moments before, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor stood near the podium, waiting for the ship to arrive.
"All I need is the high sign from the mayor and we won’t have to surrender," said Castor, whose department last summer kept any real trouble from developing during the Republican National Convention. "We can take those pirates."
Three private security guards stationed across an empty, fenced-off front lawn were the only guests at Jill Kelley’s Bayshore Boulevard home during this year’s Gasparilla festival.
The scene contrasted with last year’s event when Gen. David Petraeus was among guests at the Kelley residence who watched the parade go by.
A garland festooned with red, purple and blue ribbon and feathers on the front door was the only sign of festivity at the stately brick house Saturday. Cars were parked behind the home, but it appeared to be empty.
The Kelley residence was one of several on Bayshore surrounded by chain-link fencing, though people at others along the parade route hosted parties on their lawns.
Curious passers-by pointed through the fence at the Kelley residence. Some had friends take their picture in front of it.
Some of them recalled last year’s party at the home when the yard was full of people and military guards stood by. On Saturday, a few revelers threw beads over the fence to the private security guards.
A tipsy young woman stumbled out of a portable toilet and collapsed on a road in front of a lavish Hyde Park home.
Gangs of pirates roamed the brick streets dragging cases of beer and shouting. Cigar smoke wafting through the air mixed with the faint scent of another kind of smoke.
But resident Jim Stifler said Saturday afternoon was quiet in his neighborhood compared with previous Gasparilla festivals.
So far, no one had urinated in his yard or tried to fight any of his neighbors, common occurrences when Stifler moved in nine years ago.
"People would get sick, then their friends would leave them, so we’re flipping them over on their stomach and we don’t know where they live or who to call or anything," said Stifler.
By mid-afternoon Saturday, Stifler’s daughter had made $47 selling sodas and bottled water on their front lawn.
"We were maybe going to leave town, but it’s been great. The kids are having fun," he said.
Residents credit the city and Tampa Police for effectively managing this year’s festival. There were cardboard trash bins on street corners, officers on foot and horseback patrolling the neighborhoods, and plenty of portable restrooms.
Arrests and citations during the parade were down compared with previous years, and revelers mostly respected the designated wet zones for drinking alcoholic beverages, said Sgt. Kert Rojka, supervisor of the police command station at the Kate Jackson Community Center.
Police had made 22 adult arrests, issued 94 alcohol citations and made 30 juvenile arrests, all for underage drinking, by nightfall.
Some residents even wondered whether the party was getting too tame.
Avery Guyton Awmiller grew up in South Tampa and has enjoyed people-watching from her brother’s front porch since 1996.
"We’ve watched this traffic every year since then — and it’s really quiet right now. It’s crazy quiet — weird," she said.
"It’s a little boring."
Temple Terrace residents Joe Montgomery and Andre Gilmore share two passions: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gasparilla. On Saturday they climbed onto bicycles bedecked in Buc souvenirs and pedaled 45 minutes to stake out a post on Ashley Drive for the Parade of Pirates.
Both men said they have attended more than 20 Gasparilla parades. They have tailgated at Bucs games since the late 1970s.
Wearing jerseys of former Buccaneers — Montgomery: Cadillac Williams’ number 24; Gilmore: Brad Johnson’s number 14 — they cheered, danced and gathered beads tossed from passing parade floats.
"Get the gold, man, get the gold!" said Montgomery as Gilmore lunged for more beads.
Their favorite float, of course, was the Buccaneer pirate ship. "The Bucs stop here," Montgomery said.
Parade judges awarded honored floats in the following categories:
Grand prize: Shooting Star
General Commercial: Pepin Distributing
National: Capt. Morgan
Krewes: Rough Riders
Associations: Buffalo Soldiers
Special: Budweiser Clydesdales
Best Green: TECO electric cars
Musician Daniel B. Marshall kicked off his set at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park with a cover of pop singer Michael Jackson’s "Black or White." About 300 people gathered by the stage.
Smaller groups of people sat farther back on the park’s lawn or strolled along the adjacent Hillsborough River. A few people lined up for beer and chicken kabobs, or browsed tables filled with souvenir T-shirts, hats with flashing lights, and pirate hats.
Elsewhere in South Tampa pedestrians and motorists found their way home or elsewhere, and cleanup crews began picking up the discards of Tampa’s biggest annual party.
From staff reports