Since 1905, pirates have invaded Tampa Bay. Every year, the unruly plunderers take over the city in honor of the mythical legendary pirate Jose Gaspar.The "Gasparilla Pirate Fest" is one of the country's largest and most unique outdoor celebrations. It begins when the world's only fully-rigged pirate ship sails into the heart of Tampa. Flanked by hundreds of pleasure craft and vessels of all shapes and sizes, the invasion is a formidable sight. Built entirely of steel, the black-hulled "Jose Gasparilla" measures 165 feet in length and is topped by three masts that tower 100 feet above deck. Tugboats tow the craft and its crew of 700 pirates with flags flying and cannons booming as the vessel makes its way along Hillsborough Bay.
The history and name of this Tampa tradition traces back to the legendary antics of Jose Gaspar. Gaspar reputedly patrolled the waters of West Florida during the late 18th century. A society columnist with the Tampa Tribune is credited with creating a May festival in 1904 that first incorporated a pirate-inspired theme. The original members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla stormed Tampa on horseback before becoming seaworthy in 1911. The success of those early invasions prompted planners to move the celebration to its winter time slot and encouraged the creation of additional events.