While the annual bacchanal that is Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Festival was officially cancelled in February due to the pandemic, two alternative boat parades are scheduled to take place this weekend in Hillsborough Bay. They’re being led by two Tampa Bay political conservatives who don’t agree with the notion that the event shouldn’t be taking place.

What You Need To Know

  • Two boat parades taking place this weekend in protest of Gasparilla’s cancellation

  • One is a pro-Trump “boat invasion”

  • Neither event is sanctioned by the city of Tampa or an official Gasparilla krewe

“We felt that there was a large portion of the community that still wanted to put on Gasparilla, especially the boat parade portion of it,” says Jake Hoffman, the lead organizer of what is being called the Official 2021 Gasparilla Boat Parade (NOT CANCELLED!).

“There’s a lot of controversy over doing a big parade in person — you know, lining the streets of Bayshore, but I think that there’s very little controversy over doing a boat parade,” Hoffman adds, referring to recent boat parades held in Tampa to celebrate the championships for the Tampa Bay Bucs and Tampa Bay Lightning.

While the usual late-January Gasparilla experience does feature a boat parade, it’s become notorious over the years for the intense street party that begins early on a Saturday morning in South Tampa and goes on all day, attracting hundreds of thousands of revelers to the region – not an ideal situation as the area still contends with COVID-19.

“I’ve said it before — if you don’t believe that we should have boat parades, then don’t go,” says Cliff Gephart, who is organizing a second boat parade this weekend titled the “Trumparilla Boat Invasion” which is slated to begin at 10:30 a.m. from Marjorie Park in Tampa. “If you do feel that you’re safe enough and your health and family is okay to participate in things that happen in life, then you should participate.”

Neither event is sanctioned by the city of Tampa or has the imprimatur from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. That organization made it official in February that there would be no Gasparilla parade in 2021.

“Since 1904, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (YMKG) has invaded the shores of Tampa Bay and captured the key to the city,” the group said on their website. “Only a handful of times did our daring pirate invaders decide to spare the city from invasion due to unprecedented world events. This year, our pirates are making a similar decision to remain offshore and table their invasion plans until the seas calm. Out of an abundance of caution, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (YMKG) and EventFest has announced the cancellation of Tampa's signature Gasparilla Parades planned for April 10 and April 17. The decision resulted from an ongoing dialogue between event organizers, city leaders, and healthcare experts.”

Hoffman is the chair of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans, but says that Saturday isn’t a political event.

“We wanted to make sure that everybody in the city of Tampa could participate in this,” he says. “It just so happened that more people that lean on the right are willing to go out and do a boat parade in this situation, so that’s who it’s going to attract.”

Gephart is the owner of the Largo-based Conservative Grounds coffee shop, which has become a mecca of sorts for Trump supporters since it opened in February of 2020. He’s touting his “Trumparilla” as a weekend experience that also includes “An Evening with Roger Stone and friends,” a $125 ticketed event featuring the longtime GOP political consultant and ally of former President Donald Trump that will take place in Ybor City.

Both men have spoken with each other to coordinate their duel events, which both start off at Marjorie Park Marina off of Davis Islands on Saturday morning. 

“We just wanted to make sure that the routes aren’t going to run into each other,” says Hoffman. 

“We tried to coordinate and at least say, ‘hey, your group will meet here. We’re all going to meet and then kind of go together. That’s kind of the plan,” says Gephart.