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Arr, Matey! Have Ye Seen Me Boat?

A new group of fun-loving pirates have invaded the Westchase area and their goals over the next six months are to grow and scare up a new ride.

A boat that is.

Or, rather, a float.

Specifically a float of a boat that doesn’t actually float.

Got that?

The Westchase Freebooters, a group of pirates that have recently sailed into town and claimed the Westchase area as their new home, have an ambitious plan over the summer: to nearly double the size of their krewe.

But to do it, they need a whole new and bigger boat float on which the krewe of pirates can properly parade.

Like other krewes that participate in Gasparilla and other local parades, the Westchase Freebooters are a social organization that has a charitable focus. Now Westchase Freebooters President Eric Holt, a resident of Radcliffe, wants to make the group an integral part of life in Northwest Hillsborough.

The Freebooters were actually established in 2003. “The krewe was initially established by a group of friends who lived up in Hernando County,” said Holt. “They were from the Weeki Wachi area.”

That’s a key fact to understanding the now Westchase’s co-ed krewe’s mermaid contingent. Because of the Weeki Wachi connection, the original Hernando krewe decided to use mermaids as their group’s icon. And mermaids have traditionally ridden at the front of their float. “We’re known as the mermaid krewe in the Gasparilla Parade and it really pays homage to the origins up in Hernando County and Weeki Watchi,” said Holt.

The krewe’s mermaids are ambassadors from Ocean’s Daughter Conservation Alliance. The alliance, Holt said, is dedicated to promoting, protecting, and preserving marine life through science-based research endeavors. The group also educates the public through its ocean literacy awareness campaigns. The founders of the conservation alliance are members of the krewe.

In recent years, however, the original Hernando group underwent a significant change.

“The past couple of years, its membership has really become much more Westchase-area based,” said Holt. “To the point that we had the tremendous opportunity to rebrand the krewe.”

That rebranding took a distinctly local flavor. “We’re going to be the Westchase Freebooters,” he said.

Holt said the designation is meant in the broadest geographic sense as the krewe welcomes members from both original Westchase and its surrounding neighborhoods. “The intent is not to be exclusive of Westchase residents. But Westchase is now what we call home and is the focus of our service,” he said.

Approximately 75 percent of the krewe’s pirates now hail from Westchase, Hold observed. “We have 38 full time members. We have five mermaid ambassadors.”

The krewe aims to significantly expand its membership in the run-up to next year’s parade season. “We’re already at maximum capacity on our float. The only way we can take the krewe to the next level is have a float with a bigger capacity, Holt explained.

“We do have a membership goal of 70 at this point,” said Holt. “That’s why it’s so important for us to catch up in the coming season.”

“Our current float can’t meet our needs and expectations,” he added. “We need the float to increase our membership and become the krewe we want to become.”

How many gold dubloons does a float that can transport 70 pirates run these days?

A cool 40 grand.

That’s a lot of plunder.

Yet Holt is optimistic.

“We’re moving forward with the float, no question about it. It’s completely doable.”

The float will start with a base that typically serves as a mobile home chassis. The rest of the 31-foot boat, which will be 8.5 feet wide and 13.5 feet high, will rise from that. “We are hiring a retired gentleman who is an engineer and builds floats.”

Holt added, “He is an artistic guy and his retirement fun job is building parade floats.

“He’s working on a design right now. He’s putting together final design work. We’ll start building a float by September to be ready for the parade season.”

What exactly is on a proper pirate parade float?

The float’s specifications call for multiple decks with the rear deck holding a bar and the front deck featuring a mermaid platform. There will be plenty of bead hangers. And to free up hands for bead throwing, the float will feature more drink holders than a small fleet of minivans.

The float will also have two built-in bathrooms, a sound system, a generator, an LED lighting system and a top deck for a DJ platform.

The Freebooters already have plans to start plundering to raise the bullion to pay for their new ship. “Between now and September 1, we have fundraising to address,” said Holt.

Holt said a third of the float costs will be raised by selling lifetime memberships to existing members. Another third will be raised from membership fees paid by new pirates joining the krewe. “The other thing is going to be corporate sponsorships and charitable events,” Holt said.

On Sept. 16, the krewe will host a golf tournament at the Westchase Golf Club. “It is going to be an important piece to us making our second payment on the float at the end of this year.”

Sometime over the summer the krewe will also hold a poker tournament at the Silks Poker Room at Tampa Bay Downs.

In the meantime, the focus is on expanding the Freebooters’ membership ranks. Traditionally, those hoping to join krewes are sponsored by existing members and submit an application that is reviewed by existing members. “We’re reinventing ourselves so the old rules won’t apply anymore,” said Holt. “We’re recruiting people who are leaders in the community or who have particular skill set that can contribute to the krewe’s mission and the functioning of the krewe.”

Holt added, “We’re hoping that we’re going to be a little more selective with the membership because we only anticipate having 36 spots available for the upcoming parade season.”

He encourages potential boatmates not to be put off by the high membership fees charged by some other local krewes. “Our membership fee is significantly more affordable and attainable than other krewes in the Tampa Bay area. For most individuals it won’t be a major hurdle to membership.”

Holt said he hopes to particularly here from folks with access to vehicles needed by the krewe and tradesman who can hep with the build. “We’re trying to rally around our new float. Joining the krewe is going to help us become the kind of krewe Westchase can be proud of.”

What events does the krewe typically participate in?

“We do the Children’s Gasparilla Parade, the regular Gasparilla Day Parade and the St. Yago Knight parade and the Rough Rider St. Patrick’s Parade. That’s our core parade season,” he said.

Beyond that, members typically gather once a month for different social events or outings, such as a pub crawl or poker tournament.

“They’re not just buying into parade season,” Holt said of new members. “We’re going to be doing as much in the offseason in Westchase as we do in the parade season.

“The cool thing is we’re at the beginning stages of deciding how we’re going to engage Westchase,” said Holt. He envisions the krewe participating in Santa’s PreFlight Parade and other community events like The Great West Chase and even the Westchase Thanksgiving Food Drive. “It’s going to be an important leadership and social platform for Westchase as well.”

While the krewe’s traditional charity has been St. Jude’s, the krewe’s board is looking at new charities with a Northwest Hillsborough focus. “With our new alignment, that’s going to be something we’ll discuss at our next meetings,” Holt said. “I think we want to do some more locally centered charitable engagement as well.”

Holt looks forward to hearing from residents from Westchase and surrounding communities hoping to join the Westchase Freebooters. Interested folks can visit kreweoffreebooters.com and fill out an application or send an email expressing interest in freebooterskrewe@gmail.com.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher; Cover by James Broome Photography

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