Camille Matthews has a used vehicle to sell, and she’s ready to make you a deal.
It’s got a few miles on it, sure, but it’s a one-of-a-kind ride. It’s painted black with red, gold and blue trim. It’s 33 feet long, holds about 25, and has plenty of storage. It’s festooned with skulls and scabbards and features two working restrooms (though the men’s only has a urinal).
Did she mention it’s a pirate ship?
OK, technically it’s a parade float, not an actual ship. But in Tampa, where dozens of pirate floats hit the streets each spring for a string of Gasparilla-themed parades, the distinction is negligible.
This ship, Vanity, belongs to the Bonney-Read Krewe, a 28-year-old all-female krewe that’s building a new float for the 2023 Gasparilla season. With membership capped at around 60, Bonney-Read isn’t large enough for two floats, so it’s selling the one it bought from another krewe in 2003.
The problem is finding a buyer.
“We were all just focusing on building the new one and not thinking, ‘Yeah, we have to sell the old one,’” said Matthews, the krewe’s co-founder. “There are always new krewes that are being added. We figured somebody probably needs a ready-made float.”
Building a new float can run you six figures — and that, Matthews said, is if you know a good builder. Some krewes have skilled tradespeople in their ranks and can build their own. Others buy from other krewes or companies that rent floats.
Bonney-Read spread word through the Inter Krewe Council that it was placing its float on the market for $37,000. No one bit. The float then went to eBay with a sticker tag of $25,000. By Tuesday afternoon, it had six watchers, but no buyers. They took down the listing Wednesday morning, opting to market the float through private channels.
“I did show our float to a business who was interested, but they wanted a building and not a ship,” she said. “Not everyone wants to be a pirate.”
Even in Tampa — arguably the nation’s premiere pirate ship parade float marketplace — float sales don’t happen every day, said Chris Rivers, who has built and maintained ships for parade organizers Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla for years. It’s more common for krewes to save by upgrading the floats they already have.
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“They can change the paint, the appearance, the material they throw on there, and it makes a huge difference,” he said. “You’d never know it’s the same body they’ve been running for the last five, 10, 20 years on the parade route.”
The parade float industry suffered the last two years as events were canceled due to COVID-19, and the cost of materials, labor and fuel went up, said Adriana Laino, director of sales at Parade Float Rentals in New York, which has created Gasparilla floats for Captain Morgan and Ashley Furniture.
While the industry has rebounded since 2020, a number of rental companies have downsized and gone out of business, Laino said, and others have had to raise prices. A high-end rental with a custom build can bring in $100,000 or more, she said — but the market for a float shaped like a pirate ship will be more limited, which could make rental companies less likely to buy it.
“It’s harder to sell a float, because there’s very few companies that survived up and down the East Coast,” said Jim Shaw of Shaw Parades in Maryland, which has been in the float business since 1957. “You’ve got a very select market for a pirate ship, too. It’s not the normal type of parade float.”
Matthews believes the old float could be a good buy for a company that wants to partake in Tampa culture, even if it’s not directly tied to a krewe. She sees new businesses moving to Tampa all the time, and a pirate float would be a great conversation piece at any event.
“Even if they don’t want to think ‘piracy,’ they could think ‘Buccaneers’ or something,” she said. “Or if somebody has a nice big lot and they want to have a really fun playhouse for their kids, this is it.”
The float is stored in Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla’s Tampa warehouse, and Matthews is ready to show it to a prospective buyer anytime.
“I can only hope that there’ll be a lot of people out there who dream of owning a pirate ship,” she said. “Especially one with two bathrooms.”