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Rocket Man is ready to raise the boom on 4th

An occasional article about activity on south Pinellas County's Tampa Bay waterfront.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- The boom-meister's back.

Randy Pritchard has been doing the downtown waterfront fireworks shows for about a generation, and he returns Tuesday for this year's July 4th celebration near the Pier.

The 22-minute show starts when it gets dark. Don't retire before 9:30 p.m. if you live anywhere nearby, because the finale will feature 600 aerial shells, about 10 going up every four to five seconds.

About 200 shells will be one-pound titanium salutes -- the formal name for those blasts that blow back your bedsheets.

If the wind is right, you can hear stout reports all the way to Tyrone Mall, Pritchard said. That's about 8 miles away in west St. Petersburg.

Pritchard said he has lost count of the years he has set off the city's July 4th show. "I think it's about the 23rd or 24th," he said.

His company, Great Show Fireworks, does about 120 shows yearly, mostly in Florida, Georgia or Alabama. It also did the inauguration spectacle last month for Francisco Flores, El Salvador's new president.

* * *

What looked like an 1800s-vintage wooden schooner turned heads last Sunday at the city marina's transient dock.

The Encounter, an 89-foot, two-masted, gaff-rigged ship actually was built in 1984 in Belize, according to dock workers.

New owner Gene Cox was taking the schooner from Nantucket, Mass., to Gulfport, Miss. It tied up just one night in St. Petersburg. Word is, Cox plans to install air conditioning and do other refitting on the vessel before taking it to the Caribbean as a charter.

* * *

Speaking of impressive boats, two mega-yachts -- Dream and Claire T. -- are docked at the Port of St. Petersburg. Both are in the 180-foot range and fit well with the idea of making St. Petersburg a regular port of call for luxury yachts, cruise ships and research vessels.

It actually got crowded last month at the city wharves onEighth Avenue SE, said port director Michael Perez.

Besides the two yachts, the fishing boat Sea Rover was laying over. It has since departed in search of tuna.

And then there's the Russian submarine. Its docking fees are paid through Aug. 15. And after that?

"Your guess is as good as mine," Perez said. The sub is owned by interests in eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, three more U.S. Coast Guard cutters are due, with the first expected in the next few days, Perez said. They'll join the Coast Guard vessels already present and will be used for drug interdiction in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and southern Atlantic, among other duties.

And a dredging project to deepen channels into the port is expected to begin by late summer. The nine-month job will deepen channels from 19 to 24 feet with a 2-foot "undercut" for a safety margin.

It is hoped the extra depth will make the port more attractive to larger boats.

* * *

They're building a new terminal at the northwest corner of Albert Whitted Airport. But crews ran into a slight delay when they dug up an object 125 feet square and about 12 feet deep.

"Indications are that it was an extremely large septic tank," said airport director M.O. Burgess.

It's older than the Albert Whitted sewage treatment plan, built in the 1920s. Speculation says it might have accommodated early bay beach cottages or perhaps was u+

ed as a drain for downtown sewage. But so far no records have emerged to verify the tank's role.

"You can't imagine how we were surprised," Burgess said.

* * *

Parked near Al Lang Field late last week, a truck obviously was equipped with the latest in break-in prevention technology.

Its equipment super-sensitive to approaching footsteps, the truck issued this recorded warning:

"Stand back. I am alarmed."

So were several joggers.

- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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