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A pirate ship soars through the air

Imagine a human-powered pirate ship flying in the air rather than sailing in the Caribbean Sea.

Now imagine 39 other creative crafts, such as a flying sombrero, a flying toilet and a giant stapler, all competing against one another to see who makes the podium at the Red Bull Flugtag.

A Jacksonville Beach team, composed of former UNF students, hopes its lightweight pirate ship will be creative, flashy and technically sound enough to take first place. The Pirates of the Care Free Being’s vehicle was one of 40 chosen from more than 240 applications to compete at the Tampa event.

Tyler Watts, the pirate crew’s captain, said this is his third year to apply but his first year to qualify. Watts said his team has an advantage as pirates because many teams use pop culture puns, such as “Anchorman” and Harry Potter, as themes.

“We’re going to stand out because we have a message behind our theme,” Watts said. “That message is for people to pursue their dreams no matter how crazy it is, no matter how many skeptics there are.”

Watts and designer Ryan Newhouser grew up together and went to UNF. Kayne McPhillips, the first mate, and David Blair, the construction specialist, also grew up together. Chad Stieglitz, the team’s sailing expert, met the crew at UNF.

The pirate crew had 51 days to plan and build its flying pirate ship for the event. Fourteen sponsors have helped the crew with supplies, advice and time, Watts said. The sponsors, which include companies such as Nocth, Fine-O-Rama and Rox Volleyball, have backgrounds in aeronautics and construction.

Watts said their pricetag has been minuscule. Sponsors have donated between $8,000 to $10,000 worth of equipment, such as light gauge framing, bandanas, shirts and posters. Watts said competing teams have greatly invested in flying vessels.

“It’s been a beautiful thing to have some people believe in what we’re doing and come together to help us make it happen,” Newhouser said.

The crew has done extensive research regarding past Flugtag events and have noticed that teams only go for one of the three criteria. Watts said the pirate team is different because it is working to excel at all three judging criteria.

Newhouser hand-painted wave designs for the ship. Blair works for a construction company that donated a light frame for the ship. Watts said the group’s skit is still a secret but hinted that a surprise will occur midway through.

Watts said there will be two Flugtag champions competing at the Tampa event: last year’s winning team from the U.K. named “Barry Potter and the Deathly Shallows” and the 2008 winning team, which was the “Baywatch” team but has since reimaged itself as the Willy Wonka team.

The Jax Beach team is confident it will take away the grand prize despite the fierce competition.

The grand prize is a meet and greet with Red Bull Air Race World Champion Kirby Chambliss at his Flying Crown Ranch in Arizona. Second place gets to skydive with the Red Bull Air Force. Third place receives a Tandem paragliding — two people gliding with under the same glider — experience for the team.

Blair said he was inspired to compete at the Red Bull Flugtag because of the event’s free-spirit feel.

“It’s an opportunity for us to be creative and show our wild side,” he said.

Watts hopes his swashbuckling crew of flying pirates will inspire others to chase their dreams.

“Just try to do what you love,” Watts said.

Flugtag is a German word meaning “flying day.” The owner of Red Bull, Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz, founded the event as a marketing stunt. The first Red Bull Flugtag took place in 1991 in Vienna. Since then, more than 35 Flugtags have been held around the world.

The competition pits five-person teams against one another. The crews begin their performances with 30-second skits to let the crowd know who they are. Their engineless flying machines are then put to the test as a single pilot from each team maneuvers his or her machine off of an elevated flight deck.

The goal is to see how far a vehicle flies in the air before landing in the body of water below the deck. Besides flight distance, teams are judged based on creativity and showmanship.

The gates for the Red Bull Flugtag open at 10 a.m. Oct. 8 in Tampa and the fun ends at 2:30 p.m. Admission is free. Visit redbullflugtagusa.com for more information.

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