Although our town sometimes forgets it is, indeed, a charming waterfront town, Boca Ciega Bay remains our biggest asset. It also remains our least appreciated one. We no longer have many fishing boats, we have given up on making the beach a destination, and, well, quite honestly, even I won't swim in Boca Ciega Bay until we find some way to deal with the derelict boats off our coast and the fact that every time it rains heavily, St. Pete Beach's sanitary sewer leaks into their storm sewer and sends human fecal matter pretty much directly into Boca Ciega Bay.
But still, it's the best thing we have going for us. It's what's saved us from becoming – forgive me – South Pasadena with its drive-through state of mind, or Belleair with its "Nothing to see here, tourists!" attitude or Dunedin with its "Look at our downtown! Pay not attention to the crime rate and poverty behind the curtain!" ruse. We are a waterfront town, and as much as I would like to see fishing boats lining the beach and a boardwalk connecting the marina to a ferris wheel and merry-go-round on a pine-and-palm lined beach (check out old photos of Gulfport beach if you want to know what that would look like, or go visit Rockaway in the 1970s), I know that our best chance, right now, of capitalizing on our waterfront is an upgraded marina, including, first and foremost, a mooring field for cruising sailors.
As Gulfport nears this long awaited (or long dreaded, depending on who you ask) mooring field, I will make one last plea for those of you – including our vice mayor, who remains anti-mooring field (which he must realize some will read as "anti-sailor")– to keep an open mind and stop running down this project.
I have covered two topics in this town so long – Clam Bayou and our mooring field – I joke that I will retire on the money I make covering the issues swirling around them. It's a joke because the Gabber retirement plan for writers apparently involves a winning lotto ticket and a sugar daddy, of which I have neither. Nevertheless, I've covered both of these issues since day one, and yes, I have strong feelings about both of them. Today I'm focusing on the mooring field, which I could not endorse more heartily if Harbormaster Denis Frain breaded it, deep-fried it, and smothered it in cheese and rolled it in bacon. We – Gulfport – needs this mooring field, despite what non-sailors will tell you.
We will have a handful of slips – the state permit will allow 25 – geared towards attracting cruisers. Cruisers, for you non-sailing-savvy folk, are the types of boaters we want, unlike the ones currently anchored and potentially ruining the sea grasses as they drag anchor over the bottom and allow blackwater (raw sewage) to flow onto our beaches. The mooring field, off the coast of Gulfport, will make it harder (although not impossible) for these derelict boaters live off Gulfport rent-free while they contaminate our water with toxins, because we'll now have the authority to chase them away from the mooring field. In addition, the pumpout boat that we'll get with the mooring field will pump out any boat – not just ones in the field – so these boaters will have a free option for pumping out their waste. And if they don't? The cruisers themselves will also help police this, another reason why we want them. Need another? OK, keep reading.
Cruisers are, specifically, people traveling for more than a few nights. Usually they have a home but, for whatever reason, can afford to leave it for months at a time in a sailboat that costs no small amount to buy, outfit, and maintain. They travel with the purpose of seeing hamlets like ours. They are typically older, at least upper middle class, and have grown children (if any). They may be retired. They choose to be "on the hook" because it lets them feel like they're anchored somewhere rather than tethered to land. They will gladly pump out and they will motor their own dinghy to the Casino dock or marina dock, where they will unfold their $250-plus Dahon bikes and ride into town for dinner, to stretch their legs, and take in the sights.
Yes, with all their disposable income, I can see where the vice mayor and others don't want them. After all, we'd rather have what we have now – derelict boaters who use our beach showers to bath, let their waste flow unchecked onto our beach, and don't pay us a dime.
Seems to me that 25 slips isn't enough, but we can debate that later, after the naysayers (hopefully) realize what an asset cruisers and their lovely boats will be to our view, our community, and our water.
I'm tired of looking at half-decomposed boats out in the bay. This is our waterfront. Let's take it back.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.