Sadly, Gulfport Becomes the Latest Florida City To Shoo Away Cruisers
As other Pinellas County, Florida, municipalities have moved to restrict anchoring, more boats have dropped the hook in Gulfport, which then decided that it too should restrict anchoring. Gulfport police are now issuing citations to anyone who tries to anchor in Boca Ciega Bay for more than 72 hours at a time, including neighbors of the author, a 51-year-old woman with a small dog aboard a CSY 44 named Mad Dream. She recently made the case for anchoring freedom on the Save Florida's Anchorages Facebook Page.
'I am not homeless. I work. I pay taxes. I paid for my boat.
I consciously chose this lifestyle'
By DEANNA PHILLIPS
Currently, there is conflict with the city of Gulfport and the cruising community about anchoring in Boca Ciega Bay. There are approximately three times as many boats anchored here as were eight months ago. The city seems to recognize that they have a problem and are trying to decide how to address it.
I can see both sides of this issue. The city is tasked with keeping people safe and now has three times as many boats on the water. It is absolutely fair for the city to expect boats to be registered, legal and safe.
I would argue that the problems with boaters aren’t really boater problems at all. The majority of us out here love our boats and follow the law. If the city has a “homeless” problem, evicting the boats will not solve it. The homeless are just that…homeless. They have nowhere else to go. You can move them off boats and they will move into your parks and empty lots. Cruisers, on the other hand, will cruise. As far as derelict boats are concerned, the boats that end up washed up in people’s yards are the ones that are abandoned and have no one on them.
I am not homeless. I work. I pay taxes. I paid for my boat. I consciously chose this lifestyle when my youngest child became independent. I’ve worked my whole life, raised a large family and am now ready for my “me” time.
I am a cruiser who chooses to spend most of my time on my boat. I go to my land address to work and visit with my grandchild almost daily, but I consider my boat my “home” in that it’s my comfortable place. I’ve rented slips in St Pete Beach, Clearwater and Gulfport Municipal Marina in each of the past seven months. I am not on anchor to avoid paying rent. I spent more renting the transient dock at Gulfport Marina for 10 days than I would have paid for a regular monthly slip rent.
About a month ago, the Gulfport police stopped by my boat and checked my registration and safety equipment. They were friendly and polite and did not seem to have an issue with me. They advised that I should rent a mooring ball to avoid impending future conflict.
I certainly considered a mooring ball when I moved my boat back to Gulfport this winter. Although I have no problem spending money, I am frugal in the sense that I don’t like to spend money for no apparent benefit.
In weighing the decision, I couldn’t see any good reason to spend $370 a month for the mooring ball. The marina has cold showers, two small washing machines and is too far away to be of any use to the mooring field. The pump out boat is never functioning so mooring ball customers are also paying for that service privately over and above rent. The marina is also unable to deliver potable water, which is the one thing that might have been worth it to me.
The only “benefit” that I can see for myself in renting a mooring ball is that it would provide protection from the city of Gulfport trying to evict cruisers with 72 hour notices. It amounts to extortion.
I like this city. Gulfport has a very unique vibe. Tourists come here to see the old Florida homes and enjoy our quaint waterfront while spending at the local businesses. They also enjoy walking out on the dock and pier and looking at our boats. I walk my dog and listen to their conversations. Cruising, which represents freedom, is a yearning in everyone’s hearts. Most will never join us, but they enjoy knowing people are out here doing it and dream a little.
I can recognize that I am not invested in the city itself the same way a business owner or homeowner might be. They are here for good or bad, whereas I can move whenever I please. What I am invested in is the water. So although I have no issue with the city personally, it is of upmost importance to me that the water remains free for the cruising lifestyle that I have chosen. By “free” I am not talking about money, but rather the freedom to use the water around the state of Florida.
Everyone on the water has their own story of how they got here. We are all just as different from each other as any neighborhood on land. The commonality we share is our love for the water, our boats and Mother Nature. We are also living a bit more of a daily struggle, fighting the elements, that forces us to become a community that helps each other in times of immediate need.
People living on land help each other as well when there is a hurricane warning or such, but it’s not a necessary part of their daily lives. Your lawn chairs may blow over with a good wind, whereas out here if someone’s anchor drags while they are at work they could lose their boat if their neighbors don’t drop everything and instantly help. Most of the people on the water are good neighbors. We have to be to survive.
The vast majority of the cruisers out here are good human beings, as in most any community of people. But, to quote The Lion King, “There’s one in every family, sire.” There will always be at least one a-hole on the block no matter where you live. Consider how many boats you see out here and yet one or two names have raised the ire. Don’t judge all according to one.
I’m a 51-year-old woman cruising on a boat with a French Bulldog, because it’s my “me” time in life, and I want to sail.
Author Deanna Phillips