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Party Goes On For Some Boaters Not Heeding Coronavirus Orders

Beer Can Island in Apollo Beach
Courtesy James Leckie
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Many businesses have been shuttered because of coronavirus, but boat ramps and marinas in Hillsborough and Pinellas County remained open over the weekend.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and local law enforcement agencies are encouraging people to hit the water, so long as they abide by the rules set down in a statewide "stay-at-home" order. That is, stay at least 50 feet away from other boats and have no more than 10 people aboard.

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On Friday, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he was hoping this weekend would be better for compliance from recreational boaters than last weekend. "We need people to help us, we need the public's cooperation...and just follow the rules," he said.

But in southern Hillsborough County, dockmaster James Leckie said recreational boaters are still flocking to Beer Can Island in Apollo Beach. Two weeks ago, he said he saw hundreds of boats clumped around the island.

Sunday, Leckie said traffic was better but he feels there are still too many people going there on their boats.

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"I'm right down the street from where I work. And so whenever I come home, all I do is watch what goes on and, and I see all the boaters that are headed out to the Tampa Bay. And it's ridiculous,” said Leckie, who runs Little Harbor Marina in Ruskin. “It's not talking... we're not talking about you know, husband and wife or father and son going out fishing. We're talking about all the neighbors out onto the boat, and everybody's going out to party."

Leckie said he shut down his business down as Hillsborough County's "safer-at-home" order kicked in on March 27. He said Sunday he'll try reopening - but by appointment only.

"The marine environment is a bad environment to be in as far as this goes, because it's the customers aren't really listening down here,” he said. “The customers are using this to use it as an excuse to get together as opposed to stay apart. So it's just too hard to contain."

He said he would like to see Hillsborough go the way of Miami-Dade County in closing down boat ramps and marinas. With the exponential growth in Hillsborough County's positive number of coronavirus cases, he said he believes it would make a difference and save lives.

"This is Florida. There are a lot of old, there's a lot of sick,” he said. “There's a lot of people that need our help in this and they're not getting it."

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Susan Giles Wantuck is our midday news host, and a producer and reporter for WUSF Public Media who focuses her storytelling on arts, culture and history.