The project started as a way to promote Tampa's waterways by a kid who spends his summers navigating them.
Willy Booth, 13, can't yet drive a car, he says on his video, My Waterfront Adventure, but he does have a boating licence. So he used it to travel up the Hillsborough River and into the bays while his father worked at a red-brick warehouse that was once an old Trolley Barn in Tampa Heights.
Willy catches big fish and cleans up a whole lot of trash.
His earliest memories on the river are cleaning it up. He volunteered with the Sierra Club, Friends of the River and the Green Armada, as the chief mate for Capt. Cliff Conatser.
"Willy works hard," Conatser said. "He cares a lot about the river."
This past summer, while his brother and dad aimed a camera, Willy paddled a kayak, drove a powerboat and zipped along on a water scooter. His favorite part, he said, was a trip into the bay to an island with a picnic lunch from Inside the Box Cafe and Catering. Willy swam and sipped root beer that he made himself.
Willy is an eighth-grader at King Middle School in Bradenton, where he lives with his mother. He was born in New Jersey and came to Florida six years ago. He's not really sure yet what he wants to do when he's older, but it might have something to do with engineering and computers.
He grew up on boats and can't remember his first trip out on the water. Maybe he was 4. He has spent his past five summer breaks and some weekends with his dad, Darren Booth, who lives in Westchase.
He's also a quick learner, which helped as he mastered piloting boats. Docking, he said, is the hardest part because it has to be precise.
"I'm a careful person," he said.
He regularly sees the same three dolphins going up and down the river, he said. One day he trailed them for hours on a water scooter, coming as closed as 5 feet a couple times.
There's a shot of them on the video. And a kayak trip where he fills a bag with trash picked from the river.
Hadrian Alegarbes, a wilderness guide for the past 10 years, takes inner-city middle-schoolers up the river, which runs 56 miles from an intersection of Pasco, Polk and Hillsborough counties into Tampa Bay.
He never met Willy, but calls the teen's work to tidy the river impressive.
"To see a 13-year-old with that kind of unselfish action is just fantastic," Alegarbes said.
The camera catches Willy flipping from the boat into the bay — "much cleaner," Willy says. He points out manatees. But no alligators, or sharks, although he has been looking after someone else spotted one.
It took him about a month to make the video, which he and his brother, Chris Booth, 18, and their dad whittled down to around 13 minutes. He gives his dad credit for linking it to viewers.
"I was incredibly surprised," Willy said. "I had no idea that more than 15,000 people would watch it."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.