APOLLO BEACH — A flotilla of boats paraded along the waters of Tampa Bay on Sunday in a short but energetic display honoring President Donald Trump’s 74th birthday and Flag Day.
It was one of several “Trumptillas,” that took place along waterfront communities across Florida and the nation. Trump supporters and the president’s own campaign have organized and encouraged the boat parades as a way to show support for the president while also practicing social distancing to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
"To see all the boats and the spirit and flags and just the patriotism, I don’t know, it gave me chill bumps,” said parade organizer Sherri Gerland of Apollo Beach.
Gerland, 60, estimated that about 200 to 300 boats showed up. She was near the front of the parade aboard the 26-foot Bay boat she owns with her significant other, Pete Gardner, 50.
“Looking back at it, you could see this just wall of water and boats,” Gerland said. "It was overwhelming.”
The parade started at about 11 a.m. near Beer Can Island off Apollo Beach. They anchored in the area ahead of the parade. One blasted Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” and others flew a mix of American flags, Trump flags and “thin blue line” flags supporting police.
One boat advertised Italian ice for anyone looking to beat the 84 degree heat. “I got cigars and Italian ice,” yelled out the man operating the boat.
Then the parade started. The boats created a wide line that glided across the bay.
Leading the way was the Invictus II, a 60-foot Marquis yacht owned by Jim Morton, 63, of Palmetto. He started the morning docked in downtown Tampa, sipping green tea while about 20 of his friends climbed aboard to take part in the parade.
The Invictus II had flags like “Trump 2020 No More Bulls--t” and another depicting the president’s face plastered onto the body of Rambo holding a combination machine gun-rocket launcher. But they were kept furled while docked. Morton said he felt uneasy having the flags up near downtown.
But when they started cruising toward Beer Can Island before the parade, his friends unfurled the flags and let them fly.
When the parade started, the rest of the boats lined up behind the yacht. The Invictus II led a U-shaped formation of boats.
Dennis Thompson, 63, held on to a Michelob Ultra while looking out from the upper deck of the Invictus II. He wished the president a happy birthday.
“God bless America,” he said.
The parade was scheduled to end by 3 p.m., but the stream of boats started to turn into a trickle after just 45 or so minutes.
Jay Rich, who captained the Invictus II, had to change course and drop out of the lead position because he feared the waters along Bayshore Boulevard were too shallow for the yacht. He said it was hard to keep so many boats together in the wide-open waters of Tampa Bay.
So the yacht returned to Beer Can Island. A few Trump-flag bearing boats were also lingering there. Aboard the Invictus II, it was time for cocktails and a swim.
Another guest was Jeff Flood, 59, of Bradenton. He said it was interesting to see so many people come together and speak up for the president.
“Trump, he’s kept his word," Flood said. "That means a lot to me.”
He added: “Us old school guys — that means everything.”
The “Trumptilla” took place amid the non-stop protests against police violence and racism that have been taking place in Tampa, St. Petersburg and the rest of the nation on Sunday, 20 days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
Flood said he was in Georgia last week when he ran across a Black Lives Matter demonstration. He said he gave the demonstrators a thumbs up.
“There’s a difference between protesting and looting,” he said.
The Invictus II headed back toward downtown Tampa at about 3 p.m. As they approached the dock, the guests started rolling up the Trump flags and took them down.