JEWFISH KEY – Many members of the local boating community refused to let coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns interfere with their weekend fun.
At least a hundred boats dropped anchor today near a popular weekend boating destination, the sandbar west of Jewfish Key in the Intracoastal Waterway, east of the northern tip of Longboat Key and south of the Coquina boat ramps in Bradenton Beach.
Some boaters came near the Jewfish Key shoreline and some stood in the water in large groups. At least one boat flew a Confederate flag. Many others flew American flags and quite a few flew Donald Trump flags.
Several other boats came ashore at nearby Beer Can Island (Greer Island), actually a peninsula on both sides of the Longboat Pass Bridge.
Near the bridge, five young adults shared space on a small boat while fishing and suntanning with no apparent concerns about social distancing.
That was the same story on another nearby boat containing four young adults in swimwear.
Near the North Coquina boat ramp, a larger, more colorful motorboat approached with at least six older adults gathered in close proximity to each other.
According to social media posts and photographs shared by several Anna Maria Island residents, similar-sized boating crowds assembled at Jewfish Key and Beer Can Island on Saturday too.
According to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, large groups of boaters also assembled at Passage Key and Egmont Key during the weekend.
“In my 35-plus years, I have never seen so many boats around both Passage and Egmont keys. It was wall-to-wall,” Murphy said today.
The impromptu boat armadas occurred during the first weekend that the public beaches were closed in Manatee County, Sarasota County and several other neighboring counties and cities. The beaches were closed as a preventive measure to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
During a Friday, March 20 press conference at the county administration building in Bradenton, Manatee County Public Safety Director Jake Saur was asked about the status of the boat ramps. Saur said the county had no plans to close the public boat ramps and did not feel there was any need to.
The parking lots at the Coquina North and Coquina South boat ramps were both full this afternoon, but they were quiet and orderly while the boaters enjoyed their time on the water.
Manatee Beach Patrol personnel were stationed at the boat ramp parking lot entrances and they turned away those who wished to park there for non-boating or non-personal watercraft-related activities.
The Coquina boat ramps are located across Gulf Drive from Coquina Beach, where the beach parking lots are closed until further notice. At least half of the 10 or so vehicles parked illegally along the Gulf Drive South right of way near the Longboat Pass Bridge this afternoon received $50 parking tickets from the Bradenton Beach Police Department.
When asked how things were at the Kingfish boat ramp in Holmes Beach, Police Chief Bill Tokajer said, “All Good. Busy.”