GULFPORT, Fla. — Small crowds alternatively gathered and dispersed under the sun on Gulfport’s Shore Boulevard Monday morning and afternoon, filming, discussing and generally being entertained by the operation: a massive crane and flatbed trucks, working to remove the large sailboat seemingly jammed between the seawall and the historic Gulfport Casino’s dock and walkway.
It had been the better part of the week since Tropical Storm Eta’s bands slammed into the southwest Pinellas County city, bringing high floodwaters into waterfront streets and businesses and stranding at least seven sailboats on the beach and against the seawall. Most of the cleanup was either done or nearly so, and several of the smaller craft were removed during the intervening days. But the main attraction—located at arguably the center of activity, across the street from the city’s most well-traveled strip of waterfront bars and restaurants—was happening now, and it was happening… slowly.
While a few people parked themselves semi-permanently at the bar or tables at Caddy’s at the corner of Beach Boulevard and Shore, groups mostly coalesced at the sawhorses closing off the east end of Shore off and on (but mostly on) for most of the day. They snapped photos. They engaged in armchair quarterbacking the recovery crew’s progress. They argued with fellow strangers, sometimes loudly and profanely, about the benefits of wearing a mask.
A sailboat trapped against the seawall in Gulfport. (Image by Scott Harrell)
To be fair, it was probably the most interesting thing to happen in Gulfport since, oh, let’s say early April of this year. It was also the natural response of a community that held memories of the previous Wednesday night close to heart.
As the crane lifted and shifted the sailboat, by degrees and with infinite care, some got bored and wandered away as others came. By 3:30 p.m or so, it was all over; the second of the sailboats that had captured the neighborhood’s attention along that section of seawall for the past four-and-a-half days was on a truck, and gone.
According to an unnamed Sea Tow employee on hand to assist in the recovery, the extractions of both boats had been covered by their respective owners’ insurance policies, which surely a relief to those that live and spend their money here; portions of the seawall were damaged, and those kinds of fixes don’t come cheap.
As the crowd dispersed for good, however, two massive sailboats remained along Gulfport Beach near its famous, always-crowded volleyball courts—reminders, for now, of the potential cost of living so close to the power of the Gulf itself.