More than 500 boats circled Absecon Island on Sunday as part of a parade supporting President Donald Trump.
Organizer Frank Rich, 34, of Northfield, took inspiration from a similar parade in Jupiter, Florida, where he also has a home.
That parade was May 3, and traveled from Jupiter to the President’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Rich was unable to participate in the Florida parade because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so he decided to organize something in South Jersey.
“We started about two months ago, and it slowly just got bigger and bigger,” Rich said. “(It) was just unbelievable the amount of support we had from everyone.”
Rich started a Facebook page that eventually collected 3,000 participants. He reached out to the Coast Guard, State Police and bridge operators to ensure it was a success.
The day started with a meet-up in Great Egg Harbor Inlet between Longport and Ocean City.
Billy Mullay, 16, from West Chester, Pennsylvania, started things off at 11:55 a.m. by singing the national anthem, broadcast to the attendees over a boat radio.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, then broadcast a speech over the same radio channel from Rich’s boat, the Victoria Ann.
The boats then sounded their fog horns together and departed the harbor with 150 or so of the bigger vessels circling around via the ocean and about 400 of the smaller boats taking the Intracoastal Waterway until they all met up again in the back bay. From there, the boaters followed their individual courses home.
“There was talk of protest happening and people throwing stuff off the bridges at us, but that did not happen,” Rich said. “People were flying American flags, Trump flags. On the water it was bigger than the airshow, bigger than any fireworks show. It was an unreal event, I’ve lived here my whole life, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Not everyone was as excited. Leah Sinderbrand, 27, of Margate, took issue with the disruption caused by the closing of bridges on the Intracoastal Waterway to allow boats to pass.
“Imagine if you were an emergency vehicle trying to cross the causeway bridge and you can’t pass through and yet seven protesters were arrested yesterday in Atlantic City for using their bodies to block the expressway,” Sinderbrand said.
She was referencing the arrest of Steve Young, a member of the Black Men United Coalition, who was arrested along with six others at the end of Saturday’s Black Lives Matter protest for blocking the Atlantic City Expressway.
“I want to know why it’s OK for hundreds of boats to obstruct safety, but it’s not OK for protesters to walk in a street,” she said. “I don’t want this to be depicted as a fun parade.”
But another onlooker thought it was just that. One 70-year old Atlantic County resident who asked not to be named, watched the flotilla pass from Margate.
“It was beautiful to see people get together and praise our county,” he said. “It was what you expect to see on July 4th weekend. We saw veterans uniforms, no derogatory signs, nothing negative. Everything was very positive. It was a perfect situation.”