NORTHVILLE -- Under bright sunshine and a brilliant blue sky, a defiant flotilla made up of hundreds of President Donald Trump supporters paraded across the Great Sacandaga Lake Saturday and under the Northville Bridge.
Some of the boats included cardboard cut-outs of the 45th president, while others included passengers with Trump-themed masks of various sizes. One of the boats included a woman wearing a giant Melania Trump mask on her face and a giant foam hand with its middle finger extended.
"This is better than the 'Doins!'" shouted one onlooker from the Northville Bridge, referencing the village's annual festival and parade, which were canceled due to social distancing requirements from the coronavirus pandemic.
Few dissenting voices were heard on the bridge during the flotilla parade. Someone in a car shouted "Black lives matter!" and was responded to with a shout of "All lives matter!" A shirtless passenger on the bow of one of the boats shouted repeatedly "Black Sabbath Matters!"
For an event with no official organizer, the “Trump Boat Parade Flotilla Upstate NY” drew hundreds of boats with enthusiastic Trump supporters to "Mosquito Bay," located near the Lanzi's on the Lake Restaurant & Marina in Mayfield.
Northville native Gabe Enders, owner of SkyLark Photography, shot aerial photos of the rally from a 1940s piper cub airplane. He said he thinks there were 800 to 1,000 boats of various sizes at the start of the event.
"It was the most incredible thing I've seen on the lake," he said.
The event was announced on the “GSL Conservative Club” Facebook event page, and then re-posted to Fulton County Area News by its operator, Ryan Lorey. Lorey said he thinks Gov. Andrew Cuomo's social distancing edict that prevented most fireworks displays contributed to a pent-up desire among Trump supporters to participate in some kind of activity on the lake.
"The first thing that drew my attention to this was that it was the only thing that was going on anywhere around here, no fireworks," Lorey said. "I had just posted a story from the Chamber of Commerce that there was no fireworks, so it was a little discouraging. Then I got excited to see a boat parade, and I thought it was just a boat parade, but then I saw it was a Trump boat parade."
Approximately 200 to 300 boats left Mosquito Bay at about 11:30 a.m., hugging the western shoreline of the man-made reservoir, conducting a parade circuit that took them under the Northville Bridge and into the northernmost bay of the Sacandaga River.
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino positioned a sheriff's deputy boat near the bridge. Giardino had announced prior to the event that he would not be issuing tickets for a lack of regatta permit for the event. Giardino, a former County Court judge and district attorney, said he believes the state Department. of Environmental Conservation rules for regattas are meant for more organized events with entry fees and prizes.
Giardino said his deputies were there in case of unruly behavior, but no tickets were issued by his department during the event.
Preston Frasier, who lives on Hampton Point in Northville, said he is a Trump supporter and was attracted to the event by the Facebook post. He said he works in Johnstown at Epimed as a quality control manager. He said the last few months have been so stressful with the coronavirus pandemic and protests and riots that the "silent majority" of the public needed an outlet.
Fraiser piloted his speedboat near the front of the flotilla. He acknowledged that the Fourth of July is usually not a time for partisanship, but this year is different.
"Fourth of July for me, historically, has always been USA., America; everybody loves the country and you can put your political beliefs aside, but this year has been crazy," he said. "I guess it was politicized and partisan towards the president, but I think everything has been politicized against the president. Northville, historically, has had this awesome [Fourth of July] parade, and Northville is a special town. We've always had this unifying parade, and the fact that that was canceled on such a nice day, was just a terrible thing."
Luigi Lanzi, whose family owns three restaurants on the Great Sacandaga Lake, said the customers he got from the rally point at Mosquito Bay and off the northern end of the parade near his restaurant Sport Island Pub was "banner." He estimated 1,000 boats total for the entire event, but he said it was still down from a typical Fourth of July, which would include a fireworks display at his business.
"We're still down, with the coronavirus we're only at 50 percent capacity, so we're 40 to 60 percent down in sales," Lanzi said. "It is what it is. This is what we've got to go by, and we try to do all the laws they've put in to keep COVID-19 down. We don't want to see a spike here, for sure. We're doing everything we can with that."
Social distancing among the boaters was easy, but among the onlookers on the Northville Bridge it was less so. There were more Trump flags on the bridge than American flags. One of them included the slogan, "Make liberals cry again."
Mike Quinn, a Perth resident, carried a large Trump flag with the slogan, "Promises Made, Promises Kept." He said he's been happy with Trump "continuing to build the wall," "lowering taxes" and "prior to the coronavirus, our unemployment rate was at record lows."
Quinn, who did not wear a mask, said he rejects any criticism of Trump's handling of the coronavirus, and believes only a Democrat would blame him for the economic impact of the disease. He said young people are responsible for spreading the virus. He's also not happy with the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Look, Black people only make up about 15 percent of the population, but right now they're getting 100 percent of the attention," he said. "Those are the facts, but the liberal media won't report it."