Off the Florida Panhandle, Obamas cruise with porpoises to showcase Gulf as a vacation spot

By Julie Pace, AP
Sunday, August 15, 2010

Obamas take a boat ride during Gulf Coast vacation

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — Catching a glimpse of porpoises, President Barack Obama and his family went boating Sunday as part of a weekend trip to the Gulf of Mexico that was designed to showcase the region’s attractions as well as the president’s concern for those affected by the BP oil spill.

Joining Obama aboard the 50-foot Bay Point Lady on a rainy, overcast morning were first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha. The parents’ other daughter, Malia, is at summer camp. The vacationing threesome leaned over the boat to see the porpoises as the boat cruised the calm waters of St. Andrews Bay near their Panama City Beach hotel.

The outing came as the first family moved toward wrapping up its 27-hour trip to the Florida Panhandle. The Obamas were expected to return to Washington by Sunday evening.

The White House scheduled the trip after facing criticism that Obama wasn’t heeding his own advice that Americans vacation in the Gulf. He vacationed in North Carolina this spring, Maine earlier this summer, and will head to Martha’s Vineyard, off the Massachusetts coast, later in August. Mrs. Obama also traveled to Spain this month with Sasha.

Although only 16 of the 180 beaches in the western part of the Florida Panhandle were affected by the spill, tourism officials say many potential visitors have stayed away, deterred by images of oil-slicked waters and tarball-strewn beaches in other parts of the region.

On Saturday, Obama took Sasha for a swim in St. Andrews Bay, a signal to other would-be Gulf vacationers that the water and the beaches are fine.

“Beaches all along the Gulf Coast are clean, they are safe, and they are open for business,” Obama said.

The president’s dip took place away from the news media. The White House released an official photo, but The Associated Press does not publish such handout images. According to the White House, the Obamas swam off Alligator Point, which is in Saint Andrews Bay, not the Gulf.

The first family spent much of Saturday at their beachfront hotel, venturing to Lime’s Bayside Bar & Grill, where they relaxed on an outdoor deck overlooking the water and ate a lunch of fish tacos, chicken tenders and burgers. They later headed into town for a round of miniature golf, where 9-year-old Sasha stole the show with a hole-in-one off the first tee.

Though the oil is no longer spewing from the BP-operated offshore oil rig that exploded April 20, Obama told residents that there is still much work to be done, and he promised that the federal government would not abandon them.

“I’m here to tell you that our job is not finished and we are not going anywhere until it is,” Obama said.

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