Grady White boat owners and enthusiasts are invited to attend a signature festival the south end of Fort Myers Beach at the end of the week. A national charity will be the benefactor.
The All-American GradyFest III, a celebration of one of the most successful boatbuilding companies in the world, will be held in the lot and marina area of Santini Marina Plaza on Friday, March 23 and Saturday, March 24. The fundraiser will send proceeds to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, based in Collier County.
Roughly 400 to 500 Grady White boat owners from all over the country are expected to be on site, according to event co-chairman George Pacharis.
"Rob Moody from Reel Talk Radio on ESPN 770 AM will kick off the opening festivities on Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m.," added Pacharis. "The boat parade will feature new models at Fish Tale Marina. Our slogan is hot dogs, apple pie and Grady White boats. What can be more American than that?"
The festivities will include "God Bless America" sung by Councilwoman Jo List, salutations by FMB Mayor Larry Kiker, a small Grady White boat parade in the marina canal at 9 a.m. Saturday, a reel talk radio show broadcast, "round table" discussions on fishing and cruising, a "docktail" party catered by Pincher's from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday evening, a series of speakers to inform via presentations, vendors and live auctions for various gifts.
Although the event is not fully open to the public, those who are interested in Grady White boats either by interest or purchasing are invited to participate. A $25 registration fee includes a free t-shirt, Grady White accessories and lunch.
"This event is the gathering of all the Grady White clubs from all over the United States," said event co-chairman Ray Jahn, sales manager of Fish-Tale Sales and Service, Inc. "A venue like this will show the atmosphere of Grady White owners and what the club is all about. People are invited to walk through, but there are certain activities that they will not be able to participate in without the registration fee."
This will be the third GradyFest event in Southwest Florida. The event, which happens every two years, was held in Punta Gorda four years ago and on the Beach in 2010.
The Grady White club is the most active boat club in the U.S., says Pacharis.
"We are going to have all the principals from the Grady White factory in Greenville, N.C., including the CEO and his vice presidents and members of the sales, marketing and engineering departments," he said. "We will have people from 15 Grady White boat clubs, including the Lone Star Grady White Boat Club from Houston, Texas and others from Cape Cod, Norfolk (Va.) and Low County Grady White Boat Club from South Carolina."
Jahn said local organizers were up in Greenville with the Grady White executives for the planning stages in July.
"This is something that was in the works for nine months before the days of this event," he said. "When we raise the flag out there and Jo List starts singing the National Anthem, I will assure you every condo owner on that canal will be on their patios with their hands on their hearts. It's an exciting day."
Proceeds from the benefit festival goes to a good cause in helping out the mentally ill.
"This is all for NAMI," said Jahn. "There is zero profit involved."
"In 2010, the club donated $13,000 to $14,000 to NAMI," added Pacharis. "We are hoping to beat that this year."