Members from the most active boat club in the nation will converge on Fort Myers Beach to take part in a celebration of one of the most successful boatbuilding companies in the world.
Grady-White boat owners and enthusiasts will be attending the All-American GradyFest in the Fish Tale Marina area this weekend. The event is being held from Friday, March 21 through Sunday, March 23.
The biennial festival will again support the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a national charity that has offices locally. GradyFest donated $12,000 to NAMI in 2010, $15,000 in 2013 and is expected to double that latter amount due to a promised match. Grady-White Boats owner Eddie Smith has stated he will contribute to the sizable event donations.
"We're hoping to do $30,000 this year," said event co-chairman George Pacharis. "(Smith) was so impressed with the NAMI group down in Naples that he is going to match donations up to $15,000."
More than 300 participants are registered so far for the weekend. That is roughly the same number that attended the 2012 GradyFest, says Pacharis.
"We're going to have some really excellent speakers here," he said. "Erik Sorensen, who is one of the foremost authorities on boat design, will be speaking on Saturday as will David Neese, the vice president of manufacturing for Grady White boats. They are two of the main speakers."
The event kicks off Friday with a Dock-tail Party for registered boaters to mingle and meet-and-greet with fellow boaters from different boating areas. Industry information will be available and gift give-aways will be handed out. Live music and complimentary appetizers, a cash bar and a food menu will be available. Pincher's Crab Shack will cater.
"About 40 boats will be arriving from all over the state," said Pacharis.
Grady White club members will be coming from outside of Florida as well, including the Carolinas, Maryland, Georgia and Lake Erie.
"It will be well attended from people outside of Florida," said Pacharis.
On Saturday, the main event features a 9 a.m. boat parade, seminars and a group photo among the activities. Beach Mayor Alan Mandel will make a proclamation to officially announce March 22 as "Grady White Day." Former Councilwoman Jo List will sing The Star-Spangled Banner and God Bless America.
New this year will be a Lady Grady tent that will feature U.S. Coast Guard presentations, Islamorada's Brittney Novalsky (known as one of Florida's top lady fishing experts) and speakers for the 'First Mates' on boating safety, dermatology and among other things. Go to www.floridasportswomen.com to learn more about Novalsky and female angler information.
On Sunday, U.S. Coast Guard officials will be providing boating assistance for a historical raft-up in the Estero Bay area.
"We are touting this as the world's largest Grady White boat raft with about 70 boats anchored up," said Pacharis. "With an average beam of 10 feet, that's 700 feet of boats and about three-quarters of a million pounds tied up together. There will probably be 150 to 200 people on these boats."
Itinerary details for the three days can be obtained at www.gradyfest.com .
This will be the fourth GradyFest event in Southwest Florida. The event, which happens every two years, was held in Punta Gorda in 2008 and on the Beach in 2010 and 2012.
Although the event is not fully open to the public, those who are interested in Grady White boats for purchase or have a desire to learn more are invited to participate in some activities. A $30 registration fee includes a free t-shirt, Grady White accessories and Saturday lunch.