PUNTA GORDA — The Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association set out to include boaters in its yearlong series of events to mark its 50th anniversary — and wound up launching an armada from throughout the region to help promote this city as a boating destination.
Organizers of the Harbor Happening are expecting some 300 boats to anchor off Gilchrist and Laishley parks to participate in the event today. Some 50 boats already had anchored in those areas by early Friday afternoon.
Aerial photographs are to be taken of the flotilla beginning at 10 a.m. Photos also will be taken of a cluster of kayaks that will raft up to form a star, and a “human sculpture” to be created by some 400 people on land in Gilchrist Park, according to Beth Magnin, the association’s executive director.
The association plans to offer its photos for promotional use by either the Punta Gorda Boaters Alliance or the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, she said.
“We’re just very excited,” Magnin said. “We’re just thrilled we can involve the whole community because we really are a boating community.”
The boaters will use water taxis and dinghies to come ashore for live music and a picnic catered by some five restaurants at Gilchrist Park. The festivities were to kick off Friday evening with “Docktail Parties” at the park and at the Laishley Park Municipal Marina.
The boaters alliance could publish the photos on its website, boosting Punta Gorda as a boaters destination, Magnin said. That site is linked to an advertisement on a cruising sailors’ Internet magazine, the Salty Southeast Cruisers Net (www.cruisersnet.com).
Several PGI-based groups were to participate, including the Seafarers Cruising, PG Islanders and PGI Paddlers clubs.
Soon after the event was announced, however, the alliance and several other groups, including the Charlotte Harbor, Burnt Store Isles and Platinum Point yacht clubs and the Punta Gorda sailing and boat clubs, offered to join in.
“Then it mushroomed into something larger to involve the whole community,” Magnin said.
The event already has been embraced by Claiborne Young, Salty Southeast publisher.
“In fact, the Harbor Happening may just be the single most important event in the boating and cruising history of the (cruisers-friendly) community,” Young wrote in the Salty Southeast. “This very special day will feature a mass group shot of every cruising (and other type of) craft that can be squeezed into the Peace River, along the Punta Gorda waterfront.”
The civic association was launched in 1962 to promote fun activities for isles residents. Other anniversary events have included sock hops and barbecues.
PGI resident Bob Burns said he decided to sail his 32-foot cutter sailboat CandaceStar to the event after getting a flier about it in the mail.
“It’s just an opportunity to go sailing and see the magnitude of the boating community,” he said.
Bob Peterson of the civic association, an event organizer, sailed his 43-foot motor yacht The Office to the Gilchrist anchorage Friday. Rough weather hampered a water taxi from jockeying around the boats, and similar conditions are forecast today, he said.
“As every boater knows, one thing we can’t control is the weather,” he said.
Had the weather been nicer, Peterson said he would have expected hundreds more to participate.
“We’ve had a tremendous response from everybody,” he said.