PUNTA GORDA — When Bob Peterson relocated to Punta Gorda Isles in 1997, he knew he had found paradise. With boating, scuba diving and golfing as his hobbies, it was a sure fit for him. Now, 17 years later, as one of the co-chairmen of the Planning Committee for the 50th birthday of the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association, he is giving back to the place he calls a “boater’s dream.”
On Saturday, more than 200 boats of all shapes and sizes were positioned behind the Laishley Crab House to be part of a historic event — having their photograph taken from a small plane circling overhead. The small aircraft also took aerial shots of 300 to 400 people at the park who had formed the letters P, G, I, C, A — for the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association. A Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office helicopter flew over to take photographs as well.
“The main reason we are doing this, besides celebrating our 50 years of success, is to promote the boaters’ experience here in Punta Gorda,” Peterson said.
Peterson said the 19-member committee began planning the celebration — dubbed the Harbor Happening — in the second or third week of April. It started with 50 or 60 boats, and eventually mushroomed into a huge two-day birthday party.
Some of the numerous boating organizations that participated in the golden anniversary are the PGI Seafarers, the Mariners of PGI, the PGI Islanders, the PGI Cruising Club, the PGI Fishing Club, the PGI Paddlers and the Burnt Store Isles Boat Club.
Boaters are a special group of people, Peterson said — no matter how big their boat is, they love to sit and talk about where they have been and what they have done while sailing.
“The kayakers are wearing red shirts,” said Marilyn Thorndycraft, co-chairwoman of the committee. “They are near the bridge forming up to create flowers for the flyover. On Friday night, all the lights from the boats along Gilchrist Park were marvelous.”
“Members of the Punta Gorda Sailing Club just got in from a three-week cruise,” Peterson added. “They were tired, but wanted to be here. People in Punta Gorda are so nice, and they want to help out.”
Claiborne Young, author of many cruising guides, really loves Punta Gorda, Peterson said. His two books, focusing on the east and west coasts of Florida, publicized the area.
Peterson is hoping that the county will invest in a pump-out boat and a facility for boaters who dock at the Hook or the mooring balls. Many visitors want showers, Wi-Fi, washers, dryers, etc. when they come ashore.
“Boaters come and spend,” he said. “It’s great for economic development.”
As the small plane banked to make its approach Saturday, emcee Jeff Collins, aka The Golden Hippo from 1580 WCCF‑AM, told the human sculpture to “tighten up and get ready.” The plane made several passes, followed by the CCSO chopper. Everyone now was part of PGI history.
“Everyone I talk to says to me, ‘You’re going to do this next year, right?’” Peterson said smiling. “Let’s hope so. I’ll do the 100th anniversary.”