PUNTA GORDA ISLES — In 2005, Virginia natives Rob and Mary Frances Adair attended a few functions at the Isles Yacht Club, and soon were invited to become members.
“I didn’t want to join because I thought people would be pretentious. I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t think this is for us. We’re not yacht club people,’” Mary Frances recalled saying to her husband. “But that was short-lived, because people here are so gracious and warm and inviting. It turned out to be the best thing we did.”
“We didn’t even have a boat at the time,” Rob remembered. “But that didn’t matter. It’s like belonging to an extended family.”
The Adairs joined the well-established social club, and seven years later, not only are they members, but they also own a boat — “it’s really small,” Rob said with a chuckle — that they enter each year in the club’s holiday boat-lighting celebration, a tradition that has spanned more than a quarter of a century.
Since 1987, the yacht club has played host to the popular event, which draws hundreds of people each year to its beautiful facility in Punta Gorda Isles. It kicks off every December on the Thursday before the club’s annual Christmas Ball.
On Thursday, close to 300 people turned out to see the Lighting of the Fleet — a coordinated holiday light spectacle in which the skippers of some 45 boats simultaneously “flipped the switch” on their elaborate and whimsical displays. There were Christmas trees and snowmen, reindeer and a Santa lounging on a hammock between colorfully lit palm trees. There was even a holiday helicopter perched atop a yacht.
“I think it went better than ever,” IYC Commodore Fred Hannon said of this year’s event.
Hannon was celebrating with his family on the lovely Mystic Blue, a 32-foot Albin cruiser that was lit up like a Christmas tree. “We had probably the largest attendance ever,” he said.
The Isles Yacht Club is a member of the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs, an alliance of 36 private clubs across the state that have reciprocal agreements.
Over the years, the IYC has received plaques from the council acknowledging the organization as “the friendliest and most outgoing club in the group,” Hannon said. “I know yacht clubs are considered stodgy and old-fashioned, but ours isn’t really like that.”
No doubt the yacht club’s 720 members are a fun, active bunch, participating in more than 20 activity clubs, ranging from boating and biking to golf and tennis.
Punta Gorda Mayor Bill Albers was partaking in the festivities Thursday night and said it’s one of the more fun-filled nights of the year. He recalled seeing the yacht club’s holiday light display for the first time in 1996 as he was driving by one night.
“All of a sudden the lights went on and we said, ‘What the heck is that?’ So we pulled over and we’ve been coming ever since,” Albers said. “It’s just incredible.”