Let the races begin yet again off Sarasota
It's boat race time again.
The Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix cranks up in the next few days, with lots of fast boats, hot pits and parades off the shore of Lido Beach in Sarasota.
Festivities have already commenced, with kid fishing tourneys and a charity golf tournament, but the real deal will start with the "World's Largest Offshore Party" at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 28, at the Hyatt Sarasota.
Next day is the parade down Main Street in Sarasota, which starts at 6 p.m.
I love a parade, and this is a great one. Lots of big boats, lots of fun.
There is also a block party on Main Street at Lemon Avenue after the parade, plus a car show and boat displays that night.
Saturday is "Powerboats by the Bay" at Centennial Park, 10th Street and U.S. 41, with live entertainment, all the race boats on display, food and the usual festivities.
Sunday, July 1, is race day.
The course is pretty much between Big Pass and New Pass of Lido Key, with lots of laps and lots of really, really fast boats.
And the best part of all the events is that everything is free.
'Insider's tips' for enjoying the fun
This year is the 23rd offshore boat race for Sarasota. It started as a modest effort to benefit the Suncoast Foundation for the Handicapped, a not-for-profit group that reaped the benefits of racers when they turned their winnings over to the foundation.
It has blossomed since into one of the biggest parties Sarasota holds annually.
Historically, the races have been a hoot. The first one saw a few buddies and I holding onto a surfboard out in the water, far too close to the course. We realized we were right up-front-and-personal when the water started to vibrate as the boats careened through the turn in front of our noses and the spray hit us.
Then there was the year that the course ran into Big Pass between Lido and Siesta keys, zipped north into the bay and exited through New Pass. We were on a buddy's sailboat, moored off the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, and had a front-row seat.
Boats were supposed to cut their speed through the bay. Few appeared to do so. In fact, there was a great image of one boat hitting the throttle just before going under the New Pass Bridge and throwing hundreds of gallons of water via its wake into a convertible Mercedes on the bridge. The bay path of the race course was terminated after that event.
There was even a race that took place in Sarasota Bay when the weather was too bad for the boats to traverse the course in the Gulf of Mexico.
So here's some tips if you want to go and enjoy any of the fun, and the No. 1 tip is easy: Get there early. For everything.
Hey, it's all a party, right? Enjoy it all.
For the parade, park down by the waterfront, stroll toward downtown, enjoy the sights, grab a cool beverage, and have a nice time. It's Friday night, after all.
On race day, its always to get to Lido Beach by 8-ish, since that early parking isn't much of a problem. There are lots of places to have breakfast - Holiday Inn, the pavilion, Lido Beach Resort, the Harley Sandcastle - and then set up on the beach and enjoy the day on the sand.
If you have a boat and want to watch the action from it, I strongly advise you not to do so.
There are three "boater holidays" that bring everybody out on the water: Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. I've had the misfortune to be out on the water when I had my little boat on each, and regretted every one.
Although Anna Maria Island boaters are courteous, competent and cautious, the rest of the yachting community is not always the same. It is really, really scary out there on the holidays, and prudent waterfolk I've known find it a good day to stay home - or drive somewhere and watch the fun from the safety of the shore.
Have fun this Fourth of July.
For those who eschew the joys of the shore and prefer to venture into the interior of the state on the Fourth, here's a bit of dubious advice offered from my friend of days of yore from Bradenton Beach, Doris Silverthorn, now of North Carolina. I question its validity, but it's funny nonetheless.
"The U.S. Department of Fish and Game is advising hikers, hunters and fishers to take extra precautions and keep alert for bears while in the field. They advise that campers should wear noisy little bells on their clothing so as not to startle bears that aren't expecting them.
"They also advise campers to carry pepper spray with them in case of an encounter with a bear. It is also a good idea to watch out for fresh signs of bear activity. Campers should recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear dung.
"Black bear dung is smaller and contains lots of berries and squirrel fur.
"Grizzly bear dung is larger and has little bells in it and smells like pepper spray."
Oh, Doris ….
Remember those old door mats that depicted a cartoon of a raccoon working the combination lock on a garbage can? The little bandits could break into anything, and Island residents of years past - and even today - went to extreme lengths to keep the pests from strewing garbage all over the yard at night.
We're not alone, it would appear, in our 'coon problems.
According to a news report first published in the Washington Post, Hermann Goering first approved a proposal that raccoons would be a great source of fur and would give hunters something to shoot. Raccoons were imported from the United States to Germany.
And they did what animals do. They bred. And bred.
Goering's action in 1934 has spurred what is estimated to be 1 million raccoons in Germany, a place that never had the masked marauders before, and they have spread to the Baltic Sea and as far east as Chechnya. British newspapers have called them "Nazi raccoons," and fear they could spread across the English Channel to their country.
As here, the little critters are more of a nuisance than anything else, eating other critters' eggs and breaking into homes in the winter to weather the cold and find food.
German residents are fighting the same fight we do with raccoons. They try to secure their garbage, keep their doors to outbuildings closed, and keep a careful watch to keep the little pests away.
And, like we've all found - well, some of us, anyway - raccoons don't serve as a good food source.
As one trapper put it, after his snack, "It's a very intensive taste, a wild-animal taste. But there's just no demand for any part of them, basically."
Right. Tell that to Daniel Boone.
There has always been a school of thought of a few of us dog lovers that the little mutts are smarter than they appear. Now, there's some science to back up our beliefs.
A group of European scientists has determined that dogs from a wide range of breeds will rather quickly pick up learned behavior from another dog to get a treat.
The test was based on whether or not a dog could use its paw rather than its mouth to pull down a bar to get a cookie. Normal dog behavior is to use its mouth for almost everything.
The control group quickly caught onto how to use the bar to get the treat, using its mouth.
When a trained dog had a ball in its mouth and thunked the bar with its foot, the other dogs still used their mouths. Scientists figured that the other dogs figured that the ball kept the dog from using its mouth, as usual, and did as they always would do.
Then the third test where the trained dog, without a ball in its mouth, used its paw to push down the bar to get a treat, was shown to the pack. Most then used their own paws rather than their natural tendency to use their mouth to get the cookies.
As one researcher told the Washington Post, "Dogs are really keen observers of the world around them."
I've had dogs forever. They never stop amazing me. The little mutt I've now got, after spending time with other dogs, has gotten quieter, calmer, more relaxed, and generally has apparently learned what it's like to be a dog rather than a frantic human - like its owner.