Sunny, sandy summer beach fun ahead this weekend
Although Memorial Day is usually considered the unofficial start of summer, and June 21 was the official start of the season, the Fourth of July weekend has always seemed to be the real start of summer.
Roll in the sand, splash in the surf, sizzle some meat and veggies on the grill and gather family and friends for fireworks - ah, summer is here!
And at least for some of us, that weekend has to include the Sunscoast Offshore Grand Prix powerboat race off Sarasota, and all the festivities that ensue.
Yeah, some have referred to the high-speed boat races as an "offshore tractor pull," but it's something of a rite of the season and generally a heckuva lot of fun.
In its 22nd year, the races are supposed to be the longest-running continuous site for the offshore racing circuit, which in this incarnation is sanctioning Super Boat International/American Power Boat Association.
The late Gene Whipp dreamed up the concept. His vision was to have boat races and other surrounding events on the July 4 weekend. Somebody suggested that a not-for-profit group reap any financial benefits from the races, kids were thought of as a good beneficiary, and the Florida Center for Child and Family Development was formed. It's gotten gazillions of dollars over the years - the kickoff party alone usually raises about $100,000 for the agency.
There's a lot more to the offshore grand prix than big, fast boats making lots of left turns in the Gulf of Mexico. Festivities stretch out through 11 days. Highlights include:
- World's Largest Offshore Party Thursday, June 29, starting at 8 p.m. at the Hyatt Sarasota. Cost is $15 at the door.
- Parade of Boats down Main Street in Sarasota Friday, June 30, starting at U.S. 301 and Main Street at 6 p.m., followed by a block party by the Main Street merchants.
- Driver/Sponsor Party & Concert Event at Robarts Arena/Sarasota County Fairgrounds Friday, June 30. Doors open at 7 p.m., music starts at 8, cost is $15 at the door.
- Powerboat Dry Pit Party at Sarasota Fairgrounds, plus Motorcycle "Patriotic Poker Run" and Bike Show Car Show, with the powerboats on display, Saturday, July 1, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The poker run starts at 9 a.m.
- Race day for the Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix will be Sunday, July 2, with heats beginning at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The course is from New Pass, between Longboat Key and Lido Key, south to Siesta Key and then back ... 'round and 'round.
- The Sarasota Reds baseball team hosts Fireworks Night July 3 at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. Gates for the baseball game against the Lakeland Tigers open at 6 p.m., game starts at 7 p.m., and fireworks follow the game. Admission is $5.
- Fireworks at Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota are at dusk July 4.
Oh, and there is supposed to be a special military flavor to this year's events, with a U.S. Air Force flyover of the race course July 4 at 1 p.m.
This year's course appears to be one of the shortest in distance in years, which means lots of action for beachgoers on Lido Key. The course historically has been all over the place: One year the boats did a loop inside Sarasota Bay from Big Pass to New Pass, and another year there was a run up to the city pier in St. Petersburg.
Fans complained that there wasn't anything to see for a very long time, so the course got shorter and shorter. And, of course, the action got hotter and hotter.
Then there was the year the weather turned bad, they delayed the race, then ran it in Sarasota Bay. Tiny course, lots of bounce, not much in the way of viewing spots, but the race did go on.
Offshore race tips
Nary a boat race has taken place that we've missed for the past 22 years. It's not the race itself, but the spectacle that's always been fun, and the whole event is indeed spectacular.
Here's some "insider's tips" for the Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix.
- Get to everything early. It's kinda like what they say about a hurricane evacuation - the traffic and volume of people are going to be much, much worse than you could possibly imagine.
We used to pack up and figure to get to the beach on Lido at about 8 a.m. for what was then the 1 p.m. start. We'd park, then go grab breakfast at either the Holiday Inn or someplace on St. Armands Circle. By the time we were done, parking was full, people were everywhere, but we had the prime viewing spot.
- Don't miss the parade, this year Friday night. It's one of the most wonderfully decadent events you can imagine.
- July 4 fireworks at the waterfront in downtown Sarasota are hit and miss, usually hit. The show was superb for a bunch of years, then got a bit lame. It's hard to describe the difference, but to see and hear and feel a great display versus a so-so set of lights and booms tells the tale.
- Be prepared to walk a lot. Dunno why, but any big event always seems to involve a lot of walking.
And if somebody can explain why they take their pets to any of these types of events, please let me know. Most of the dogs I know turn into crazed beasts at the sight and sound of fireworks, either trying to transform into a teeny, tiny ball, or a berserk runaway. It can't be fun for the critter, and it sure isn't pleasant for those of us around the manic creature.
Happy Fourth of July!
More beach news
Dr. Steven Leatherman, "Dr. Beach," has come up with his best beach listing for the year. Florida had two on his top 10 list: Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin took the No. 2 spot, and Barefoot Beach Park in Bonita Springs came in at No. 10.
Both beaches are beautiful and, to paraphrase a colleague, "Been there, done that and, in this case, did NOT get the T-shirt."
Both of Florida's top picks by Dr. Beach are tranquil, semi-deserted oasis-like spots far from the usual maze of Sunday beachgoers. Beautiful water, pristine beach, great spots to work on that tan or book.
The prize winner this year, by the way, was Fleming Beach Park in Maui, Hawaii. I haven't been there yet.
The complete list this year is as follows:
1.Fleming Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii.
2.Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin, Fla.
3.Ocracoke Island, Outer Banks, NC.
4.Coopers Beach, Southampton, NY.
5.Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii.
6.Main Beach, East Hampton, NY.
7.Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
8.Coronado Beach, San Diego, Calif.
9.Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii.
10. Barefoot Beach Park, Bonita Springs, Fla.
And here's a suggestion for a summer vacation: Why not hit all the past winners? They are:
- 2005 Fort DeSoto Park - North Beach, Fla.
- 2004 Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii.
- 2003 Kaanapali, Hawaii.
- 2002 St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Fla.
- 2001 Poipu Beach Park, Hawaii.
- 2000 Mauna Kea Beach, Hawaii.
- 1999 Wailea Beach, Hawaii.
- 1998 Kailua Beach Park, Hawaii.
- 1997 Hulopoe, Hawaii.
- 1996 Lanikai Beach, Hawaii.
- 1995 St. Andrews, Fla.
- 1994 Grayton Beach, Fla.
- 1993 Hapuna, Hawaii.
- 1992 Bahia Honda SRA, Fla.
- 1991 Kapalua Bay Beach, Hawaii.
Basic rule of thumb for fireworks displays seems to be the cost runs about $1,000 per minute - if you see you've got a $30,000 fireworks show, expect it to run about 30 minutes.