Running headlong into the Gulf of Mexico was a great way to start 2021.
Nearly 100 people thought so, anyway, as they gathered Jan. 1 on the shore at Cortez Beach, between Fourth and Twelfth streets south along Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach, for Clancy’s 13th annual Shamrock Shiver.
Though the noon sky was clear and the temperature on the beach 82 degrees, plunger James Lightfoot of Bradenton said the water was cold.
“This is the first time I did this, and the water was cold, but I’m glad I did it,” Lightfoot said after emerging from the Gulf.
NOAA’s water temperature table for the Gulf of Mexico put the temp at about 65 degrees.
Lightfoot, dressed as Ace Ventura, was one of more than a dozen people dressed in costume for a crowd-judged contest.
What got the most laughs and love from the crowd? A group of friends donning costumes and holding signs that expressed their opinion of 2020.
Mark Gritz wore an inflatable poop emoji costume while his wife, Patty, was made up as a bottle of hand sanitizer and friends Robert Nott and Shona LaBaff wore giant rolls of toilet paper messages.
Barry Hopkins dressed as a chicken and laid (dropped) yellow plastic eggs on the beach to the onlookers' delight. His wife, RuthAnn, arrived as Superwoman “to save the day.”
Other costumed plungers taking part in the contest were dinosaurs, a man in a hospital gown open in back to reveal a fake tush and some hula dancers.
The plunge began in 2009 with a group of friends who frequented Clancy’s outdoor Tiki Bar and preferred to do something fun to raise money for charity as an alternative to the traditional holiday parties, Rayma Stowe said.
Stowe — past proprietor of the Rod & Reel Pier — is a founding member of the event and her Bradenton restaurant and bar, Clancy’s Irish Pub and Sports Bar, 6218 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, annually sponsors and hosts the event, which includes an after-party with music, raffles and food and beverages.
“It’s a fun way to start the new year,” Stowe said.
“And it keeps us off the streets New Year’s Eve,” joked Lisa Pierce, Stowe’s friend and another founder of the charity event.
Over the years, Clancy’s has helped raise $273,500 with the Shamrock Shiver.
The Islander newspaper was a sponsor this year.
The 2020 shiver proceeds, which Stowe estimated at more than $25,000, will be divided among four local charities: The Blessing Bags Project, Feeding Empty Little Tummies, Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County and Parenting Matters.
Donations will be accepted until at least Jan. 8 — either at Clancy’s or online at clancysirishsportspub.com, Pierce said.
For more information, go to clancysirishsportspub.com or call Stowe at 941-720-4072.
People on Anna Maria Island enjoyed one of 2020’s best gifts months before the holiday season came around.
The new Anna Maria City Pier opened on a limited basis in June for the first time since Hurricane Irma closed the historic pier in September 2017, but full access to the $6.8 million structure and its grill and bait shop opened earlier in December — just in time for the holidays.
Multiple city officials, including Mayor Dan Murphy and Commissioner Mark Short, named the pier’s completion the city’s top accomplishment of 2020.
“The opening of the Anna Maria City Pier, now with its grill and bait shop, is the best gift the city could give to island residents and visitors at this time of year,” Commissioner Carol Carter told The Islander Dec. 23.
The attraction was packed with visitors and anglers despite a chilly December breeze the day before Christmas Eve.
Island-themed tunes hummed from the T-end’s loudspeakers, broken up only by the grill’s occasional order announcements and the sound of anglers casting their lines.
Tampa-resident Marion Muffie, with a fishing pole in hand, told The Islander her family hadn’t had much luck fishing at the T-end, but was enjoying it regardless.
“The only thing we caught today was a shell,” Muffie said with a chuckle. “But we’re just crappy at fishing! We’re having a good time.”
She added that they visit the area a couple of times a year to fish at the end of the pier but hadn’t visited since the historic pier was shut down.
“We’ve been coming down here for years, so we were really pleased to hear the pier was open again,” Muffie said. “We love it out here. It’s just special.”
Chicago-resident Isaiah Rosas told The Islander that he caught a few mullet, which he kept in a bucket of water to his side, but didn’t have a knife to clean the fish, so he’d probably have to toss them back.
Regardless, Rosas said he was enjoying fishing at the pier while visiting family on the island. He called the pier one of the best fishing spots on the island, adding that he missed the pier in prior visits when it was closed.
“I love having the pier back,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to get out here and go fishing and I think it looks amazing.”
Sarasota-resident Kim Schmeits, sipping a beverage outside the bait shop window, told The Islander that — despite living nearby — the pier is his “little getaway.”
“We just hop up here occasionally,” Schmeits said. “We love it here. It’s very relaxed.”
“We live in paradise, right? But we come here and feel a little bit like we’re on vacation,” Schmeits added.
By 5 p.m., the canned island-style music floating across the T-end gave way to live music by Trevor Bystrom and percussionist James Hershey, “island-grown” musicians who perform at a variety of island venues.
Fishing coincides with the grill and bait shop hours, which are 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Students at the School for Constructive Play used their hands and feet to create holiday-inspired art gifts for their families.
The 4- and 5-year-old class used footprints to make Christmas trees and handprints to make a reindeer face, said Pam Bertrand, owner of the preschool at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 6608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.
The 3-year-old class made “mistletoes” using footprints connected at the heels and pointed downward to form bells.
While the 1- and 2-year-old class made “I love you snow much” snowpeople.
Their paintings were done on canvas to be long-term keepsakes, Bertrand said.
In addition to “working hard on their surprises” for family, Bertrand said students in December kept their eyes on the school Elf on the Shelf, whom they named “M.”
“We’re all excited for Santa,” she added. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the jolly elf can’t visit the school as he’s done in years past, but students remained excited because “they know he’s coming to their houses,” Bertrand said.
The school also produced its annual holiday show for their families but adjusted due to the pandemic.
Rather than a schoolwide in-person performance, a video was made of each class performance and sent to parents, Bertrand said.
The 4- and 5-year-old class wore elf costumes and sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” while the 3-year-old class performance was a dance to holiday music, Bertrand said.
For more, call the school at 941-778-2210.
Islanders — and visitors — now can soak up the food, beverages and vibes missed by so many at the Anna Maria City Pier.
“This is a very exciting day for everybody,” Victor Mattay, part-owner of GSM Partners, the city’s tenants at the new grill and bait shop at the pier, said opening day Dec. 10. “We are really happy to put a great product and awesome atmosphere out here for everyone now.”
Mattay, owner of Dips Ice Cream, is one of three entrepreneurs, including former Anna Maria Commissioner Brian Seymour, owner of the Pine Avenue General Store; and Nick Graham, owner of Pine Avenue Bait and Tackle, operating the grill and bait shop on the new city pier at 101 Bay Blvd.
The opening was much anticipated as the city first had to rebuild the pier — built in 1911, damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and demolished by the city in 2018 — and negotiate construction and a tenant for food, beverages and bait, with a rebuild lasting nearly three years.
“It’s done and I’m elated with what we all were able to accomplish,” Dean Jones, Anna Maria public works manager, said Dec. 10. “Taking down the old pier and building the new one was an amazing learning process. I am happy that we have a tenant that will be the perfect fit for our new pier.”
Jones and the rest of the city’s public works crew maintain the pier, which involves regular cleaning and ensuring lighting and public restrooms are safe.
“People come from all around the world to walk this pier. It becomes part of their memories that are shared with their kids and grandkids,” Jones said. “And now it is back for all of us to enjoy.”
Since reopening to fishers and sightseers June 19, pier access was limited to 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday, while awaiting full-time operations to coincide with the grill and bait shop hours after its opening.
James Roadman, Holmes Beach resident and owner of Solid Rock Construction — the contractor for the grill buildout — said it was a challenge to work on the pier, but one he was excited to meet thanks to his love for the island community.
“Dealing with the weather and salt atmosphere was unique,” Roadman said. “It was definitely an event. We were working night-and-day here to get it open for our community. This is our hometown and we know how much people have missed being able to fully enjoy the pier for all it could be.”
Les Parker of Riverview, a resident of the Tampa Bay area for 73 years, said he used to head to the north end of the island as a kid to spend time with friends.
“The island has definitely changed since that time,” Parker said. “I used to just hang out with my friends on the beach. This new pier is fantastic. I can see myself making new memories here.”
In short order
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and sweet treats, with local and fresh beverages, including beer and wine, are served 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily on the Anna Maria City Pier.
— ChrisAnn Allen
An empty seat on the Anna Maria City Commission was filled after a three-month vacancy.
Commissioners voted Dec. 3 to appoint Doris “Deanie” Sebring to a two-year term. She took the seat vacated in August by Commissioner Amy Tripp.
Commissioners Jonathan Crane, Joe Muscatello and Mark Short ranked Sebring as the top candidate over Sharon Wisniewski, the other candidate for the seat.
Commission Chair Carol Carter ranked Wisniewski over Sebring.
Tripp qualified to run for reelection without opposition earlier this year, but shortly after she announced she was moving to North Carolina and in August resigned from the commission.
Commissioners agreed to leave Tripp’s seat open until her term expired in November, allowing them to appoint a two-year successor.
Both applicants for the seat, Sebring and Wisniewski, attended the meeting and were given five minutes to address the commission before voting began.
Mayor Dan Murphy drew a name from a bowl to determine who would speak first, and Sebring won the draw.
A Louisiana native, Sebring told commissioners of her experience in the business world as general manager of an auto dealership and creator of a product to help reunite people with their lost keys.
She also wrote a children’s book, “Skip and Deanie’s Flying Bike Trip,” which is based on the imaginary adventures of herself and her real-life diabetic alert dog.
Sebring said Skip, her dog when she wrote the book, had died, and she was carrying a new diabetic alert dog, Humphrey, in a sling across her chest.
She said her priorities as commissioner would be to maintain the city’s home rule in regulating short-term vacation rentals and improving pedestrian and traffic safety.
“I have no hidden agenda or political interests other than serving the community,” Sebring said. “And I love this island just as much as anyone here in this room.”
Wisniewski told the commission she and her husband served in the U.S. military and moved to Anna Maria in 2015.
She said she is qualified to serve as commissioner as a former officer in the military, where she developed skills and gained a wide breadth of knowledge to fulfill her duties.
Wisniewski also noted she is personally invested in the business community through her daughter, who is associated with a Pine Avenue business, Pizza Social.
She added that she hadn’t considered joining the commission until there was an unexpected absence.
“When I saw there was a need,” Wisniewski said, that’s what moved me to “step up to the plate.”
After the candidates finished their remarks, Anna Maria resident Dusty Crane spoke in support of Sebring during public comment.
“She is an outstanding individual,” Crane said.
The appointment process included a ranking system for each of the candidates.
Sebring won the point ranking.
“I’m excited about the future of the city and helping play a role in it,” Sebring told The Islander after the meeting.
In other matters, Mayor Dan Murphy and Commissioner Mark Short were sworn in at the Dec. 3 meeting, having won reelection without opposition.
Carol Carter was reinstated as commission chair and Short became deputy chair.
The next scheduled commission meeting will be at noon Jan. 21, at city hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.