Back-to-back scheduling of two popular New Year’s fun runs just 90 miles from one another on the west coast of Florida did nothing to dampen the spirit of either event last weekend. Moved from Friday to Saturday thanks to an accurately forecasted cold front, the Fort Myers Offshore/Comrie Cancer Foundation New Year’s Fun Run from the Sanibel Bridge to Marco Island attracted more than 50 boats.
“The weather was a little cool in the morning, but sunny skies and light winds made for a great day on the water,” said Eric Belisle, the president of the nonprofit FMO organization that raises college scholarship funds for students in need. “This run is usually the largest run of our season and this year did not disappoint. The actual boat count was about the same as last year. Unfortunately we had to move the original date, which caused a few members to back out.”
Among those who participated in the Fort Myers Offshore event was Matt Rice, a former offshore racer and a well-known member of the performance-boating community in Sarasota. Rice ran his 32-foot Skater catamaran repowered with Mercury Racing 400R outboard engines by Grant’s Signature Racing.
Fort Myers Offshore’s event on New Year’s Eve day pulled in more than 50 boats. Photos courtesy/copyright Jay Nichols/Naples Image.
“Round-trip, Matt logged in right at 250 miles of boating for the day,” said Belisle.
As it turned out, Rice was far from done for the weekend as he joined Sunday’s Joey Gratton Memorial New Year’s Day Fun in Sarasota organized by Ryan Beckley. Rice’s 32-footer was one of several Skaters—the best represented brand in the 70- to 75-boat fleet—that made the 26-mile trek from the 10th Street Boat Ramp in Sarasota to the Blu Mangrove Grill Restaurant in Palmetto.
“It was a beautiful day,”said chief organizer Ryan Beckley, who hosted a New Year’s Eve bash the night before at his Kinetic Animation shop. “The docks were really good, the food was really good—everyone loved the new place.
An extraordinary fleet of high-performance catamarans, V-bottom sportboats and center consoles turned out to honor beloved local offshore racer Joey Gratton for the sixth consecutive year. Photos courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
“Unfortunately, we had a lot of boats break down this year,” he continued. “That was only ‘bad’ thing. “All of the Grattons—Joey’s wife, his sister and his boys—came. The boys actually did the Fort Myers Offshore Run the day before and had some engines problems. With a little help from Gary Ballough, they did our run on two engines.”
Beckley said this year’s event pulled in more “big boats” than usual, including several larger Skater catamarans and Ron Szolack’s new Mystic C4400 cat. And, today being a holiday, many participants are still enjoying the second afternoon of 2017 on the water.
“There are boats from Maryland and New York out there right now,” he said. “I know because I just got back in myself.
“People keep asking me how much work it is (organizing the event),” he continued. “It’s just something we do and I have a lot of help, especially from my wife—I know she’s relieved it’s over. It’s not work for me. It’s just making phone calls, and I like to run my mouth anyway. A ton of people really helped. People made donations to the Joey Gratton Foundation. This is a ‘Fun Run.’ Nobody is making money. It’s just about hanging out with like-minded individuals. People have asked if they can sponsor it, put logos on T-shirts and pay us, and that’s not what we want. We want it to remain what it is.”