Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival: 36 years and counting

Every industry hosts a trade show. The boating world’s is the Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival (in Tavares, Fla.) and it’s a celebration.

This year, from March 23-26, the Sunnyland Show enjoyed its 36th anniversary, and was run with military precision by a huge group of volunteers led by 2017 Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame honoree Terry Feist. This group continues to build on their success each year. No complacency here!

Most folks arrive on Thursday, launch and dock their boats, and are ready for the weekend events. There’s a cruise on Friday, leaving the boat show docks at 10 AM, blasting around the corner on Lake Dora, cruising through the Dora Canal to Lake Eustis, then a short jaunt along the shore to the Dead River, and crossing Lake Harris to the scenic Hickory Point Recreation Park, site of the picnic. The wind wasn’t blowing in the best possible direction on Lake Harris, so entering the protected docking area at Hickory Point was a little challenging, but hey, that’s part of the fun! A lovely barbeque lunch was served, and with full tummies, we returned to the show site in time to freshen up before the cocktail party Friday evening.

Saturday is show day, and people show up early in the morning. There are plenty of boats in the water, a nautical flea market with all sorts of parts to paw through, and a “field of dreams” with boats for sale for every budget and level of skill and optimism. There are also many vendor booths, with multiple national players present. Of course, Carla Gernhofer staffs the Hagerty booth, and Matt Smith and the Woody Boater crew always have great new t-shirts, coffee cups, and other miscellaneous Woody Boater swag. As an avid “Show Food” consumer and critic, I give the on-site food vendors a four out of five Ferris Wheel rating, on par with most good county fairs. The Sunnyland folks have a large ships store, too, so you have to go get all your boat festival garb. Go early, though, before they get short on sizes!

Saturday evening, you can’t miss the Festival Banquet. It’s a great opportunity for relaxed fellowship, since show hours are so busy. This year, the Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame Inductee presentation took place at the banquet. Gernhofer presented the award to Terry Feist who, as the Chairman of the show, was integral to setting up the presentation, However, Gernhofer managed to totally and completely surprise Feist.

Feist has done much for our hobby, and is a most worthy recipient. He was gracious in accepting the coveted award, acknowledging the many, many volunteers who make the Festival a success.

The show continues Sunday morning, and around 1:00 PM, the Sunnyland trailer valet crew returns to service, and boats are pulled from the water in an orderly, friendly fashion.

Now, about the “trade show” part: I think, because the show is in March, us industry types like to forget about winter for a few days, and enjoy a boat show in a lovely climate. Therefore, Tavares is the place to cross paths with the likes of Matt Smith of Woody Boater, Carla Gernhofer of Hagerty, Herb Hall of Sierra Boat Company, Alan Weinstein the Riva Guru, Rob Lyons of Antique Boat Center, Seth Katz of Katz Marina, the LaDonnes of YKnot Yachts, Jim Staib of Fine Wood Boats, past ACBS president and Antique Boat Shop principal Jeff Funk, ACBS Executive Director Dan Gyoerkoe, and many more.

Interacting with all these industry icons makes the show even more fun, I think!

Editor’s note: The author, David Bortner, is “captain” at Freedom Boat Service.

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