Coronavirus sinks Florida’s Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival

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The highly anticipated Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival, considered the unofficial kickoff to the classic boating season, has been postponed due to the “overwhelming impact of the Coronavirus.” It had been scheduled for March 19–22 in Tavares, Florida.

According to event chairman Terry Fiest, as recently as Friday, March 13, the City of Tavares remained in full support of the annual event being held on Lake Dora, as it has for nearly four decades. But after a weekend in which “things amped up considerably, the board [of directors] got together and unanimously voted to postpone,” Fiest says.

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sunday recommended banning gatherings of 50 or more people—as well as restrictions and other expected closures by the State of Florida—Fiest says the decision was a “no brainer.”

“We’re disappointed, but it’s necessary. So much goes into preparing for a show like this, so who knows what will happen now,” Fiest says. “Our show is a small part of what the world is facing, and hopefully we can all pull together and get this behind us. With God’s blessing, we’ll defeat this virus and get back to boating.”

Chris Craft hessel boat show
Carol Gould

Fiest says show sponsors and ticket holders will be reimbursed, and the show will have to absorb what’s already been spent. Hoping to help ease the situation somewhat, woodyboater.com is encouraging supporters to donate their fees to the Sunnyland Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society (ACBS), which sponsors the event.

The Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival has never been postponed or canceled, not even in 2018, when the event was held just a few months after Hurricane Irma wiped out the marina in Tavares, located 36 miles north of Orlando. Temporary docks were installed, and officials turned the festival into a giant beach party.

The show, the largest antique and classic boating event on the East Coast, has attracted as many as 250 boats from 28 states, but Fiest says that was B.I.—Before Irma. A team of 200 volunteers puts on the event each year; this year would have been its 39th.

For updates, log onto the ACBS Sunnyland Chapter website at acbs-sunnyland.org.

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