Boats, parties and friends brought thousands of people to Lido Key's beaches Sunday

The 33rd annual Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix was held in the Gulf offshore from Lido Key public beaches this weekend.

SARASOTA — Die-hard powerboat racing fans were a little disappointed in the lack of power at the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix this weekend, but casual fans on Lido Beach were happy with the boat-racing festivities.

Shaun Lulofs of Sarasota misses the bigger boats. He got in line at 6 a.m. to get a prime parking spot near the Lido Beach pavilion, and by 4:30 p.m. says he’d seen four high-end boats. “They need to put more prize money in it (the event),” he said.

But Connie and James Scardelli said Grand Prix weekend is their favorite event of the year. The couple started attending the event around three years ago and arrived on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle at 11 a.m. Sunday to meet friends.

Thundering boats send waves toward fans standing in water just a few hundred yards away, making the sporting event unmatched anywhere else in the world, said Connie Scardelli. 

“It’s just so exciting. It brings a camaraderie and togetherness to Sarasota — that I was telling his (James Scardelli’s) daughter — is like the biggest thing in Sarasota for the entire year,” Connie Scardelli said.

Her favorite thing about the races: “Feeling the vibrations and zoom, zooms when you’re in the water, and being able to experience this that closely.”

The couple said they don’t understand much about boat racing, but it doesn’t matter to them.

“Even though we really don’t know much about the statistics or the speed it’s just really exciting,” James Scardelli said.

Jodi Hrabos and Gail Perry are veteran fans of the Grand Prix and don’t bother waiting in line to get into the parking lot. They have outfitted an excursion van with beds and a kitchenette so they can park on the road in front of Lido Beach at midnight.

The Sarasota pair have been attending the event since it began in 1985 — this is the 33rd edition — and said it has changed, but it is one of the great weekends in Sarasota.

“The races aren’t what they used to be years ago, but Sarasota does a good job with it,” according to Hrabos, who said re-sanctioning and less prize money keeps the bigger boats away. “This is one of the premier events in Sarasota, this whole weekend: the races, downtown Sarasota, they put on a great fireworks display.

“The biggest thing is what it’s (Grand Prix) all about; it’s charity for the children.”

The Grand Prix benefits five local non-profit charities, according to Suncoast Charities for Children, which organizes the event.

Black Skimmers

As usual, members of Audubon Florida had staff on the beach to monitor the second-largest black skimmer colony in Florida, whose nesting season lasts through July. Beachgoers were not allowed to sit near the colony and the flightless birds near the top of the beach were fenced in.

There are approximately 700 black skimmers on Lido Key, roughly 20 percent of the species population in Florida, according to Audubon. The largest colony is in Tallahassee.

The birds are threatened, but their population is believed to be stable, said Greg Taylor of Audubon Florida.

“This is a really important breeding colony so it’s important that we keep all the birds safe,” said Taylor, who was monitoring the birds and educated beachgoers this weekend.

Taylor said there are some key things visitors should know about the black- and orange-billed birds whose name comes from how they dip their beaks into the water: Don’t bring dogs near them, and the parents are scared by loud noises, kites and drones, causing them to fly off, leaving nests and chicks vulnerable to predators.

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Craig Ballantyne

I love anything to do with Harley Davidson and have two beautiful children and a beautiful partner. In my spare time i like building websites and love anything to do with the internet.

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