When Terry Fiest was a little boy, his dad, Tony, had a passion for buying and restoring wooden boats.

Together, the two spent many happy hours working on the boats, and it is where Fiest learned much of his vast knowledge about the now antique vessels.

“My dad taught me all I know and I’m so thankful that he did,” he said.

It’s no surprise that Fiest developed his own passion for restoring boats and that in turn led him to the Antique and Classic Boat Society, which has a local Sunnyland chapter in Mount Dora.

Starting March 24, the Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival will host its 42nd annual show on Lake Dora in Tavares, officially kicking off the 2023 boating season.

“This is always one of the most exciting events of the year,” said Fiest, a snowbird from Charlotte, North Carolina. “We have thousands of supporters from all over the world who come to Tavares to enjoy a weekend of wooden boats and nautical themed shows.”

Fiest, who is the festival chairman, said that this year, the Sunnyland Chapter is expecting more than 10,000 people to visit the show over the weekend and that includes people from 27 U.S. states, Canada and even England.

“There is something for everyone of all ages to enjoy,” he said. “It’s a place where the nostalgic golden age of boat building is gloriously revived – it is definitely one of our most popular events of the year and one which our supporters look forward to.”

The first day, Friday March 24, kicks off with a picnic where all of the boats taking part will ride through the Dora Canal.

Saturday morning begins with an official open ceremony on Lake Dora that is expected to be attended by 250-plus boats.

Around lunchtime, there will be an exhibition of around 25 amphicars, which are vehicles that drive on land and on the water. Each car will drive into the water, called a “splash in” and will visit for almost two hours.

There will also be 100 beautiful classical wooden boats for visitors to admire at the docks and a Field of Dreams, which showcases 25 wooden boats for sale for the dreamers in the crowd.

In addition to the boats, there will also be a Festival of Speed car show on dry land featuring new and old high-end vehicles including Ferraris and vintage Rolls Royce cars.

All this, along with a local food court, a beer garden and a nautical flea market where you buy anything from boat parts to t-shirts and memorabilia, make for a great day out for the whole family.

“I think that this event is so popular because it’s like a family reunion,” Fiest said. “Our show is so world-renowned and the boating community is relatively small, that it’s like having a homecoming.”

“We also have people who come to the show year after year who we get to know and see. It’s a wonderful atmosphere and there is a huge feeling of comradery. People look forward to the show all year so when we get together as friends it’s special.

“I lived in the Orlando area for many years before I moved to North Carolina, but my roots will always be here with Sunnyland. I’m proud to be chair of this fantastic event,” Fiest said.

“It’s a pleasure to meet so many like-minded people in one weekend,” he added.

The 42nd annual Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival takes place on Lake Dora, at Wooton Park in Tavares, on March 24, 25 and 26. The event opens at 9 a.m. each day and ends at 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon on Sunday. Tickets cost $12 for the weekend and $5 per day with free parking.

42nd Annual Sunnyland Boat Festival schedule

The annual Sunnyland Boat Festival is the largest antique and classic boating event on the East Coast, and this year it features all new docks and a larger show footprint. People from more than 26 states will be in attendance this year.

General Show Information

The 42nd annual show begins at 123 South Joanna Avenue, Tavares, Friday at 9 a.m. and ends Sunday at noon, weather permitting. Tickets are $12 for the weekend (credit card sales only, no cash sales at the gate). Sea Tow members: Show your card and buy one get one free.

Parking is available at the City of Tavares Parking Garage, located two blocks from the show site. The City of Tavares welcomes leashed pets to events.

In addition to the festival, seaplane rides will be available.

Visit www.tavares.org or www.tavareschamber.com for more information.

Friday, March 24 •  9 a.m.–5 p.m.

All exhibits open

10:30 a.m. Picnic for registered boaters. Tickets required.

Food court and beer garden

Nautical flea market

Field of Dreams (antique boats for sale)

Sunnyland Ship’s Store – clothing, boat show items for sale.

Live bluegrass band

Seaplane rides available. Tickets required

Captains party for registered participants only, 6 p.m.–8 p.m. Tickets required.

Saturday, March 25 • 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

9:30 a.m. Opening ceremony

All exhibits open

Festival of Speed – over 60 antique and classic cars to complement the beautiful boats on display.

Food court and beer garden

Woody cars

Amphicars on display

Nautical flea market

Field of Dreams (antique boats for sale)

Seaplane rides available. Tickets required.

Youth activity events at the SCAMPY tent.

Dinner banquet for registered participants. Tickets required.

Sunday, March 26 • 8:30 a.m.–noon

Free parking in city garage

All exhibits open

Food court and beer garden

Nautical flea market

Field of Dreams (antique boats for sale)

10 a.m. Awards ceremony

11 a.m. Church services

Free admission after 1 p.m.

Shows starts to wind down at 1 p.m.

Visit https://acbs-sunnyland.org/show-attendees.

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