Southwest Florida Yachts

Lakeland Boating Magazine
Nov/Dec 2003

Useppa Island

The Great Escape
Charter a powerboat or learn the ropes in a floating classroom on Florida’s Gulf Coast
by Bing O’Meara

Contrary to the popular myth, not all Friday the 13th s are unlucky.

It was on a Friday the 13th in 1984 that Vic and Barb Hansen sealed the deal on Southwest Florida Yachts, a chartering company, and its sister division, the Florida Sailing and Cruising School.

Both Vic and Barb are transplants from the Midwest. Before moving to Florida, Vic had been working for American Airlines in Chicago and delivering yachts for their owners in his spare time. In 1981, he was offered a job managing the charter fleet for Southwest Florida Yachts.

'Tween Waters Docks

At the same time, Barb was working in sales management for SC Johnson out of Racine, Wisconsin, with Florida as her territory. On one of her trips south, she met Vic and they started dating. Their relationship grew and then one day Vic called Barb in Racine and told her he had an opportunity to buy Southwest Florida Yachts. He suggest she move down to Florida and they’d buy the company and get married. And so they did, taking over SWFY on that fateful Friday the 13th and getting married the same year. They will celebrate their 20th “berth-day” of owning Southwest Florida Yachts next year.

There’s a saying that applies to the Hansens: If you do what you love to do, you will never have to work again.

South Seas Plantation

Today, their thriving operation consists of a charter fleet of 10 yachts: six Grand Banks trawlers (from 32 to 42 feet) and two Krogen trawlers (36 and 42 feet long), as well as a Jefferson 42 and a Bayliner 3988. They also charter a fleet of sailing vessels out of Burnt Store Marina, in nearby Punta Gorda.

The company’s other division, the Florida Sailing and Cruising School, offers 25 courses for beginner, intermediate and advanced mariners. This is an unusual academy in which students live aboard a vessel while they take courses in handling and maintenance. “Real-world, real-time, hands-on learning” is how the Hansens describe their operation.

Powerboat instruction ranges from three to six days, with classes limited to four pupils per vessel. The ultimate offering is the eight-day offshore powerboat course, which includes a cruise to a place such as Key West.

The courses range from around $900 to about $2,600 for the eight-day course.

For folks in the market to buy a new boat or who feel the need to improve their skills to do more extensive cruising, I would highly recommend this school. Navigating an offshore vessel is very complex and learning from professionals in a disciplined atmosphere definitely give you a leg up.

Chartering Florida’s west coast

SWFY's Fleet

Mark Conway, our associate publisher, and I flew down to North Fort Meyers [sic] last April to take a five-day cruise aboard SWFY’s 42-foot Grand Banks trawler Maretta Rose. Having both just come off a heavy travel schedule, Mark and I were ready for a few take-it-easy days. The beauty of chartering is that you make your own schedule.

The locale couldn’t have been better: The near-shore Gulf of Mexico and inland waters off southwest Florida were ranked the No. 1 cruising area in the United States by Cruising World magazine.

Barb Hansen and her capable staff suggest an itinerary, which was based on restaurants and hitting some of my favorite spots. They set us up with provisions and charts, along with giving us a thorough walk-through and systems check and explaining unfamiliar electronics. The briefing took a few hours. We brought along only minimal provisioning, as we planned to eat out much of the time.

Days 1 and 2 were spent at two different locations on Captiva Island: South Seas Plantation, a large resort at the end of the isle, and ‘Tween Waters, a smaller, more intimate spot on a stretch of sand between the bay and the gulf. This is a great place to rent a kayak, go fishing, or just kick back and lounge around the pool or beach.

On Day 3, we hit Boca Grande, one of the last vestiges of old Florida. This is an upscale resort with the Gasparilla Inn as its centerpiece. You can rent a golf cart at the marina and tour the place in a couple of hours. If you can, stop by the Pink Elephant for drinks.

Useppa Island, the stopover for Day 4, is a special place. It’s beautiful and tranquil here, away from the crowds on the mainland. The Collier Inn, a century-old mansion houses a wonderful restaurant where breakfast and dinner are served.

The next day, we motored back to headquarters in North Fort Meyers [sic], a well-marked, casual cruise that took us about five hours.

The trip was a low-stress run – a couple of hours of cruising per day, possibly anchoring out for lunch, and tying up at the dock well before cocktails and dinner. These are beautiful cruising grounds, all in protected waters with well marked channels and friendly people. The marinas and resorts are all magnificent. There’s plenty to do – or not to do, whatever your pleasure. That’s the beauty of chartering your own boat.

We found SWFY’s vessels to be in excellent mechanical condition. Should a problem arise, a quick call on the radio to home base, and a mechanic could be out to you in a hiccup.

By the way, I’ve discussed places that happen to have full-service marinas. Should you choose to drop a hook, there are an abundance of quiet anchorages.

In general, the coast of a week’s charter would be equal to a nice hotel on a per-person basis.

Chartering is the perfect way out of a bad winter – and we all know that winter in the Midwest can be a less-than-pleasant affair. Next time, we’ll bring the wives.

For a complete reprint of this article, please give us a call at 800-262-7939

Click here to visit out Sailing School website!

Southwest Florida Yachts
3444 Marinatown Lane N.W. • North Fort Myers • Florida 33903
(239) 656-1339 (800) 262-7939 Fax (239) 656-2628

Marinatown Marina 26° 38.5'N 81° 53.0'W
Burnt Store Marina 26° 45.71' N 82° 04.20'W

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