Exact numbers may take a day or two, but Bradenton Area River Regatta organizers expressed confidence that the third annual event shattered attendance records and will top 100,000 people.
Those numbers will include everything from Saturday morning’s early events to the evening concerts, fireworks show and downtown awards ceremony. Michael Dongilli, ISM USA co-founder and event organizer, said it was a spectacular day along the Manatee River.
“I have every confidence we will break 100,000 people,” Dongilli said, noting that number is estimated on the continued ebb and flow of the crowds for various events and thousands more participating in Palmetto’s activities this year.
The Formula 2 and Hydrocross racing events went off largely without a hitch but got off to a slow start. The F2 finale saw a collision that took out the second-place driver and flipped another boat, causing another delay in the action. Spectators were also treated to a new world speed record by Mexico’s Uva Perez, who broke his own record at 118 mph on a Jet Ski. His previous record was 114.6 mph.
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Hours before the boats even hit the water, John Woodall was the first to set up his chairs on the Green Bridge around 8 a.m. His early arrival was rewarded with a prime viewing spot for the Powerboat Super League’s season opener.
“We knew there are going to thousands of people here today,” Woodall said. “I used to go to the boat races in Sarasota. So we had some breakfast and came on out to see the boats.”
Woodall wasn’t alone for long. By 10 a.m. thousands of people converged on the bridge and by the time the first F2 race took off at speeds in excess of 100 mph, tens of thousands were vying for a view. The Green Bridge was lined with people from end to end, and the Riverwalk along the Manatee River shoreline was packed with spectators under a brilliant blue sky and temperatures in the 70s.
With festivities spread out between Bradenton and Palmetto, crowds were heavy, but tolerable.
“It’s a much better experience than the first year,” said Amy Kamara. “The first year, you couldn’t even walk along Riverwalk. It was shoulder-to-shoulder people.”
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said it was an amazing day.
“I think it’s terrific,” Poston said. “The bridge was packed, and spreading out the crowd between Bradenton and Palmetto has been good for both cities and local businesses. It worked out great, and it’s been an amazing day. This is a great event for Bradenton and Palmetto.”
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said this year’s event drew a lot more people to the north side of the river than the previous two regattas.
“There was quite a crowd, and the feedback I’m getting is that everyone had a good time,” she said.
It was all hands on deck for members of the Bradenton and Palmetto police departments, with even detectives in uniform assigned to provide security for the event. But as the day wore on, neither department had any major incidents to report.
The Budweiser Clydesdales, making their first appearance at the regatta, drew a large crowd as well. The 2,000-pound horses drew a lot of sighs and “they’re beautiful” comments from the crowd as they hitched up in Bradenton and traversed the Green Bridge into Palmetto.
Nancy and Bob Luukko, seasonal residents in St. Petersburg, came out to the regatta as much for the races as they did to see the Clydesdales. The Massachusetts natives stood in awe as a large crowd surrounded the Clydesdales during one of their multiple stops along the Green Bridge.
“We love them,” Nancy Luukko said. “This is a beautiful background, very different view from New England. They have snow, ice and 14 degree weather.”
The crowd grew exponentially in Palmetto as the Clydesdales made their way over the bridge. Some people came out just to see the horses.
Nancy Cotter, Shirley Wisenbeugh and Phyllis Heusted had front-row seats when the Clydesdales arrived in Palmetto. They had been sitting at least an hour in the chairs they had set up alongside the road on the approach to the bridge.
“That’s why we’re here, the Clydesdales,” Wisenbeugh said. “They’re impressive.”
Cool temperatures greeted the start of the regatta, which was a perfect beginning for hundreds of runners competing in the Saint Stephen’s 5K Falcon Run and about 70 children baiting hooks in the Hernando De Soto Historical Society’s youth fishing tournament. De Soto member Scott Toedman said the youth fishing tournament was the largest yet.
“We were expecting about 50, but we got flooded with calls on Friday,” Toedman said. “Registration had already closed, but we told them to come on down. We certainly weren’t going to turn anyone away. It’s all about the kids. They love it and we have a lot of kids returning from the first two years and a lot of new ones.”
Toedman said there is nothing quite like the sight of a child catching his or her first fish.
“Just the excitement in their eyes makes it all worthwhile,” he said. “When they catch that first fish their eyes get as big as oranges.”
Debbie and Earl Miller brought along their 5-year-old granddaughter, Kylie, who at a tender young age is already an avid ballet dancer and an orange belt in karate. Earl Miller said the entire family does a little fishing, but they thought it was a great opportunity for Kylie to learn a new skill. Ethan Parker, 4, has a little more experience but was saltwater fishing Saturday for the first time.
The excited youngster summed it all up just prior to the start of the tournament. “I want to catch a big fish,” he said with a big smile.
Smiles is what Mike Fetchko, ISM USA president, likes to see.
“This is first and foremost a family event,” said Fetchko. “There is nothing we like to see more than families walking around with big smiles and to see the excitement in a child’s eye.”
Looking up from the race control pier at the massive crowd atop the bridge, Fetchko added, “This is what it’s all about.”
Bradenton Area River Regatta schedule
8-11 a.m.: Saint Stephen’s Falcon 5K River Run — Main Street and Barcarrota Ave. (Front of Pier 22), Bradenton
8:30-10 a.m.: Desoto “Little Anglers” Fishing — Palmetto Pier
10 a.m.-6:45 p.m.: Family Fun Zones — Bradenton & Palmetto
10-11 a.m.: Formula 2 Powerboat Qualifying — Manatee River
11 a.m.-noon: Del Couch Music Education Students — Bradenton Main Stage
11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Budweiser Clydesdales Harnessing — Green Bridge Base Bradenton
11a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Formula 2 Powerboat Div. 2 Races — Manatee River
11 a.m.-1:15 p.m.: Soul R Coaster Concert — Palmetto Main Stage
Noon-1 p.m.: Crystal Eyes Concert — Bradenton Main Stage
12:15-12:30 p.m.: Budweiser Clydesdales Green Bridge March — Bradenton to Palmetto
12:30-3:30 p.m.: Budweiser Clydesdales Meet & Greet — Green Bridge Base Palmetto
12:30-2 p.m.: HydroXross Qualifying Mayor’s Cup — Manatee River
1-2 p.m.: Under the Moon Concert — Bradenton Main Stage
1:30-3:45 p.m.: Zebron and James Concert — Palmetto Main Stage
2-2:30 p.m.: Matt Walden Concert — Bradenton Main Stage
2-4:15 p.m.: Powerboat Div. 1 Races — Manatee River
2:30-3:30 p.m.: Andy Pursell Band Concert — Bradenton Main Stage
3:30-4 p.m.: Paige Merriman Concert — Bradenton Main Stage
4-4:45 p.m.: Soul Circus Cowboys Concert — Palmetto Main Stage
4-4:45 p.m.: Sam Woolf Concert — Bradenton Main Stage
5-6:45 p.m.: ZBTB-Zac Brown Tribute Band Concert — Palmetto Main Stage
5-6:45 p.m.: Nashville Yacht Club Band Concert — Bradenton Main Stage
6:45 p.m.: Zambelli Fireworks Spectacular — Manatee River
7-10 p.m.: Main Street Bradenton Awards — Front of O’bricks, 427 12th Street W., Bradenton
Continuous shows all day: Disc-Connected K9’s — Manatee Riverwalk Great Lawn
Continuous shows all day: XPOGO Stunt Show — Palmetto-West Side Green Bridge
Continuous shows all day: BMX Stunt Show — Manatee Riverwalk Amphitheater