"We've got more canoes, kayaks and SUPs than fingers and toes to count them," Captain Wendy explains. "Also, two sailboats, eleven pontoons––all rentable. The funny thing is, this business came from a big accident." She's referring to the company’s inception in 2002, when a devastating hurricane led a friend to sign his company’s single sailboat over to Wendy and her husband, Bruce. "We were in marketing––then, suddenly, we were in boating." More than 12 years later, Windsong Charters & Boat Rentals has flourished under the duo’s stewardship. The company now performs 200 weddings each year and equips a wide range of patrons to revel in the breathless joy of cutting through playful zephyrs and out across the water. Wendy and Bruce encourage fishing and bringing pets on boating voyages, and the two share stories to delight guests or calm champagne bottles propped next to brand-new yachts. As propellers hum to life and paddles make a gentle kissing sound against the surf, visitors scan the horizon for the variety of wildlife that slips along just below the surf's surface or comes wheeling out of tufts of cumulonimbus. "I wish the animals would give us their schedules,” Wendy says, “but, on a given day, you could see manatees, dolphins, stingrays, and lots of birds."
For one weekend every April, Port Richey transforms into Pasco Paddlepalooza, a man-powered boat festival comprising three races. The festival's crown jewel is the Durney Key Challenge: a 2.3-mile race that challenges paddlers to slalom around turn-of-the-century stilt houses that stud the open water. The Salt Springs Alliance Classic and Battle in the Bayou focus on more straightforward feats: open-water kayaking and dragon boating, respectively. Though it sounds like a race between two beautiful dragons in boats, dragon boating is executed by humans rowing traditional Chinese boats, traveling in two side-by-side columns.
But there's plenty to do on land, too. The festival also encompasses a craft beer festival, and abuts well-maintained campgrounds, where visitors commune comfortably with the outdoors, much like homeowners who leave their windows open for the neighborhood squirrels.
When Brian McInerney reflects on the humble beginnings of Wheel Fun Rentals, Inc., he points to his childhood passion for bikes. "As far back as I can remember, I had a real love affair with bicycles," he recalls. During a trip to Italy in 1987, Brian's affinity for cycling blossomed into a full-fledged obsession when he spotted locals' transporter of choice, the surrey. Inspired, he began importing the Italian four-wheelers to a rental business in the U.S. that eventually expanded into Wheel Fun Rentals, now a nationwide web of shops that also loans out bikes, electric cars and mopeds, and man-powered watercraft. Adventuresome athletes can also compete in activities such as surrey scavenger hunts and blindfold obstacle courses navigated via shouted instructions from a seeing teammate or exceptionally long rounds of trial and error.
Whether by deck, pontoon, or center console boat, Belle Harbour Boat Rentals gets people enjoying the water without the hassle of watercraft ownership. From the Belle Harbour Marina, travelers make their way along the Anclote River and inter-coastal waterways in search of sights, sun, and fish. Along the way, they find miniature islands and sandbars, perfect for picnics or building sand sculptures of feet for taunting merpeople. Fishing excursions yield bounties of seatrout, redfish, and snook or a chance to view early-morning glimpses of Anclote Key Lighthouse. Along the way, waterside eateries beckon groups for a quick bite with their burgers, seafood, and drinks before customers journey back out to share dining critiques with the manatees, dolphins, bald eagles, and osprey that inhabit the area.
Boats dance and glide over the crisscrossing wakes carved into Tampa Bay, each craft anxiously revving toward its respective dock to arrive before closing time. All the while, a handful of boats remain on the open water, swaying atop the undulating waves as its passengers continue to enjoy the fiery sunset reflecting off the bay's surface. These select aquatic vehicles carry Lotto Boat's boat club members, who have access to a slew of exclusive perks, such as extended marina hours. Stationed at Harborage Marina, Lotto Boat's 10 rental vessels include kayaks, WaveRunners, and power boats equipped with GPS navigation systems. After hopping aboard a vessel, landlubbers can go jet-skiing, drift over to nearby tiki bars for dinner and live music, or take in scenic views of downtown St. Petersburg. Once patrons make their way back to one of Lotto Boat's two docks, staffers thoroughly cleanse the boat of interior debris and exterior mermaid hitchhikers to prepare for the vessel's next excursion.
CSA Palm Harbor keeps its neighborhood moving. As the managing body of parks, recreation, and leisure services for the unincorporated community of Palm Harbor, the outfit takes charge by providing affordable, high-quality facilities and programs. CSA Palm Harbor manages three multi-sport complexes and a full-service community activity center. Outside those doors, though, their efforts ripple through the community. They include a municipal kayak launch, a waterside park, fitness workshops, 5K fun runs, and camps for kids who don't want to spend their summer memorizing yearbook messages.