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Southwest Florida Yachts marks its anniversary

By Staff | Nov 20, 2008

Southwest Florida Yachts opened 25 years ago as a modest charter business, with just a few sailboats and one location.

Today, the business is in two locations with an expansive sailboat and yacht fleet and a multitude of services — even a sailing school. To celebrate the milestone anniversary, the owners recently added the Heather Michelle to its fleet.

The Heather Michelle is a 34-foot pilothouse trawler perfect for cruising the protected and scenic Gulf barrier island corridor from Sanibel/Captiva to Boca Grande, said Barb Hansen, owner-manager of the company.

“Generally speaking, a trawler is a slow going, cruising power yacht. It’s very comfortable, very economical — more like a floating condo,” Hansen said.

Concerning the Heather Michelle, Hansen said it was manufactured by American Tugs, has headroom of 6 feet 5 inches and sleeping accommodations for up to four people. With its big upper viewing deck, the newest yacht particularly makes a comfortable, economical cruising vessel for families to enjoy dolphins, manatees and tall wading birds in their natural environments.

“Our area is perfect for boating,” said Hansen. “Our charters cruise all throughout the barrier islands, which include Sanibel and Captiva. Southwest Florida has been ranked among the top 10 yacht sailing and cruising areas in the world.”

She said the rankings, specifically of Sanibel and Captiva, were designated as the “best islands to visit” for their ambiance, beaches, friendliness, restaurants and scenery.

Hansen said she has seen a lot of changes in the area over the last 25 years.

“The area has grown tremendously and our cruising area has been discovered by people from all over the world,” she said.

Since its inception, the business has primarily been based in the Marinatown Yacht Harbour in North Fort Myers, off Hancock Bridge Parkway.

“The marina has actually been here since about 1980, and we bought the existing business that was here in 1984. My husband Vic, who’s also the owner, was the manager at that time,” she said.

Its second base is Burnt Store Marina in Punta Gorda.

“That’s our sailing base, and where the sailing school is located,” she noted.

She said she was a recreational boater before taking over the management end of the business.

“It’s a whole different thing, I learned a lot,” she said.

The couple has expanded the services offered over the last 25 years.

“We really have four entities: charters, sail and power, a sailing and boating school, and a yacht brokerage,” she said. “We also do yacht management.”

When the couple bought the business they said it was because there was a call for their offerings back then, as well as today.

“Our fleet was very small back then, about seven boats, primarily sailboats. Today we have eight sailboats, and 15 trawlers and power yachts,” said Barb.

Southwest Florida Yachts charters power yachts from 32 feet to 42 feet from Marinatown Marina and sailing yachts from 24 feet to 35 feet out of Burnt Store Marina.

While many come from out of the area to charter, she said more and more local clientele have become regular customers.

As part of the anniversary now through 2010, they are offering the Heather Michelle for charters for $1,483 for three days in the summer and $1,873 for three days in the high season and awarding extra cruising days free. Summer charters receive two extra free days of cruising for charters of three days or longer. High season charters of three days or longer receive one extra cruising day at no additional charge.

Other pluses of the Heather Michelle are a large, forward cabin that sleeps two and a double-wide berth in the salon that converts back to dinette seating. Other conveniences include air conditioning, heat, hot and cold water, refrigerator/freezer, stovetop and oven, microwave, flat panel television, DVD player and more.

Hansen said the company does “barefoot charters.”

“That essentially means the charterer or customer is the owner of the boat for as long as they charter it,” she said. “We do have captains available but many of our clients are experienced boaters.”

A bow thruster helps the captains maneuver in marinas, with the use of a modern assortment of controls and gauges including hydraulic steering, autopilot, speedometer, depth recorder, GPS with chartplotter and radar. With a six-cylinder engine, the Heather Michelle consumes only four gallons per hour while cruising at nine knots.

Southwest Florida Yachts is located at 3444 Marinatown Lane N.W. in North Fort Myers. For more information, call 800-262-7939 or 656-1339 visit: swfyachts.com. For information about the sailing and cruising school, visit: flsailandcruiseschool.com.