A Gathering of Epic Proportions
Bill Burleson grew up in Puerto Rico on the small island of Vieques, but like many people born there, he left for professional opportunities when he was young. Now retired, Bill has a dream of improving the lives of those who still live on the island by helping to brand it as a tourist destination. He set out to do this using every network available. One of those unexpected networks was a local Grady-White Boats owners’ club that his friend, David Soler, was starting. David was born and raised in Puerto Rico and together with his wife, they do some wonderful philanthropy. David owns an Express 370 and really enjoys the quality and performance of this vessel.
While working to create the Grady-White club, Bill suggested that they have a family day on the island of Vieques with the triple purpose of raising money to help the islanders with medical expenses, getting the group together, and stimulating the local economy. David loved the idea and supported moving forward.
From there, what started as a fun, family-focused day became a weekend-long event as David and Bill coordinated the biggest raft up in Grady-White history to take place in Sun Bay. The safety of the people attending, as well as protecting the natural habitat, was a top priority for the planners, who worked with the local government to oversee the anchoring during the raft up process. They acquired the proper permits for the event which made way for an amazing weekend with food vendors, live music, and tours around the island.
Rafting up 61 boats is not an easy task, so Bill and David knew they needed a solid plan in place to make it work. Rafting the boats by size would not work because certain boats would want to be grouped together, and some boats would not be staying for the night. To address these concerns, they asked everyone in the group chat to tell them what boats they wanted to be rafted alongside and positioned them in the lineup accordingly. They also kept track of the boats that would be leaving early and placed them on either end of the line, so they could easily depart. David and Bill had the boats prepare in two groups, and wait outside the bay, until Bill called for each boat on the radio. In the bay at the raft up location, they had a crew that moved from boat to boat as each came in to raft up. David managed the west end from a Fisherman 180 and Bill managed the east end from his Express 370. By noon all the boats were set, and everyone was able to gather in the water, visit the food vendors on the beach, and take part in island tours.
Initially, the group presented a check to Fundación Vieques En Rescate for $10,000, but as news spread throughout the day, more money came in from not only people attending the raft up but also vendors who were selling goods and services on the beach. “By the end of the weekend we had raised more than $25,000. The Mayor of Vieques and other community members showed their support and appreciation and officially requested that we make this a recurrent annual event, which we gladly accepted,” said Bill.
Creating a community environment among Grady-White owners was David’s initial goal when he created the group, but it has turned out to be so much more. “This is what it’s all about,” says Bill. “We’ve created a true Grady Life experience!” They plan to do it again next year, and hope it will be even bigger and better.
To learn more about the beautiful attractions on Vieques Island visit www.Vieques.com