June 3 is Boater Skip Day, the unofficial holiday held at Bayard Sand Bar, where boaters from around Northeast Florida meet up for a party on the water.
Once a small picnic between friends, the event has grown, with about 1,500 people marking themselves as "going" to this year's event, which was organized through Facebook.
"So, originally, there was a Poker Run that used to come through town with all the fast boats, and they used to go to Bayard Point and have a picnic," said the Facebook event's creator, Chris Verderane. "So I called a bunch of friends and said, hey, these big fancy boats are going to be at the point today. Let's go out there."
On the first Friday of June each year, boaters would meet up to picnic and watch the Poker Run. As the event grew each year, the North Florida Marine Association began to sponsor it, and in 2014, they started calling it 'Boater Skip Day,' Verderane explained.
One year, the Poker Run boats stopped showing up, but that didn't put an end to the unofficial holiday. The boaters kept on coming.
"It was probably 12 or 15 years ago that we started out as this little tiny group that went out there," said Verderane. "Right now, I would estimate it's anywhere between 800 and 1,000 boats out there."
Now, each year, Verderane sets up a Facebook event, inviting anyone interested in taking the day off to spend time on the water. Approximately 3,700 people responded to this year's Facebook event, making logistics and planning of the event challenging.
Verderane said he communicates with Deputy Bill Maher from the Clay County Sheriff's Office Marine Unit to help keep the event safe. Last year, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office led an operation for the event that included aid from law enforcement from four other counties, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, according to News4Jax. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to comment on the event.
"They don't give anybody a hard time. They're just helping make everyone safe. I don't hear any horror stories out of that," said Verderane.
"I think a couple of years ago, a boat got stolen, and they found it across the river," Verderane recounted. "It was like, someone just jumped in a boat, took it across the river because they wanted to leave, and they tied it up to a dock. But normally, it's a very safe day."
The event happens rain or shine, and a running joke among participants is that the weather will always be bad that day. Verderane explained that the weather forecast for the first Friday in June seems to always be awful. Despite the gloomy forecasts, he said the event always happens, and the weather is never as bad as predicted.
Even with COVID, Verderane said the event continued because boating was still allowed during the pandemic.
"It's just amazing to me," said Verderane. "Every single year, it's like wow. I mean, I never thought that a group of a couple friends would get together to create something as big as this is."
The rain or shine event is set to happen Friday, June 3, at the Bayard Sand Bar.