William B. “Dick” Makinson was an ardent sportsman who felt that the Kissimmee River and lake system, although some of the most productive bass fishing waters in Florida, was not utilized by sportsmen. The route through these waters was treacherous with many canals and hundreds of acres of marsh and sawgrass. Makinson felt that there would be safety in numbers if enough boats went through as a caravan. If enough boatmen went often, they would become familiar with the route and dispel the fear that kept many away from one of the least explored areas of Florida.
Sixty-six years ago, Dick formed the first Boat-A-Cade. Seventy-five boats participated in this first venture from Kissimmee to Okeechobee; the number doubled the following year. By 1954, four hundred boats made the 220 mile cruise.
Dick Makinson continued as chairman for ten years. When he resigned in 1960, “Reader’s Digest” called it “the world’s biggest organized mass boat cruise” and other publications such as “Sports Illustrated” gave Kissimmee more publicity than it had ever received previously. The Boat-A-Cade continues to be held; more information may be obtained through their website: http://www.kissimmee-boat-a-cade.com/
An interesting excerpt from the “St. Cloud News” of November 17, 1950 was found in Alma Hetherington’s book "River of the Long Water”: “It was sunrise Sunday morning when the little flotilla slipped out, one by one. . . from the wharf at Kissimmee. The crowd that gathered to watch the sunrise departure saw the pink of the Eastern sky. . .Saw the opalescent mist get thick as they waited. . .Saw the fog drop down. . .Dick Makinson, promoter of the Boat-A-Cade greeted friends.” Photographers, news reporters, City officials and Chamber of Commerce people were all there to witness the departure. The article continues: “There was another figure who stood off to one side. . .With his hat pulled low over his eyes in the early morning mist. . .82 years had silvered his hair. . .he watched the boats with a wistful look in his eyes. . .I knew what he was thinking, so I went over and said, ‘You’d like to be going too, I know’. . .Ad Gilbert, one of the last of the old steamboat captains, smiled as he answered, ‘Yes, I’d like to make the trip again.’ “
Sources: “St. Cloud News”; “River of the Long Water” by Alma Hetherington
Photo Courtesy: Florida Memory and Osceola County Historical Society