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Discovering Boca Grande, area islands via seaplane

By Staff | Apr 19, 2010

Pilot Mark Futch keeps things and people moving on Boca Grande by air and sea.

The third-generation fishing guide and longtime pilot said his grandfather was born on the island to a huge family with eight boys and three girls. Seven of the boys became fishing guides.

“I’m a third-generation fishing guide,” Futch said. “I’ve been fishing Boca Grande Pass for 35 years.”

The 55-year-old Futch has been flying commercially for 30 years.

“I fish in the summer and fly in the winter,” Futch said. “I started flying when I was 17. I just wanted to do it. I’ve always wanted to be a pilot.”

Thanks to Futch and Gasparilla Inn & Club, passengers can discover Boca Grande and the surrounding islands via seaplane this season.

The National Historic Landmark resort is offering private air tours via the seaplane but Futch said it’s mostly used as a taxi service to places such as Key West and Palm Beach.

“I’ve flown the Key West run 500 times,” he said. “That’s almost a shuttle. It’s an hour-and-20-minute flight to Key West.”

Sea plane flying is much different than land-based flying, Futch said. Variables include flying off water where the “runway” is constantly moving and no brakes.

“But it’s something that I have 23,000 hours flying experience, including 20,000 in the seaplane,” he said. “There are about a dozen people on the planet with that much active time in a seaplane.”

It’s his preferred mode of travel.

“It’s the safest flying there is,” he said. “You have a continuous runway and always have a place to put the aircraft. You can land them anywhere.”

Futch said a legendary islander – the late Bayard Sharp – was his mentor. Sharp owned the inn before the current owners, his daughter, Sarah and Will Farish.

“The Venice airport and Punta Gorda airport are the closest airports,” Futch said. “I just thought a seaplane service would go well. Bayard Sharp thought the same thing.”

Futch worked for Rotonda Air Service in the early 1980s before first starting a seaplane service in 1987.

“A lot of times I just take them right to their house,” he said. “They step right on the docks. They don’t have to drive. They don’t have to mess with cars or limo services. It’s basically a seaplane limo.”

The seaplane is a fixed-wing aircraft capable of taking off and landing on water with up to three passengers. The seaplane can tour the island by air and explore nearby sites such as Cabbage Key or Cayo Costa.

Flights run by Futch, a certified flight instructor, start at $250 for a 30-minute tour. A 24-hour cancellation policy applies.

“I don’t think a lot of people have ventured to this area and discovered it,” he said “It has some of the best boating and best fishing in the world.”

“It’s fast and a great way to impress your lady,” Futch said. “We can land the plane anywhere. If you see something you really like we can land and take a look.”

The Gasparilla Inn & Club_ has been a premier destination on Florida’s Gulf Coast since 1913. Originally built to appeal to wealthy Northerners, The Inn has since become the center of village life on the island.

A member of Historic Hotels of America and listed on The National Register of Historic Places, the resort offers 140 accommodations in the heart of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island.

Now owned by the William Farish family, the resort has played host to many notables, including Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, Katharine Hepburn, the George H.W. Bush family and members of the duPont family.