When Chad Weaver's not evaluating irrigation units for Southern Comfort Heating and Cooling, he's building zany, full-size boats out of plastic soda bottles for the annual Hernando De Soto Heritage Festival Plastic-Bottle Boat Regatta.
Weaver has tested his sea legs in this semi-serious competition since 1992, and his plastic-bottle boat, How 'Bout That?, has won six years in a row. It's a 30-foot solid aluminum, two-outrigger structure packed with plastic flotation pieces, and it's sturdy enough to hold 10 people paddling 500 feet for 20 minutes.
"It's a lot of fun for me to be so close to the water," Weaver says. "I have a lot of friends here who are into water sports, and it's a nice break from the workweek to be out there on the ocean."
The plastic-bottle boat regatta typically attracts 300 entries, including one this year built by 150 elementary and middle school students with Weaver's help. The event usually raises $8,000 for the Hernando De Soto Historical Society, which distributes that money to various charities from Toys for Tots to Adopt-a-Family. About 10,000 people come out to cheer on their favorite crews.
A trained mechanical engineer, Weaver moved to Bradenton from Illinois in the early 1990s.
"I design things every day at work, not boats but heating and cooling units, so this just seemed natural for me," he says. "Plus, I feel like I'm giving back and participating in something fun. I help make decisions in regards to problems people are having, and show them how to steer."
Even Weaver's sons, nine-year-old Cory and six-year-old Sean, participate in the sport with their dad.
"It's a family thing for us," Weaver said. "And it's a networking event, where you get to meet quite a few business owners."