The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Boating & Beach Bash welcomes wounded vets

Jay Van Vechten and Zack Rice have been making plans for the
Boca Raton Boating & Beach Bash for several months. 

Mary Thurwachter/The Coastal Star

By Mary Thurwachter

When Jay Van Vechten envisioned an annual boating and beach event for people with disabilities, he had a convivial day in mind, replete with barbecue, boat rides, music and smiles all around. Little did he know how successful the Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities would be.

Van Vechten, a member of the Boca Raton Advisory Board for People with Disabilities, launched the project in 2009 with co-chairman Zack Rice, the marina director at Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club. 

The first Bash attracted 350 people — more than they had expected.

“We had to go out and get more hamburgers,” Van Vechten said. The party was a big success, and by the next year, the event doubled in size with 700 participants. Then last year, a whopping 2,000 people showed up for the Bash at Spanish River Park. 

This year’s event will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 24, and Van Vechten and Rice are gearing up for a huge turnout. Rice has lined up 26 boats from RPY&CC to provide rides, and monetary donations are rolling in.

While the co-chairmen, both volunteers, weren’t surprised when the event flourished, they couldn’t predict all the joyful tears that would be shed.

“I was on a boat when the captain asked if he could speed up since it was the end of the day,” Rice recalled from last year’s Bash. “Everyone said ‘yes,’ so he did. Then I noticed a boy in a wheelchair moving his arms and making some noise. I asked his mother if we should slow down and she said ‘oh, no!’ She said she’d never heard her son say anything or move his arms like that before. He was happy. Everyone was in tears.”

There were countless other emotional moments at the Bash during the last three years, Rice said. And there are likely to be more this year. 

“When the kids and adults arrive everyone runs out to hug each other,” Van Vechten said. “It’s so touching. They see other people who are like them.”

Besides disabled folks (and their families and caretakers), this year’s beach party will salute and invite wounded soldiers, including Purple Heart recipients.

The Bash is underwritten through private donations, many from residents of RPY&CC, and is organized and run by more than 100 community volunteers. The city provides lifeguards, police, rescue, medical, highway electronic directional signage, sanitation, and free admission into Spanish River Park (an $18 value).

For information go to or call 715-2622 or 289-3680.             

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