It’s a whole other world,” says Fichter, who builds custom airboats for his Alva company, Southern Enterprises. “You can see deer and gators out there. And it’s quiet.
“But if you don’t have an airboat, you’re not getting out there.”
Fichter is a member of the new Airboat & Buggy Conservation Club of Southwest Florida. The group promotes the swamp-hopping lifestyle and fights to preserve people’s rights to travel in those places.
“We’re just trying to get folks to enjoy the outdoors,” says club president Randy Hodges, who also makes and services airboats with his Fort Myers company, RDH Air Parts and Fabrication.
The club held its first public event Saturday Jan. 15, 2012 at the Lee Civic Center: An airboat and buggy show that organizers hope rivals similar events in Broward County and elsewhere. The show was joined by the Caloosa Cook-Off, a barbecue contest held by the Fort Myers East Rotary Club.
The show features airboats and swamp buggies from Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties. Hodges expected vehicles from at least 70 to 80 people.
Airboats are flat-bottomed boats powered by a giant fan. Swamp buggies are custom-made vehicles with big balloon tires. Both are used to navigate swamps.
Some people race their boats and buggies. Some use them for hunting. Some just like to escape to somewhere quieter.
The show will feature vehicles of all types, including buggies with nitrous-oxide boosts and airboats powered by airplane and sports-car engines.
“People do some crazy stuff to their vehicles,” Hodges says. “Some of these boats are really tricked out. It all depends on how extreme you want to go.”
Fichter showed his 13-foot airboat “Eight Up.” The name refers to the boat’s eight-cylinder Lycoming aircraft engine. The boat is painted with flames along the sides and fitted with a lot of chrome.
“The chrome is just something for people to look at,” he says. “It’s hard to walk away from something shiny, right?”
Fichter’s boats have consistently won Best of Show at the annual Broward County Airboat Show. He’s worked with airboats since he was a kid and saw his best friend’s dad working on them.
“I kind of hung around the shop,” he says. “Later, I couldn’t afford to pay people to work on my boat. So I started doing it myself.”