A Perspective of the Miami Yacht Club From 1927 To 2008

In the words of Cicero: “History is the witness of the times, the torch of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life and the messenger of antiquity.”

Originally Written By Lynn Hummel and Suzy Burrows; Rewritten By the Club’s longtime Historian, Harold Cobb; and Edited By Jim Ori, Staff Commodore, '08-9

The history of the Miami Yacht Club is entwined with the history of the City of Miami. The early Commodores from 1927 to 1950 (John Robinson, 1927-30, Arthur Bosworth, 1931-36, Henry Thompson, 1937-38, Robert Collins, 1938-40, Jack Wirt, 1941-46, ‘48 and ’50, John C. Oakes, 1947, and Paul Palmer, 1949) and their fellow Flag Officers and Members are remembered for their adventures and contributions to both the Club and the City.

In the post World War I era, development fever swept over the Greater Miami area and brought about the birth of Coral Gables, Fairchild Tropical Garden, Miami Beach, the University of Miami, and Vizcaya. The Twenties also saw the rise of many hotels, as well as other commercial and residential buildings. Attracted by all this development, people came to sunny Florida, and many settled in Miami. Among the new residents were sailing enthusiasts who loved boat racing and yachts, and in mid-1927, the South Florida Boat Racing Association grew out of the monthly meetings held by these sailboat lovers, mostly people of modest means who owned small vessels, such as Snipes, Crickets, Suicides and Moths. 

On July 19, 1927, Commodore John Robinson signed the Association’s original charter, notarized by Bertha Cox; and Circuit Judge W. L. Freeman approved the charter on July 25, 1927, which is the date of record for the founding of what would eventually become the Miami Yacht Club. As suggested, the Association’s original Members came from all walks of life and met along Miami’s waterways to plan sailboat races. Their first get-togethers took place on Star Island at the Third Street Anglers Club, now the Miami Beach Rod and Reel Club, and later at Pier 5’s Old City of Miami Fishing Docks, now Bayside Market Place, and also in a sail loft where Bicentennial Park now stands. They held races off Point View, SE 15th Road and Biscayne Bay. Most Members stored their boats at home and trailered them to the ends of public streets to be launched.

Despite the Association’s modest origins, it gained an international reputation starting in 1928 as a proven success by organizing and sponsoring “The Sir Thomas Lipton Challenge Cup Race,” a regatta off the coast of Miami Beach. The Lipton Race was named for the renowned tea magnate, who three times challenged for the America’s Cup in his Shamrock. He also donated the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, as the cup for the regatta and in so doing helped to put Miami on the map of international regattas. Nine years later in 1937, the Club deeded the trophy and race to Miami’s oldest yacht club, the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, for continuance of the regatta. The reason for turning the Lipton Race over to the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club had to do with the fact that the former Association, which by this time had become the Miami Yacht Club, held two annual races, the Lipton Cup and the Miami to Nassau Race, and the Board of Governors decided it was “to the best interest of the sport of yacht racing and yachting in general in the Miami waters to have the two races conducted under separate sponsorship.” Thus, the Board passed a resolution inviting the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club to sponsor and conduct the Sir Thomas Lipton Challenge Cup Race, with full custody of the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, “upon condition that such race is held annually during the week preceding the Miami-Nassau Yacht Race and upon further condition that should the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club fail for any reason to continue the race as an annual event, then the custody of the Trophy and the right and privilege to conduct the race shall revert to the Miami Yacht Club.” The Biscayne Bay Yacht Club accepted these conditions and have to this time sponsored and conducted the race. 

By 1932, the South Florida Boat Racing Association had moved to the area of Miramar Hotel, near the present location of Omni, just north of the Venetian Causeway. The Members raced along the Intercoastal Waterway and in the waters of the surrounding Biscayne Bay, doing their best to avoid the trap of the pilings to their east that had been set for the never built Isles of Capri. For many years, the Association’s “committee boats” were the docks, including the concrete dock at the foot of NE 18th Street.

On February 27, 1934, the Association realized one of its fervent dreams, when in conjunction with the Nassau Yacht Club and the sponsorship of the City of Miami and the Mayor, the first Miami to Nassau Race was held. It is still on going today and celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2008. Refer to the left for further details. 

Ten months later on November 27, 1934, Judge Worth W. Trammell of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Florida approved the Association’s November 23rdpetition to change its name to the Miami Yacht Club, symbolizing the Members desire to be a part of the City of Miami. Historically, the Members obtained the use of the name when a night club called “the Miami Yacht Club” to the north of the Royal Palm Yacht Basin closed. In 2009, the Club will also celebrate the 75thanniversary of this name change.

Later, the Members also obtained the flagpole now located at the foot of the Club’s T-Dock. Shortly after the Club changed its name, the Membership began the forerunner to the Miami to Key Largo Race, which to this day is one of Miami’s principal regattas and benefits the City’s youth being taught to sail in the Club’s Youth Sailing Program.

By the time World War II started in Europe, the Club met in the Boy Scout Troop Headquarters at Bayfront Park and provided assistance in the Sailing Merit Badge Program. Private homes, the downtown Miami Public Library, Bayfront Park, and the Chess Club also served as meeting sites. During the war in 1943, the Mid-Winter Regatta first started.

Following the war and the return of the GIs, many of whom settled in Miami as new residents just as happened after World War I, the City became a permanent family town; and in this climate of stabilization, the Miami Yacht Club began to look for a permanent home. A site was found on what had been an old sandbar along the route of the then named County Causeway (later General Douglas MacArthur Causeway) on the northeast corner of Watson Island. This place had been a dumping ground for the spoil from deepening the harbor and also served as a garbage/construction debris dumping ground. Covered with Australian Pines and other weeds, it looked quite desolate. Watson Island itself was named after a Miami City Manager and Florida legislator, father and son. The Miami Outboard Club (founded in 1938) and Chalks Airlines also occupied sites on the Island, and when the State of Florida transferred title of the Island to the City, the occupation and use by the two clubs and Chalks Airlines of their respective sites were “grandfathered” as existing occupations.

By 1947, the Miami Yacht Club negotiated a lease for the occupied land and obtained approval to clear it and build a clubhouse. The Members then cleared the site from the Miami Outboard Club to where the Brown House was to be re-located, from the Omni area, in the future. The Brown house partially collapsed during the move and later was burned down by vagrants in 1998.

The only condition for the removal of the clubs and Chalks Airline could be for a more civic use of the land. Officials of both the City of Miami and State of Florida applauded the Club’s philosophy of service to the educational, cultural and recreational needs of the youth of the City. For decades, the Club has continually provided very successful youth sailing, adult sailing, boating safety, and inner city programs of the highest caliber.

The next Commodores from 1951 to 1971 were: Ralph C. Knowles, 1951, Charles S. Wilson, Jr. 1952-53, Dr. Robert C. Noble, 1954, Edwin S. Morris, 1955, A. J. Grelin, 1956-58, Dr. W. T. Mooney, 1959, William E. Sunders, 1960-61, Meyers Noell, 1962, James Eahly, 1963, Jerry A. Siegenga, 1964, Dr. Lothar Patelsky, 1965 and ‘71, Gideon J. Stocks, 1966, Frederick C, Stebbins, 1967 and ’71, John F. Greaner, 1968, Fred P. Darlow, 1969, and Fred A. Bremen, 1970.

By 1950, the Miami Yacht Club’s meeting room and the original T-dock had been completed. The rest rooms, showers and lockers came next. Members with expertise in architecture and engineering drew up the plans and had them approved and permitted. Miller Beer donated a water pump to provide water for the site from a small storage tank. Trucks brought water to replenish the supply. The water main on the far side of Watson Island, next to the existing pavement of the MacArthur Causeway, was located and a tap made so meters could be installed for both clubs. Two-inch water lines were run for the clubs’ use, and the Miami Yacht Club’s line was also used to irrigate Watson Island Park.

After the approval of the expansion, additional plans included a concrete patio and a connecting link between the two-story lockers, rest rooms and steward’s quarters and the meeting room. Partial loads of left over concrete from Acme Concrete were poured to form the patio on the east side of the Clubhouse nearest to the water, and a drive-up circle was laid on the opposite side. For access to the property, a road was constructed from MacArthur Causeway to the drive-up circle.

Around the same time in 1955, footings were formed and reinforcing bars placed for the connecting link that also included the Bar & Restaurant (named the Latitudes Lounge), a covered loggia facing Biscayne Bay, and the patio. An open breezeway between the meeting room and the Bar & Restaurant connected the patio to the drive-up circle, and the kitchen was placed on the other side of the Bar & Restaurant. 

The centerpiece of the drive-up circle is the historic anchor from the Prinz (Prins) Valdemar, formerly a three-masted Danish cadet training ship built in 1892 of good English iron at Helsignor, Denmark. Before World War I, German businessmen purchased the Prinz Valdemar, which was used during the war to run iron ore to Germany and later in the gun running and coconut trades. On January 25, 1926 after being converted to a floating hotel, the Prinz Valdemarcapsized on what was to become Watson Island, and effectively blocked Miami Harbor. After that, the Prinz Valdemar lived out the remainder of her life as an aquarium, across Biscayne Boulevard from the Miami News Building (now the Freedom Tower). Eventually, she rusted through and was scrapped in the mid-1950s. After the Miami Yacht Club moved to Watson Island in 1947, Commodore Jack Wirt bought one of the Prinz Valdemar's two large anchors for scrap metal, and the Members brought the anchor to her present location in the center of the circle in front of the clubhouse's main entrance.

In 1957, when the first lease expired, the Club and the City signed an additional 20-year lease and plans moved forward for a pram shed (1965), boat lift, south ramp, additional north docks and north ramp, and dry storage facilities. The area was reduced and a boat ramp constructed by the City between the Miami Yacht Club and the Miami Outboard Club. In this decade, the Youth Sailing Program, noted in time as one of the finest in the nation, began with the use of the first Clearwater prams. International Optimist Dingy Association prams (IODA) replaced the original Clearwater prams in the advanced classes, and a youth sailing program was started in the summer for all Miami residents as well as an adult sailing program. In the last fifty years, the youth and adult sailing programs have trained thousands of participants in boating safety. Trophies named for our world class sailing instructors continue to be given at statewide regattas.

Over the last thirty plus years, the following individuals served as the Club’s Commodores, one of whom, Patricia Peters, became the first female Commodore of a major yacht club: Karl T. Seeley, 1972, Charles T. Lynch, 1973, Mark L. Albury, 1974, Joseph J. Judge, 1975-76, Victor J. Cribb, 1977, Ernest Guirola, 1978 and ‘82, Don Manson, 1979-80, Jack Schuh, 1981, Henry Anoll, 1983, Thomas A. Trump, 1984, Patricia Peters, 1985, Lynn Hummel, 1986, Francis “Pete” Schweers, 1987, Augustine “Augie” Canamero, 1988, Michael Hannau, 1989, James M. Campbell, 1990, ’97 and ‘99, Thomas A. Wilson, 1991, Jonathon D. Stiles, 1992, James M. Jordan, 1993-94 and ’96, David M. Quick, 1995 and ’98, Angel B. Canete, 1995, Sean Ferrell, 2000 and ’05, Steve J. Evans, 2001-2, Larry Newberry, 2003, Linda Evans, 2004, Rick Harty, 2006, and Gus Zuloaga, 2007-9. 

By 1975, the waterway on the north shore had been dredged and new docks built for the Club’s expanding membership. The original T-Dock and J-Dock were replaced. The Club created a new water source, upgraded the buildings’ exteriors and the lounge got new lighting and a custom made bar. On a daily basis, Members donated time and materials and worked on maintaining the Club’s property and training boats for youth and adult sailing classes. 

In 1989, Astrid Dalins, the Club’s “artist in residence”, completed the mural on the south wall of the Bar & Restaurant. With love and skill, Astrid turned a blank wall into a masterpiece. 

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida and Miami. Wind gusts of 175 mph hit Miller Drive in South Miami-Dade County as the eye wall passed through, and the storm surge at Watson Island rose in excess of 12 feet above mean low water. The concrete base of the flagpole was under water. 

Hurricane Andrew destroyed all the docks (the J-Dock, the T-Dock, and the North Dock) and drove the vessels anchored offshore onto the beach and into the docks. Once again, the Club’s Members joined forces and cleaned up. 

As many other businesses discovered as a result of Andrew, the Club was underinsured for the damages done to the property. A small settlement from the insurance company permitted the restoration of the J-Dock and the north and south launching ramps. These repairs allowed the trailer-based boats to come back to the Club and their owners to return to the enjoyment of sailing and the use of the facilities, which helped to restart the sailboat racing schedule and youth sailing program. 

With the cooperation and assistance of City officials, the Club obtained approval for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which gave us the funds to rebuild the T-Dock and the North Dock. Since then, Members continue to work daily on maintaining the Club’s property and vessels, as well as many other activities and functions enjoyed throughout the year. 

During the rebuilding period, the Club operated on a month-to-month rental basis with the City. Negotiations for a long-term lease began and were conducted for a period of several years by the Commodores. Finally in December 1997, Commodore Jim Campbell signed a twenty-year lease, with two five-year options for extension, for the remainder of the property the Club had occupied since 1947. The new lease and extensions allowed the Club to obtain financing for the construction of a swimming pool adjacent to the patio. As a gesture of good will, the Club agreed to terms in the lease that provides the City Marine Patrol partial use of the second floor as offices and also the use of a number of wet slips and dry storage spaces as well. 

Historically, prior to the City taking title from the State, both the City and State acknowledged the Club’s occupation of the site prior to the transfer of title, as was also the case for Chalk’s Airline and the Miami Outboard Club, meaning that the occupation of the sites were “grandfathered”.  But the new lease dropped this condition. 

Since our Club’s inception in 1927, we have continuously had from 300 to 400 of Miami’s finest sailors as Members, currently boasting approximately 350 Members from the Greater Miami area and an additional 150 Non-Resident Members from outside Miami, or from other States and foreign ports. For all this time, our Members have continued to support the education of our youth and other adults by teaching them how to sail while enjoying every moment and experience upon Miami’s beautiful waterways. In 2007, the Miami Yacht Club will celebrate 80 years of service to the sailing community and the City of Miami and sixty years of residence on Watson Island, where the Club thrives today and is known to yachtsmen the world over as “the Home of Sailing Champions.” 

Our most prestigious racing event, of course, is the Miami to Key Largo Race, which we sponsor in conjunction with West Marine. The first named Miami to Key Largo Race occurred in 1957. Other Key Largo races existed in the 1930’s, as well as a later motorboat race and an “Around Key Largo Race” for catamarans. But the current Miami to Key Largo Race is the only one that has endured, and it will see its 52nd anniversary in 2007. The proceeds from the race are donated to the Youth Sailing Foundation for the continuance of its sailing programs. 

Throughout the world’s sailing community, the Club continues to proudly fly its burgee and bear the name of the City of Miami. In effect, our Club has become a Miami institution, serving our community and supporting the best interests of our youth and the sport of yacht racing on an international level, for we are the “Home of Sailing Champions.” 

In the processing of completing the original draft, authors Lynn Hummel (Commodore, 1986) and Suzy Burrows gave special thanks to Jim Church (an Honorary Life and Life Member), Willie Saunders (Commodore, 1960-61, a Subscriber to the MYC Constitution, and an Honorary Life and Life Member), and Jack Wirt (Commodore, 1941-46, ‘48 and ’50, a Subscriber to the MYC Constitution, an Honorary Life and Life Member, and currently the Club’s Senior Member) for sharing their warm and vivid memories of the past. Lynn updated the Club’s history into the Eighties, David Quick updated it into the Nineties, and now Harold and Jim have updated it into the first decade of the 21st Century. We all hope that you, the reader, have enjoyed this history of our Club and that it will inspire you someday to continue the updates for later generations to enjoy.

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Links to the original 1927 Charter when the Club was founded as the Southern Florida Boat Racing Association and to the 1934 documents involving our name change to the Miami Yacht Club:

 

 

1927 Charter             1934 Name Change



 


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