Wednesday, November 14, 2018
News Roundup

Clearwater boat builder earns Hall of Fame honors

CLEARWATER — The year was 1947. A gallon of gas was 15 cents and the brand new car to put it in was $1,300. Here in Pinellas County, a population boom was happening, and with it, a need to better develop activities for family and children.

With the help of Clifford McKay, founder of the Clearwater Beach Rotary Club, members of the Clearwater Optimist Club approached boat builder Clark Mills to help.

They had an idea — a soap box derby of sorts. The catch was, since the Sunshine State didn't have enough hills, they wanted it on the water.

Mills, a father of four, made an offer to do what he did best — to design a boat, a small design easy enough for a family to build together in the garage.

The boat that he came up with, which cost the builder just $50 for materials, was made of three pieces of plywood and one simple sail. Its easy maneuvering caught on quick and soon "Opti'' pram kits were being shipped to families around the country.

Seventy years later, Mills' work has put thousands of children around the world on the water with more than 400,000 Optimist prams active in 120 countries. At the 2014 Olympics, 80 percent of the boat skippers were former Optimist pram sailers.

On Sept. 24, Mills who died in 2001, will be inducted posthumously into the National Sailing Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the New York Yacht Club's Harbour Court in Newport, Rhode Island.

This year, more than 95 nominations were received by the NSHOF from around the country, according to Lee Tawney, the organization's executive director. Past inductees include Ted Turner and Dennis Connor.

"Clark Mills got more kids on sailboats in the world than anybody else because of that Optimist pram,'' said Tawney. "There is no question of his impact not only in the U.S. but around the world.

Locally, sailors who worked on the nomination effort included champion racer Charley Morgan, founder of Morgan Yachts, Michael Jones, project manager at McKay Creek Boat Shop at Heritage Village, and Meade Gougeon, a part-time Floridian and boat builder, who was inducted with his brother, Jan, in 2015. He died about three weeks ago.

Jones, 65, remembers visiting Mills' business, Clearwater Bay Marine off Fort Harrison Avenue, as a teenager. "You couldn't be involved with boats and not know Clark Mills,'' he said.

Jones also stressed that many sailors became sailors because of Mills, including the Gougeon brothers.

"I'm sorry Meade did not live to see this project through. He worked hard on it,'' Jones said. "He liked to tell the story that he got introduced to boat building when he helped his brother build one from one of Clark Mills' kits.''

Don Heiser of Clearwater worked side-by-side with Mills for more than 25 years at Clearwater Bay Marine and says the Hall of Fame honor is well-deserved.

"He designed (the pram) in a way that a father and son could build it together,'' said Heiser, 90. "He believed in that idea. It was important to him.''

And although Mills never reaped any financial benefits from the design, Heiser believed he was pleased "with the way the Opti turned out,'' he said. "He did not want money from the Optimist Club. He always said he did it for the kids. I remember one time sitting with him near Clearwater Bay, and he said, 'You know, it just feels good seeing people go by in boats that you know you created.''

For those interested in seeing some of Clark Mills' work, Heritage Village in Largo, in 2012, created the McKay Creek Boat Shop, patterned after the boat shops that lined Florida's westcoast during Mills' era as a boat builder. The idea for the boat shop came after one of Mills' childhood friends donated a Snipe, a sail boat Mills built from juniper wood. Over the last five years, volunteers, including Jones, have ensured that Mills' legacy stays front and center.

"The focus of Clark Mills life was giving back, especially to kids, and you can see that (at Heritage Village),'' said Jones. "All the boats at Mckay Creek have a Clark Mills connection.''

Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.

Comments
Tampa takes top Florida city for singles, but overall Florida not best state for love

Tampa takes top Florida city for singles, but overall Florida not best state for love

WalletHub recently released its "Best & Worst Cities for Singles" and Florida didn't fare all that well. Tampa was able to take the 29th spot making it the best performing city in the Sunshine State.
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Treshaun Ward, Ahmarean Brown decommit from Maryland

Treshaun Ward, Ahmarean Brown decommit from Maryland

Two of the area's top recruits in the 2019 class, Tampa Bay Tech running back Treshaun Ward and Jefferson receiver Ahmarean Brown, both reneged on their commitment to Maryland on Tuesday.Their decisions, each made via Twitter, come nearly two weeks a...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
Tampa Bay comic book artists and fans react to Stan Lee’s death

Tampa Bay comic book artists and fans react to Stan Lee’s death

Tampa Bay is home to comic book industry professionals and fans — even a superhero — who were impacted by the Marvel icon and his work.
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: A whole lot of suing going on in the Florida recount; why Rick Scott and Bill Nelson are smack in the middle; a Hall of Fame kind of night for Martin St. Louis

The Daystarter: A whole lot of suing going on in the Florida recount; why Rick Scott and Bill Nelson are smack in the middle; a Hall of Fame kind of night for Martin St. Louis

The Daystarter: Marc Topkin on Rays’ manager Kevin Cash falling short of the top AL manager award; Graham Brink on why Amazon just isn’t that into Tampa Bay; and Tom Jones on why the Bucs are keeping Jameis Winston on the bench.
Updated: 2 hours ago
Who has been more disappointing: Florida State or Miami?

Who has been more disappointing: Florida State or Miami?

Times columnist Martin Fennelly and writer Matt Baker discuss which former powerhouse has had a worse 2018.
Updated: 2 hours ago
How much is too much use of the Weeki Wachee River? Study is underway.

How much is too much use of the Weeki Wachee River? Study is underway.

Residents and officials learn more about soil samples, erosion documentation and cameras posted as part of carrying-capacity study.
Published: 11/14/18
New St. Petersburg Pier starting to rise above ground

New St. Petersburg Pier starting to rise above ground

After months of work under the ground and water, construction is becoming more visible as it rises vertically.
Published: 11/14/18
Time running out for officials to reach stadium deal with Rays

Time running out for officials to reach stadium deal with Rays

With elections in the rearview mirror, focus shifts to efforts to move the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor City.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Dear Amazon, from Tampa Bay: Why don't you love us?

Dear Amazon, from Tampa Bay: Why don't you love us?

Seattle-based Amazon decided to open a second headquarters, splitting it between New York City and the Washington, D.C., area. Tampa Bay never had a chance.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bounces work against Lightning in loss to Sabres

Bounces work against Lightning in loss to Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It looked like a beautiful chance. Steven Stamkos got the puck in the final minute, faked a shot and slid it over to Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov fired off the shot they wanted for him … and the puck hit the post."I made the ...
Updated: 8 hours ago