Sailing had slow start to rich history

Published May 21, 2003|Updated Sept. 1, 2005

Tampa Bay was a shallow coast.

The only places to land a boat of any size was Fort Brooke in Tampa, Philippe Park in Safety Harbor and at the end of Point Pinellas. Big Bayou was an early anchorage for small craft on this side of the bay.

Pirate Juan Gomez (1776-1900) took excursions in the 1850s on his schooner, Red Jack, from Tampa to an old well he had discovered on Pass-a-Grille, according to research by Jack Sykes.

The railroad dock and later the Electric Pier, the forerunner of The Pier in St. Petersburg, served boats in the early 1900s. Little pleasure sailing was done on the bay until early waterfront development after 1904.

St. Petersburg Yacht Club was established in 1909.

Harvey Parke was walking past the club dock in 1921 when a fellow rigging a beautiful 28-foot Herreshoff sloop hollered over to see if Parke wanted to crew for him.

Harvey remembered the trip well because when they got south of the old pier, the man suddenly let go of the tiller, ran forward and dove off the bow. There was a loggerhead turtle he was going to ride into the beach for a later meal.

But, seeing Parke's confused face, the fellow let the turtle go and scrambled back aboard.

Big Bayou became a sailing spot in the 1930s when many could not afford the yacht club.

An informal group met with their Moths and backyard vessels. This was the first of organized women's sailing in the bay area.

Gulfport was another sailing grounds, starting in 1936 when Karl Kleisch _ later known as Charlie Allen _ began a club in his home at Disston and Central.

Gulfport Yacht Club later met in a World War I building at the Gulfport Basin next to the smoldering city dump.

The basin had two mangrove islands with a resident alligator. When the islands were dredged, it attracted sand sharks. One man speared 120 sharks in an afternoon.

After World War II, sailing became more accessible to the average person.

In the early 1950s, volunteers teaching the sport at the Sunshine City Boat Club at the North Mole _ now known as the Vinoy Basin _ included Parke. Boca Ciega Yacht Club is the successor to this group.

Whereas there was a great variety of designs and sizes of boats before the war, by the late 1940s smaller one-design vessels became popular.

The Snipe, Lightning and Windmill were the choice, along with a few Moth, Flying Dutchman, Thistle, Y-Flyer and Suicide boats. Catamarans made the scene in 1960.

Clearwater's Clark Mills designed the Optimist Pram, and it soon took the place of the heavy, capsize-prone Hagerty Pram at the St. Pete Junior Yacht Club.

Parke built its first four Optimist Prams, but he didn't bolt the jig frame to the concrete floor of the sailing center.

The curved bottom plywood pulled up the frame. The resulting boats had little rocker and were slow.

About 1953, St. Pete charged $3 for its Veteran's Day Regatta. There was a great howl of protest that a club would charge for an event.

By the 1960s, several Midwinter regattas had become institutions, drawing sailors from all over the country to enjoy the bay.

The area's first world championship was for the then-Olympic Flying Dutchman in 1962, a regatta won by Hans Fogh and Paul Elvstrom.

Olympic training regattas, SPORT, were held before the Long Beach and Savannah Olympics, attracting an international attendance.

The disabled sailing program has become the world standard since the city upgraded the downtown center facility for accessibility to the building and docks.

The disabled sailing worlds are scheduled for the bay next fall.

When the Municipal Marina was built in the early 1960s, it took a while to fill. Now there is a waiting list.

Sailing became a popular recreation aside from racing.

More recently, St. Petersburg has become a favorite chartering destination.

Sailors from everywhere fly into the city to charter big boats or learn the sport from famous name businesses and schools.

The future of sailing on Tampa Bay seems secure. The wind will be here.