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Heritage Village Jubilee: Sailing into the future by celebrating the past

Michael Jones, 63, of St. Petersburg, stands next to The Honey, a 16-foot one-design racing class Snipe sailboat, part of the historic display in Heritage Village’s new McKay Creek Boat House.
Published Oct. 21, 2015

LARGO

It started with Honey and a group of sailors who wanted to preserve a little history.

Honey is a Snipe, a racing sail boat made from juniper, that was built by Clark Mills in 1947 for his childhood buddy, Francis Seavy.

Although he was barely 30 when he crafted Honey's hull, Mills was already known for his expertise in boat building and in the years to come, the Mills name would eventually be synonymous with the Optimist Pram, a small boat originally made for young sailors to use on Clearwater waterways. When he died in 2001, more than 200,000 children worldwide had learned the basics of sailing on his design.

For more than 40 years, Seavy and Honey raced and won dozens of regattas throughout the United States and the Caribbean. After Seavy retired from racing, he gave the boat to his nephew, Gene Fleming, a former commodore of the Clearwater Yacht Club. Fleming contacted Heritage Village offering the Mills creation to the living history museum.

However, Heritage Village did not have anywhere to store it.

Undeterred, Fleming began making inquiries, asking fellow sailors to help pay homage to Pinellas County's relationship with boat building by joining forces in finding a home for Honey.

As sailors talked, more enthusiasts climbed on board, including Mike Jones, a boat builder and former home builder who grew up in Tarpon Springs. He met with the director of Heritage Village, who also heard from Ed Proefke of Proefke Contractors and Ed Hoffman of Hoffman Architects. The builder, the contractor and the architect all wanted to offer their services for free as Fleming and many other sailors along with the Pinellas County Historical Society gathered donations. They knew Honey's permanent home would cost more than $60,000, and Heritage Village was the perfect place.

Four years and $80,000 later, Honey is finally in her new home.

On Saturday, the public is invited to a housewarming of sorts. During the 37th annual Heritage Village Country Jubilee, the Pinellas County Historical Society will hold a ribbon-cutting for the McKay Creek Boat Shop, which will house not only Honey but several other boats designed by Mills, including a 1948 Optimist pram, a Windmill and a Sun Cat.

The boat shop's name comes from McKay Creek, which runs between Heritage Village and its next-door neighbor, the Florida Botanical Gardens, according to Jones, who worked in the early 1980s inside Clearwater Bay Marine Ways, a boat business started by Mills. "We designed the boat shop after Clark Mills' (original shop) in Dunedin,'' said Jones. "We found an old photo and Clark's dimensions. Ed Hoffman studied that.''

Jones stressed that this is just the starting point of the project. "Maritime history in this area is so rich. We are starting with Clark Mills who is so highly respected in this area, but there is much more. For example, the 1800s in Tarpon Springs with the Greek boats that influenced the area's builders as well.''

Seavy passed away in 2013. His wife, Naomi, 89, will attend the ceremony with Fleming.

"She was a big part of the Honey," Fleming said. "She kept scrapbooks, and Heritage Village will display them. They are filled with every clipping of every regatta, a phenomenal record, and she is amazed at what has been done.''

Along with the ribbon-cutting, the Jubilee will also include a bluegrass jam sponsored by Charlie Bill's Banjos, a model train display, the Florida Chapter Morse Telegraph Club, the Largo Historical Society, the Friends of Largo Nature Park birds of prey and arts and crafts vendors.

Contact Piper Castillo at pcastillo@tampabay.com. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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