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St. Petersburg history: George Gandy Jr. linked Sunshine City to Havana

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Published May 1, 2012

George "Dad" Gandy was the first to connect St. Petersburg and Tampa with his toll bridge, but it was son George Jr. who linked the Sunshine City to Havana. In 1929, "Gidge," as his boating friends called him, took time off from managing his dad's LaPlaza Theater and sailed his 36-foot ketch to Havana. He decided an annual race would promote St. Petersburg and bring in tourist dollars to both cities. The commodores of the St. Petersburg and Havana yacht clubs agreed, and at the height of the 1930 tourist season, 11 boats sailed the 284-mile inaugural course with a U.S. Coast Guard escort.

By the mid 1930s, as pictured here, hundreds of spectators would follow in their personal boats or swarm the Million Dollar Pier for a glimpse of the starting line. World War II put the event on hold from 1941 to 1946; it then flourished until the Cuban revolution. In 1959, the winner's rum toast in the shadow of Morro Castle was closely monitored by Fidel Castro's armed soldiers, and three decades of sailing tradition came to an end. It's interesting to note that Dad Gandy was one of the 18 original founders of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and, at the time, the only member to actually own a boat.

Nevin D. Sitler, director of education and outreach: St. Petersburg Museum of History