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The History of Tampa Sailing Squadron
The following has been derived from an article authored by Tom Inglis. It is planned that it will be added to through the years, providing current as well as future members a base of information which will trigger not only fond memories, but an appreciation of where we came from.
Tampa Sailing Squadron has existed as a chartered not for profit organization for over 25 years, but the roots of the club go back into the 1920's.
Harold Balcom, the first Commodore of the club, recalls it existed back in the early 1930's as one of several groups of young boys who sailed boats off the Bayshore Boulevard area.
The Squadron at that time was centered around the Tampa Yacht and Country Club. Its membership of young boys was loose and interchangeable with other kids from the Newport Navy, a Barcelona Avenue group and a Rome Avenue Club. Harold recalls the club was at one time known as the "Sand Pit Yacht Club". It was named after a pile of sand and shell located on the bay side of the Gandy Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard intersection. The kids tied up their boats in a small canal and played on the sand pile.
The early 1930's were the grim years of the depression. Few had much money to spend on sailboats. The boats of the Sailing Squadron in those days were cypress, or if you were fortunate, red cedar. Some were of scrap lumber. Standing rigging might have been galvanized fence wire and running rigging was manila. If you were fortunate, sails were made of commercial grade canvas. If not, unbleached muslin would do. Many boats had less than $75.00 in them.
Activities of the Sailing Squadron at this time were largely based at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club. Socially, the Tampa Yacht and Country Club was quite similar to what it is today. This gang of sandy, sunburned kids on the docks and grounds of the club was not a popular feature, and a mutual agreement was reached with the Tampa Yacht Club that the squadron would move.
There were races long before there were ratings or Portsmouth figures to argue about. The Balcom brothers and Ed Martin recall the big race of the year was to Pass-A-Grille where the Tampa sailors would be joined by similar groups from St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota and other communities for races and a fish fry. They managed to sleep on the beach, in the boats or in the bus station.
For a time the club was located on city property behind the Tampa General Hospital. Tampa General is located on Davis Island, on Tampa Bay, adjacent to City of Tampa. There were negotiations with the city to take over some property on the southern end of Davis Island, but before any agreement was reached, Pearl Harbor brought recreational sailing to an end.
A few years after the war the club began meeting in Clint Johnson's sail loft on Bay-to-Bay Boulevard and established a sailing center at Dawson's Fish Camp. This was across Gandy Boulevard and to the north of the current Imperial Marina. Gandy Boulevard is located at the mouth of "Old Tampa Bay", to the west of Tampa, between Tampa and St. Petersburg. Gandy Boulevard crosses Gandy Bridge "Causeway", over Old Tampa Bay, between Tampa and St. Petersburg.
It was during this period that the Davis Island Yacht Club began to crank up and a number of Sailing Squadron members joined the DIYC. Other squadron members wanted to stay independent as the "Sailing Squadron".
When the club was squeezed out of Dawson's Fish Camp by an impending land sale, it moved to Rocky Point where it leased property from Frank Bartke for $1.00 a year. A wood shack with a palm thatch roof was built. The dock was a WW II crash boat Lloyd Bird helped the club build a cement block toilet.
A number of boats were kept in dry storage but other larger boats such Doc Austin's "Fiver" trimaran were kept on moorings. A total of about a dozen boats were kept in the water but on low tides many were aground.
One day each year the club had to vacate its Rocky Point property to make room for the Gold Cup motorboat races. The Courtney Campbell Causeway (between Tampa and Clearwater ) was closed to all traffic during these races.
Before long there was talk of an impending land sale again and the club renewed its search for a home. There was consideration of a location in Pinellas County at the Coastal Marine property and another near Fisherman's Village (at John's Pass ). At this time the club was meeting at such places as the American Legion Post on Dale Mabry Boulevard and in the Tampa Community Center on North Boulevard.
The late George Pierce is credited with the idea of moving the club to Apollo Beach on the south east side of Tampa Bay. Pierce lived in Apollo Beach and felt the canals and fingers there would provide a future home for the club.
Some of the older members will recall that in the early 1968, Apollo Beach was a rather barren community. There were only a handful of homes and were constructed on fingers built of empty shells with few trees and a little grass.
When Apollo Beach became a serious candidate for the club's new home many of the members sailed down together. Others trailed smaller boats down to look the community over. Mack Towne and George Karran were among those who began negotiations with the Corr family, owners of Apollo Beach, to obtain a suitable site for the Tampa Sailing Squadron. Eventually, through the generosity of the Corr family, the club was deeded a 1.4 acre tract as a gift but with certain restrictions. The club has subsequently purchased additional 1.3 acres from Frandorson Properties. In addition, approximately 70 members have purchased or built homes in Apollo Beach over the years.
Since taking over the club site in 1970, many improvements have been made. At first, there wasn't much besides a seawall, a few finger piers and pilings. The club met in the Dolphin House (a private club in Apollo Beach ) and later pulled a trailer onto the club property. Building our own clubhouse was one of the first projects. With the help of Lloyd Bird, who built the outhouse at Rocky Point, the members built the first phase of the clubhouse and then the first version of our marine railway.
In the 1970's and the early 1980's much of the club's energies were invested in a series of races, both one design regattas and the Florida all class regattas.
We were host to Lasers, Hobies, 470s, and other classes with hundreds of young sailors participating in the events. They camped on club grounds and on the surrounding vacant land.
Jack Hewitt, who participated in the planning and execution of these events, recalls that in the 1980's this began to change. The "one designs" needed more room and more facilities such as a supply of motel rooms and more extensive beaches along the Courtney Campbell Causeway. At the same time, more sailors seemed to be getting into larger boats.
Today, our main events have become the annual Gasparilla Regatta and originating in 1983, (as the First Annual Race for the Roses ), the annual Fall Regatta. Both of which are well attended by boats from throughout the bay area. In addition the club has, each spring, since 1989, hosted the annual Spring Sea Scout Regatta which draws Scouts from all over the state of Florida and the south east states.
The club's facilities have also continued to improve with the times. In 1982 the main dock, named in honor of longtime member Claude Desmond, was constructed and several years later additions were added. The railway has been rebuilt and improved on two occasions. The club house was expanded in 1986, providing us with indoor showers, (the old outdoor shower was located behind the railway) and a significantly larger kitchen. In the last couple of years we have seen a new hoist installed, the sea wall along the beach area was built, and the dry storage area relocated; just to mention a few. The club has also been enhancing the grounds. Notice the number of plants dotting the landscape and the front entrance built by the members in 1993.
We are convinced that the Club will continue to thrive as an organization that provides a low cost sailing home based on the efforts of its own members and generous sponsors.