More than a century ago, the early founders of St. Petersburg laid out ambitious plans for the city’s commercial docks. They envisioned transforming the small, but growing city with a booming dock district, into a world-class waterfront park and yacht club.
Today, that vision still lives in one of the oldest yacht clubs in the country. The St. Petersburg Yacht Club, situated along picturesque Central Avenue in the downtown area, has served as a haven for mariners since 1909. It started with a vision by many of the city’s wealthy business owners who felt the city would do well with the addition of a yacht club. Over the next five years, plans were set in motion to revamp the waterfront district from a jumble of commercial wharfs into a line of parks and three yacht harbors.
Just four years after the official opening, the Grand Hurricane of October 1921 hit St. Petersburg, flooding the clubhouse. Remarkably, the storm only made the yacht club more popular, expanding membership so rapidly that a bigger clubhouse was needed to accommodate all of the new members. This new clubhouse featured a grand ballroom, which allowed the club to host exquisite parties and events, furthering elevating the club’s stature as a premier boating destination and a social haven.
The St. Petersburg Yacht Club weathered the turbulent times of the Great Depression and World War II. While area hotels were taken over by the military, the yacht club stayed open by bringing soldiers back to the club to drink and dance. In turn, the soldiers would donate their spare change to support the yacht club.
Sailing and racing have always been an integral part of the yacht club’s history. Offshore racing started with the Havana Race in 1930 as the forerunner to the Southern Ocean Racing Conference. Both events have drawn sailors from all over the world to the Tampa Bay area. The club’s sailing courses allow junior sailors to learn the rigors of sailing from some of the best masters at sea. Today, with a diversified and expanding membership roster, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club remains part of the city’s culture for many years to come.