History of the Gulfport Yacht Club
The history of the Gulfport Yacht Club was obtained from records kept by the Club Secretaries, newspaper and magazine articles, and individual club members.
The first information about the Gulfport Yacht Club was obtained from a booklet titled: Gulf Coast Yachting Association, 1902 and that sailing activity started that year. The original club was located at the end of East pier and was built on pilings. The club was part of the Great Southern Hotel complex which was located on the beach facing the gulf. Access to the club was a mile-long board walk and electric trolley. The club was destroyed in 1905 by fire. During 1903-1905 there was considerable sailing activity in catboats to sailing schooners.
In 1932, a group of young men gathered at Captain Charles Manzey's White Star Fish Market and held a series of races. There were five catboats and sloops in this original fleet--all under 17 feet. Racing rules were simple; no handicaps, the first boat finishing the race was declared the winner.
Early in 1934, the Gulfport Yacht Club was chartered as the Gulfport Yacht Racing Association, Inc. Dr. Arvah St. Clair Hopkins, who had exerted profound influence over the organization, was unanimously named Commodore.
In the same year the club held it's first regatta with the cooperation of the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans. Dr. Hopkins foresaw the need for a sheltered anchorage and initiated a campaign to interest the community in building a municipal harbor to be located on the west side of the Ship Harbor. He was indefatigable in his efforts - appearing before civic clubs, labor groups and on the radio. Although the harbor program was defeated at a city election, the efforts of Commodore Hopkins paved the way for the eventual construction of the existing small craft harbor, which was approved by the electorate in 1936.
Then came the big year, 1937, the year that Commodore Hopkins' dream became a reality, and the reward for his untiring efforts was realized. The Small Craft Harbor was being completed and plans were made for the dedication, which took place on Labor Day weekend. Although it was dedicated to and named the Joseph T. Jones Memorial Park, many will always consider it a monument to Commodore A.S. Hopkins. The club had slips, docks and piers for all pleasure craft. Club facilities were housed in the west wing of the City Pavilion. Rent was $50.00 per month.
During World War II, the club was used by the Coast Guard, Navy and Army in various capacities, such as coast patrols, air sea rescue, and training units. It was returned to the members in May 1946.
On September 17, 1947, a hurricane which devastated the Gulf Coast washed away the club. The only remaining parts were the foundation and the flag pole. Soon after, a surplus building was obtained from the deactivated Gulfport Air Field and moved south of the flag pole. The building was used as temporary quarters until the City of Gulfport could rebuild the club house on the old foundation.
In 1950 the club moved into its new quarters rebuilt on the slab left by the 1947 hurricane. Note: Hurricanes had not been given names at that time. Club activities centered around eight new Fish Class sloops, privately owned cat boats, sloops, star class, and other special classes. Activity continued to grow until the membership decided it was time to move into larger quarters. A lease was obtained for an area of marsh and across the harbor.
During the years 1956, 1957, and 1958, Commodore Finley B. Hewes, with the assistance of the membership, formulated, developed and consummated plans for a new club. The structure built by George P. Hopkins was dedicated in 1958. The main floor (upper deck) was 16 feet above mean high tide for hurricane protection. The club's marina facilities continued to expand from a single T-head pier to a system of bulkheads, docks, piers, and boat slips to accommodate 50 boats and a visitor's pier which could accommodate up to 60 rafted yachts for the annual Gulfport/Pensacola Race, the Round the Sound series, and the annual Gulf Ocean Racing Circuit (GORC). One hoist was included in the expansion, as were Sunfish racks.
In 1966, the club was remodeled to enclose the porch. The bar was relocated to the east side of the club. In 1968 the Fish Class Class sloops were phased out and in 1969 they were replaced by the Flying Scot, one design adopted by the Gulf Yachting Association (GYA).
Club activity continued to grow with a fine Junior Sailing program. This active program was run by the Ladies Auxiliary until 1973. The program produced many fine sailors who have proved their skill in the Gulf Yachting Association, National, World, and Olympic competition.
In august 1969, Hurricane Camille, the worst hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast, destroyed the club. Only the pilings and part of the roof remained. The club's six Flying Scots had been moved to the County Library grounds north of the Small Craft Harbor and they were damaged by blowing debris. The swimming pool mechanical equipment, etc. were damaged. However the Marina came through with minimum damage, mainly because it was all under the 24' foot tide. The membership held together and a new facility was built utilizing the same piling. Temporary quarters were in a trailer located at the northeast corner of the foundation. The new club included a separate dining area, bar area, "The Chart Room", storage areas, and office space, and adequate rest room facilities on both lower deck and upper decks.
The club continued to grow annually with current membership at 925 members not including dependents. In 1980 the membership approved the purchase of the property. The club was expanded in 1983 to include larger dining facilities, sailing office, committee rooms, and enlarged Snack Bar. Bulkheads were rebuilt in 1981, and a new pier "D" and visitor's pier were added. Also included in the renovations was a floating ramp to accommodate the launching of Optimist, Sunfish, Lasers, 420's, and other trailerable one design boats. Four Flying Scot electric operated lifts, storage facilities to accommodate Optimist activity (both private and club owned) and a paved parking lot for "dry storage" were added during the 1980's renovation projects. Recent improvements include additional dry storage for Flying Scots and Sunfish, a new 3-ton hoist with adjoining pier and walkway additions as well as new floating launching ramp and expanded and reconstructed trailer boat launch ramps.
Gulfport Yacht Club has been honored in hosting prestigious events, some of which are as follows: Star Class Spring Series - Southern Hemisphere, Cougar Cat Nationals, Laser Worlds, Flying Scot North Americans, Sunfish North Americans, O'Day Finals, U.S. Sailing Youth Championships, Laser Midwinters, Optimist Nationals, GYA Lipton Championships.
Joseph D. Alfonso
April 17, 1997
(updated June 1999)
Resolved to Sail The First 75 Years of the GYC
Our history - and the history of Gulfport! - is preserved in a beautiful, hard-cover book. Books are available for sale now at the Club.
Books are $60 plus tax and shipping/handling for a total of $69.70. A limited number of leather bound editions are available for $107.15.
Resolved to Sail: the First 75 Years of the GYC was written by Dr. Martha Mabey with support from GYC Historian Dr. Tommy Hewes.