Stories from the Fort Walton Yacht Club
The Fort Walton Yacht Club
180 Ferry Road NE
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32541
Nestled on the mainland behind the barrier island of Santa Rosa, the Fort Walton Yacht Club is located on Smack Point, overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, about an hour East of Pensacola. Founded in 1951, it is a young and vibrant club dedicated to promoting boating throughout the Gulf Coast and abroad. It is a member of the Gulf Yachting Association (GYA) and has an active Flying Scot fleet.
The History of the Fort Walton Yacht Club
The Fort Walton Yacht Club was founded by 15 members, who signed the charter on September 10, 1951. So we are a relatively young club by any standard. However, as a member of the Gulf Yachting Association (GYA), the FWYC is located near and closely tied to four of the six oldest yacht clubs in the United States and enjoys participation in some of the best and oldest sailing competitions to be found anywhere. A plaque on the dining room fireplace commemorates deeding of the land for the clubhouse by E.W. Sudduth. The clubhouse finally opened in January 1954 with a total of 73 members joining as “charter members.”
Club members like E.W. Sudduth, Clifford Meigs, Judge Erwin Fleet, Harry Vandergriff, and Walter Ruckel left their mark on the FWYC and our community as evidenced by schools, parks, streets, and businesses that bear their names. E.W Sudduth donated the land, now180 Ferry Road, for the Club. Soon after, the first clubhouse was constructed at a cost of $20,000 and much self-help. Self-help would become a hallmark for the Club as an adopted practice which continues today.
One of our early founders, John Amos, “functioned as the Club attorney during donation of the land by E.W. Sudduth and during the formative period of the FWYC.” John Amos departed here in the mid-50s and with the seed money he earned in Ft Walton Beach went on to form an insurance company in Columbus, GA. You may recognize this $80 billion company, AFLAC, by the duck commercials on television.
In 1951, Clifford Meigs was elected the first commodore. Club officers and board members represented were also elected from among the leaders of businesses and professionals in our community. These were the very leaders who shaped the community that we know today as Fort Walton Beach.
The FWYC has sailing champions in World, Olympic, National, and America’s Cup championships with members Randy Smyth, Bob Curry, Beattie Purcell and Zach Grant. Randy has graced the covers of five sailing magazines and is renowned as one of the top sailing champions in the world.
During an interview for the Club’s 50th Anniversary, member Bart Fleet opined that “… one of the reasons for the success of the Club is that it always has represented diverse interests, age groups, and backgrounds”.
Bart continued “It’s a real melting pot – from professional people to construction workers, retired enlisted and officers, motor boaters and sailors. The sailors and power boaters have a completely different mindset, and that affected how you dealt with allocating resources. The board represents all these different interests. They debate and hash out many issues. It still works. It’s a pure democracy.”
Yes, it is a democracy indeed and a challenge to lead. Members pay homage to the men and one woman who have volunteered to serve as Commodore and to the many Club members who have given so much to the Club and to our community. The Fort Walton Yacht Club reflects a proud past and many contributions that continue to be made by its members to our community.
~ Submitted by June Scroggin, 2015 Rear Commodore