Stories from the Venice Yacht Club
Venice Yacht Club
Desires, Dreams, and Visions with Perseverance and Commitment The “story” of the Venice Yacht Club (VYC) begins with its extraordinary founding members. Weary of a long drive to Sarasota to sail their boats, they wanted to establish a sailing and boating place in Venice, FL in a maritime tradition, where there would be highly valued, enduring friendships of common interests, having fun together.
Becoming a reality beginning in February 1951, the Club is situated on Roberts Bay, contiguous to the Gulf of Mexico. Heading out from our docks into Roberts Bay, then only a few feet from the club’s docks, boaters and sailors immediately turn left into the intra-coastal waterway. Shortly thereafter, they turn left into the Venice Inlet that flows into the Gulf. This quick access to the Gulf provides the fastest, easiest access of any yacht club along the west coast of Florida.
The club’s members enjoy boating and sailing, multiple, continuous dining opportunities, many social events, and its adherence to maritime traditions. Members also support a deep commitment to the greater Venice community’s non-profit organizations with grants to them by its member-funded Charitable Foundation and its volunteer board of directors.
Gathering regularly in a private home during 1950, the Venice sailors drafted a charter application to the Florida State Department for approval to form a yacht club in Venice. With the charter granted in February 1951 and with an agreement the founding members made to lease a new, separate dining room for club meetings and social events in the Tarpon Center Resort, a Florida fishing camp, owned by George Gibbs, the new, semi-private Club was launched and in business for its members’ enjoyment. the new semi-private club was in business.
After electing a board of directors and officers and establishing by laws, the founding members began to enable the 3rd plank in the club’s charter that they had written:
“To encourage the education of the young people in the community in the science of navigation, the art of sailing and small boat handling by the sponsoring of a pram squadron, and/or other sailing and power boat squadrons as are approved by the Board of Directors.” Guided by those words, members of the new club solicited funds from local merchants to purchase plywood and built small sailboats, called Prams, based on the 1947 dinghy design by Clark Mills of Clearwater, FL. Some 40 youngsters in Venice responded to newspaper ads for youth sailing. The youth sailing squadron, later named “Pram Fleet,” sailed into Roberts Bay in January 1952 with volunteer instructors, all members of the new club
The Clubhouse Story
The next priority was to address the rapidly growing membership (from its founders to 118 charter members to 135) with membership applications streaming in the mail. The board of the Club voted to make it a private, members only Club in 1953. By 1957, outgrowing the leased space and continued growth in membership, an expansion committee was formed to search for waterfront property to construct a clubhouse and docks. Designs were drawn. But without tangible real estate or other major assets, funding with a bank loan was impossible. The members then authorized the board in 1959 to form the Venice Realty Corporation to sell debenture bonds to members to fund a land purchase and construct a clubhouse and a few docks. The new Corporation needed a state-approved charter to proceed. Receiving the charter’s approval took another year. Never before had the FL state department received a charter application that involved the sale of debentures to raise funds in a private club. After the charter was received, coupled with the successful purchase of the bonds by its members, the club broke ground for the new building in 1960 on Roberts Bay, on land purchased from Colonel Vincent Dixon, the last head of the Venice Air Force Army base, soon to be de- commissioned. Notably, the bonds were redeemed just ten years later.
Highlights – Clubhouse & Property Improvements
• 1961 The completed clubhouse was commissioned and opened along with 12 docks
• 1962 A swimming pool and outside veranda to the main dining room were added. An outside snack bar was added that would later become the Tiki.
• 1976 The outside veranda was enclosed & air conditioned, later extended in 1982, and renamed, the Bay Room. Docks were expanded later on the waterfront.
• 1986 Additional docks were acquired on the south side of Higel Park, adjacent to the VYC’s property, including a 2-story apartment building, a swimming pool, and parking spaces.
• 1996 The clubhouse closed for one entire year for major expansion, including a second floor.
• 1997 The clubhouse re-opened with its new 2nd floor bar, conference room, dining room, expanded first floor, outside restrooms, showers, and laundry for visiting boaters. It was the largest financial investment since the club’s founding.
• 2006 Planning began for a major dock expansion project that would involve thousands of hours and several years of perseverance by the marina committee and the board.
• 2011 The dock expansion project was completed raising number of docks from 48 to 68.
• 2017 A major expansion of Pearson’s Cove was completed along with the creation of the Commodore’s Room located at the north end of the main dining room.
▪ 2018 Renovations of first floor rest rooms and the entire 2nd floor were completed.
Continual redecorating and significant infrastructure improvements have continued through all the years since 1961, with perseverance and oversight by the House, Marina, and Finance Committees, focused to the continuous enjoyment of the club’s members.
Founded by sailors, the Club has a long and illustrious history of the sailing prowess of its members. Boasting a long line of dedicated volunteers, Fleet Captains of Sail lead the sailing boaters, they host a monthly sailors’ dinner, and manage the “Joy Club,” a club within the club, for its members to sail the club owned sailboat. Sailing in recent years has become more important to the yacht club after sailing waned in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the past few years, these Fleet Captains have raised the level of sailing to higher visibility, given that sailing is an important legacy in the history of the club.
In 1969 Dr. Charles Koch won the Midget Ocean Racing Club’s 50-mile run from Tampa to Sarasota. In early 1977, Morton Levine’s “Omega” was the first boat flying the yacht club’s burgee to compete in the 500-mile race from St. Petersburg to Isla de Mujeres, a barrier island near Cancun, Mexico. Later, Levine was elected Commodore of the Florida Ocean Racing Assn.
In 2015 “Fruition,” owned by Bill Gately, was in the Tampa to Isla de Mugeres race, in the second worse weather in her 38-year history of ocean racing. In 2017 by then Fleet Captain of Sail, Captain Bill entered “Fruition” in the historic St. Petersburg Yacht Club to Havana Race, the first after its 58-year suspension. 75 boats entered; only 21 finished due to weather. “Fruition” was one of those 21 with a second place finish in her class, less than 54 feet.
“Cat’s Meow,” owned by Jim Liston, was for years one of the most continuously racing sail boats docked at the club in competitive races conducted by the Venice Sailing Squadron, comprised of VYC sailing members as well as other sailors in the greater Venice community.
Adult Regattas Two of our current sailing members sponsor annually the Windjammer Regatta, a Sarasota to Venice regatta in March and in April, the Sharks Tooth Regatta. Both regattas solicit scholarship donations for the club’s sponsored youth sailing 501(c)(3) organization. In true sailing tradition, skipper’s breakfast meetings begin the day, scoring rooms are set up in the club’s “Ready Room,” and the regattas begin with great joviality until the boats are in the Gulf when the serious racing begins. At the day’s end, there are awards with great camaraderie.
As the yacht club grew in size, so did the number of boat owners, both sail and power. Today there are more power boats than sail boats. Power boaters, under the leadership of the members volunteering for an annual term as Fleet Captain of Power, have joined together for years, beginning in the 1960s in what were then and for years later called “rendezvous.” Today they are called “cruises” to destinations all along the west coast of Florida. In earlier years the “rendezvous” schedule included voyages to various points in the Florida Keys and up the eastern side of Florida, the Atlantic coast. In September the cruise schedule begins and ends in May. Volunteering member boaters plan each cruise for dinners aboard or on land and fun. During summers, boaters in groups, encouraged by the Fleet Captain, conduct self-designed one-day or multiple-day cruises.
Sailors and Boaters Unite
For the community In mid 1980s VYC sail and power boaters made their boats available for “Sun Downer” hosting cruises to benefit the South Sarasota County unit of the American Cancer Society.
And in the Club Weekly Fleet Captains’ Luncheon, co-sponsored by the Fleet Captains of Sail and Power, is a popular weekly event begun long ago. All members are invited. There are presentations on a variety of topics including safety and navigation by members or outside speakers. Great camaraderie occurs as boaters, sailors, kayakers, and other members hear about wondrous cruises taken by members, deep diving expeditions, sailing from Texas to Florida across the Gulf, its perils and triumphs, and multiple discussions about safety and the requirements for emergency preparedness at all times on the water and in dock.
The legacy of our founding members for maritime traditions is honored and respected.
Retreat Ceremonies are held frequently with all past Commodores and the current board of directors participating. Marching to the flagpole, a hush falls on all other attendees, a bugle sounds with “Call to Arms” and later “Taps,” a cannon is fired, the Fleet Chaplain’s invocation is given, the “Star Spangled Banner” is sung, and the American flag is lowered and folded.
Memorial Day celebrations begin with the Memorial Wreath Ceremony at Sea Two of our young sailors in a Whaler follow the parade of boats into the Gulf that forms a V. The Whaler enters the V, and then the Fleet Chaplain provides a prayer in memory of all club members that departed us in the previous 12 months. A sailor solemnly lays the wreath on the sea. “Taps” is played. Returning from the Gulf, boats pass the reviewing stand at the club’s dock, each receiving a blessing from the Fleet Chaplain, with names of all aboard each boat announced as they drop memorial flowers into the water.
Memorial Day Retreat Ceremony During this solemn event the names of departed members are read. Surviving spouses or family representatives receive a memento that is a contribution from the yacht club to its charitable foundation in memory of their loved one. A band entertains with appropriate music making it a beloved, solemn, patriotic, and commemorative event.
“Commodore’s Cup,” a perpetual reminder of the Club’s commitment to youth The event is co-sponsored by IOBG and VYBA. It provides a unique educational opportunity for the sailors after their day’s regatta. In honor of all past commodores, they march with them and board members to the flagpole for the Retreat Ceremony. Afterward VYBA presents the Commodore’s Cup first to the president of the Venice Chapter of the Intl. Order of the Blue Gavel who then presents it to the current yacht club Commodore. Afterward winning sailors receive awards for the day’s races. It then turns to a swim party for the sailors with food and beverages for all attendees.
U S Sailing Association The club is a long-time member, important because the yacht club has continuously supported area boys and girls in coming here to learn about sailing and having fun on the water.
Florida Council of Yacht Clubs (FCYC) One of the 13 original founding members of the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs, the club has frequently hosted all of the member club’s representatives at meetings. Three past VYC commodores were elected FCYC Commodore, Eugene R. Bibbins, Robert Spaulding, and in more recent years, Audrey Rice (the first female Commodore of the VYC and of the FCYC).
International Order of the Blue Gavel (IOBG) The Venice Yacht Club chapter of the IOBG was launched in 1985 when Past Commodore Roger Isphording was elected as its first president. An active member chapter of the IOBG, currently two past commodores serve the IOBG nationally:
▪ Joseph Dombrowski, president of District 8 of the Southeastern Region and former president of the Venice chapter, and
▪ Bud Higginson, president of the IOBG in the United States, having served on its finance, nominating, and annual meeting review committees previously and before that, as president of District 8, after his presidency of the Venice chapter.
Community Commitment by “Giving Back” In 2010 the Venice Yacht Club Charitable Foundation was funded initially with five original, major contributors to “give back” to the greater Venice area community. With an all-volunteer board of directors, the Foundation has since 2011 provided $542,494.00 focused to: Youth Boating, Health/Education, Veterans/Active Military, Environment, & Civic Improvement.
Social Events Founded for the enjoyment of boaters and those who want to be associated with them socially, the club has a long history of parties and events that have been high on the members’ social calendars. Parties began in December 1951 when the fledgling club held a “Shipwreck Party” with members in attire as if shipwrecked on a deserted island.
Monthly Parties, often with costume themes, are planned by the Entertainment Committee.
Monthly ladies luncheons are popular, always with a special program or guest speaker.
Weekly bingo games occur on Tuesday evenings with member-hosts and callers and prizes.
“Clubs within the club,” open to all, have developed such as a computer club, a fishing club, a golfing group, a wine club, bridge groups, mahjong groups, a book club, a poker club, and others of unique interests through the years.
Love and Cookies Luncheon: Annually members bake cookies, and in a morning they package them as gifts for Tidewell Hospice patients’ families during December holidays.
Gourmet Dinners, introduced in the mid 1990s, continue with exquisite table settings in accord with the theme of the multi-course menu of the evening with servers in white gloves offering enticing, upscale presentations of the various courses. A gourmet committee plans the dinners in long meetings with the Chef. The kitchen team, servers’ team, and the Chef deliver an evening of elegant, upscale dining, comparable to fine dining establishments anywhere.
Ladies Night Out has become an annual tradition, a fashion show, but more importantly gifts purchased by club members for unique organizations focused on needs of children. For ten years, this event contributed to Books and Pajamas for Children, a national organization.
Black Tie Events: Highly attended, annual black tie events are: Candlelight Ball in December, the Commodore’s Ball in January, and New Years Eve with music and the Chef’s special menus for the occasions. Special Events, often called “road trips,” are organized such as a recent visit to Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, theatre trips to Tampa or Ft. Myers, baseball or football games in Tampa, and horse racing at Tampa Downs.
Investing in Habitat in Humanity through the club’s charitable foundation, with both grants and club member-supplied labor, has enabled new houses for families in the Venice area. Assisting Hunger: Organized by the charitable foundation, members team together frequently to assist in unpacking food and shelving it at All Faiths Food Bank that distributes the food. Parties for members’ children are held at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, and special events for children occur in Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day weekend celebrations.
The club continues a long tradition of excellence in the preparation and service of food and beverages for members’ enjoyment. Continual improvements in kitchen equipment through the years coupled with a highly professional kitchen team headed by our Chef meld together to provide members great enjoyment for themselves and their guests.
Providing frequent menu changes, and not one, but two menus daily Tuesday through Sunday, one for the main dining room and one for the Tiki, is challenging but a challenge well met! In addition special menus for themed monthly parties and the formal black tie occasions are delivered with service of excellence by the professional team of servers.
Professional service, excellence in food quality, menu variations, and food presentations, receive rave reviews from members, guests of members, and visiting boaters.
Focus on Youth in the community: “Right side up…on the water…and in life!”
With the founding of the “Pram Fleet” in 1952, the yacht club has continuously encouraged sailing for boys and girls in Venice with lessons and classes that have always been open to the public with no requirement for parents’ membership in the yacht club. Originally lessons were taught by volunteering sailing members.
As aging sail boat and accessory replacements became necessary, insurance costs were increasing. Club member-instructors were dwindling, and hiring qualified, paid instructors was required. Transfer of the expense and the operation was required somewhere, somehow.
The solution was that youth sailing was incorporated as a separate organization from the yacht club in 1969 as Venice Youth Boating Association, Inc., (“VYBA”) with the agreement to remain on yacht club property, be supported by the Club, but with its own board of directors. Initial directors were the 5 incorporators of the organization, all members of the yacht club.
In 1972, the new organization was granted 501(c)(3) non-for-profit status by the IRS, enabling it to apply for grants, and to solicit and accept donations, tax deductible for donors. Operating today with expenses of approximately $200K, one full time sailing director and other part time coaches, it flourishes, with about 150 sailors in summer and 30 to 40 during the school year. In addition to occupying one dock space and adjacent land of the yacht club, the board of directors provides an annual, significant gift to VYBA as a line item on the club’s budget. The VYBA hosts its annual Venetian Cup Regatta and holds several other events annually for its sailors and their parents at the club.
Operating all year long under US Sailing, employing U S Sailing-certified coaches and instructors, its programs include a school year program, a school spring break week-long program, adventure sailing, classes for polliwogs, advanced sailing, sponsorship of a local high school sailing team, adult sailing lessons in summer, and a robust summer “learn to sail” program. It hosts a weekly adult Twilight Sailing group who sail in VYBA-owned 420s.
In its 67 years of operation, first as the Pram Fleet, then continuing as VYBA, over 5,000 Venice area boys and girls have learned to sail at the Venice Yacht Club, a remarkable achievement for a small yacht club in a small town!
Our young sailors have received multiple awards for community service in cleaning nearby islands and Higel Park and demonstrating an environmental sensitivity by eliminating all disposable plastic of any kind.
From its humble beginnings and the vision and commitment of a small group of sailors, followed by temporarily meeting for 10 years in a leased restaurant at a Florida fishing camp, today the Venice Yacht Club is a robust, thriving organization, in a beautiful clubhouse with 68 docks for members’ boats. It is a club with astute financial management and fiscal responsibility, all focused to the enjoyment of its members. Numerous committees filled with volunteering members combine to make the Venice Yacht Club a vibrant, wonderful place in Venice, a Florida-west coast paradise on Roberts Bay with fast access to the Gulf of Mexico.
The dedication to member enjoyment is paramount for the entire team at the club from the highly maintained and manicured facilities, the marvelous service at every dining venue, to its creative culinary team, from the front desk to the management…more than just a yacht club! The Club is a proud member of the FCYC, the IOBG, and U S Sailing.
The Club has an exciting focus for the Venice community through its member-sponsored charitable foundation, and it continues its support for youth development through sailing as pledged in the words of its founders. Above all, this Club’s membership honors and respects its legacy in the true spirit of its founding members:
“A maritime tradition situated on beautiful waters, highly valuing enduring friendships of common interests and having fun together.”