Our club traces it roots back to about 1973 or 1974 when Don McLean and Charles Burtoff met to discuss forming a local organization that races, cruises and socializes and also includes people who had a common interest in sailing. Around the same time the club was being formed Clyde Coutant, who was listed with Stuart Chamber of Commerce as the person to contact if you were interested in sailing or racing, put on a regatta for the Chamber to publicize good things about Stuart. The regatta, which attracted about 15 sailors from Palm Beach and the Stuart area was the first one held in many years on our river. As a result of this regatta Don McLean contacted Clyde to join them in forming the club. In April 1975 Ted Caldwell, Herb Carey, Ty Matlock, Bud Onufrey and Ken Wright joined McLean, Burtoff and Clyde Coutant as founders of the club.
The first serious meeting to organize a sailing club was held in the Agricultural Building that drew about 15 interested sailors. Other early members that are considered charter members include John Crupi, Horace Ford, Hap Walters, Jay Smith and Ike Stormer. Chuck Burtoff wrote our charter. Our early refreshment chairperson was Jo Ann Smith. Horace Ford with his powerboat ran the races for many years since his wife was a competitive Sunfish sailor. She probably talked him into running them so she could race. Ken Wright wrote our LOG for many years and has the distinction of being the club’s only “Honorary” Member.
The burgee was designed by Charles Burtoff, which includes an insignia that is thought to represent the three branches of the St. Lucie River (North Fork, South Fork and main river). Folklore also has it that the three blades of the “propeller” on the burgee stand for the three “S’s” in St. Lucie Sailing Society, thought to be the original name of the club. A number of members get confused when they fly their burgee and will fly it upside down. The proper way to fly the burgee is have the single “branch” on top and the two “branches” on the bottom. Tradition has it that any members caught flying their burgee upside down are required to buy the next round of drinks.
Many of our members either did not understand the symbolism of the burgee or thought it looked too much like a propeller. As a result, a contest to design a new burgee was held in 1984. The winning burgee from the design contest went up against the old club burgee with the final count ending up in a tie vote. As a result the Commodore at that time, Bob Willis, cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the old burgee. As a result, we continue to fly our original burgee. This became know as “The Great Burgee Vote”. Many of the wives (especially Anne Willis, wife of the Commodore) were very upset with the outcome of the vote. At that time there was only one vote per membership and generally the husbands cast the vote. As a result the wives initiated a movement to permit spouse to also have a vote. This voting fostered the development of the “family membership” which allowed a vote from each spouse in the family. The yearly club dues where originally $5.00 for a single person and $10.00 for a couple. Over the years there were a number of small dues increases and in 2003 they where raised to $40.00 for a “Single Membership” and $50.00 for a “Family Membership”. Still quite a bargain!
Cruises sponsored by the club to the Bahamas, Keys and coastal Florida have been an integral part of the organization since it’s founding. We have had a number of members cruise up the ICW to the Chesapeake and points beyond. A more limited number have cruised other far away places; including the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and around the world. A number of our members have raced their boats or crewed the Bermuda Races from Daytona, Annapolis or Massachusetts. Each month the club sponsors a local weekend cruise. Some of the favorite destinations include Peck’s Lake, Herman’s Bay, Kitching Cove, Fort Pierce and the St. Lucie Locks. The traditional New Year’s Eve raft-up started in the late Seventies and continues through the present. Early NYE raft-ups were held at Pecks Lake, they then moved to Kitching Cove for a few years and more recently have been held at locations that land cruisers could also attend. Monthly Sunday afternoon luncheon raft-ups were very popular from 1984 through early 1987 and have been held very sporadically since.
The Herb Carey Memorial Regatta, the club’s most significant regatta, is named in honor of one of our founding members, a very personable and well-liked individual, who was very active in the Club. Herb Carey also had a reputation for having a excellent knack for reading the wind on the river. The Herb Carey is a perpetual trophy that has always been awarded to the winner using our “Club” handicap system. In 1989 an additional perpetual trophy was added to the Regatta. It is awarded to the winner of the race using the PHRF handicap system. In 1995 the PHRF trophy was renamed in honor of Chuck Reade an avid supporter of the club, a skilled racer, and for the fact he allowed the club to hold the Herb Carey picnic for many years at his house overlooking the main river. In fact the first winner of the PHRF trophy was Chuck Reade.
The Don Ellis Memorial Regatta is held during March of each year in the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. Don, our Commodore in 1985, was a strong advocate of our club, who deeply loved sailing and was captain of his delight, the JEAN E. The Regatta is always sailed using our club handicap system in recognition of Don’s conviction that the club foster racing by giving all skippers, and especially skippers of cruising boats, a chance to compete. The month and location of the Regatta is in honor of the fact that the last race Don observed was sailed in the North Fork and held during March, as he passed away on April 3, 1986. The Don Ellis Memorial Trophy is a perpetual trophy donated to the club by Jean (Ellis) Harris and was first won by Wayne Rosenburg sailing SNOWGOOSE in 1987.
The St. Lucie Sailing Club has historically been an orphan when it came to settling on a reliable meeting room. Early on we were lucky to be able to use the second floor of the First National Bank. When the wives started attending the meetings it became too crowded and we moved to the Hutton Building on the corner of Colorado and Highway 1. After that we moved to the science room of the F.I.T. campus where we where crowded but friendly. The club moved from there to the high school and we all sat at desks. In 1986 we moved to the Langford Park Field House and in 1992 we moved to our current location in the Palm City Recreation Building. Throughout the years there have been many attempts to organize an effort to get a permanent building that were unsuccessful due to prohibitive costs and laid back attitude of a majority of club members.
Historically the club has operated on a calendar year basis with someone serving as Commodore for their one year elected term. On two separate occasions two brave members volunteered to sever two consecutive terms. They were Doug Sands and Don Amell in 1993/1994 and 1997/1998 respectively. Also, in 2000 Rick Weiler served his second term after taking over for Steve Batsche who had to move in the middle of his 1999 term. In 2003 the club change the By-laws so the bridge would serve their 12-month term starting in June. This change was made to ease the transition into office during the summer months. Summer is typically the slow period, plus it gives the bridge time to learn the ropes before they need to develop budgets, agendas, calendars and policies, which continue on a calendar year basis.
In 1998 a new special membership classification was established. The first Emeritus Membership recognized Dorothy and Clyde Coutant for their many years of dedicated service to the sailing club. Besides Clyde being a founding member of the club both Clyde and Dorothy have continually supported the club’s meetings, cruise activities and racing. If you are interested in learning about the early days of the club or the early days of Stuart (both are natives) just sit down with them and they will tell you some wonderful stories. In January of 2002 our Club’s second Emeritus Membership was award to Bob and Anne Willis. Members since 1978 they have been active in all aspects of the club and have always been strong supporters of the Club. Bob has held a number of positions in the club including Commodore in 1984 and for as long as most people can remember he has been the editor and publisher of the Log.
The Sailing Club has long been involved in helping to run or running the Blessing of the Fleet. The Blessing is held in the spring of each year and boats from all organizations and independent boats are invited. Many times our organization has won the trophy for most boats participating in the Blessing. Recently the club has become more active in the yearly Christmas Boat Parade held in early December. We are the only club to win the trophy awarded to a club or organization with the most boats participating and we have won it 5 years running. A number of our entrants usually take home trophies for have their boats decorated.
Since it’s founding in 1975 the St. Lucie Sailing Club has been the only all sailboat organization in the Stuart area that continues to offer active programs in racing and cruising in addition to sponsoring a spirited social calendar and providing interesting and informative program presentations at monthly meetings.