History of Pensacola Yacht Club
Chronological History
The Pensacola Yacht and Motor Boat Club was launched in 1908.  This was an exciting era for Pensacola as the city began to prosper from its bustling port and the anticipated trade from the soon to be opened Panama Canal.  Businesses were booming, the iconic San Carlos hotel was being constructed, two “high-rise” commercial buildings had been completed, the trolley car line had been extended several blocks up to East Hill and many streets were being paved.
In November of 1908 a group of businessmen met to explore the concept of forming a private club to advance boating skills and competition.  They adopted a constitution and elected officers on December 7, 1908.  George T. Morgan was elected commodore and seventy-five charter members voted to pay a membership fee of $1.00 and annual dues of $6.00.  Commodore Morgan immediately organized a race and cruise to Camp Walton, which became an annual club tradition for the next sixty years.

After meeting in various buildings for the first two years, the club then built its own clubhouse on the bay at the foot of Alcaniz Street.  The members held a grand open house on May 31, 1911, complete with motorboat races and social festivities.  In addition to the annual Camp Walton race the club had been organizing motorboat races on Pensacola Bay.  These races were popular with the citizens and provided opportunities for families to picnic along the waterfront and cheer on their favorite skippers.
In 1914 the club dropped the words “Motor Boat” from its name and has since been known as Pensacola Yacht Club.  However, motorboat racing continued to provide competition for the membership and entertainment for the community. During this same year the club moved out of the Alcaniz Street building and held its meetings in the Keyser building on Palafox Street.

In 1922 PYC purchased a 136 foot long surplus WWI troop ship to use as a clubhouse. The USS General Wilson was rechristened the Commodore Hutchinson after then Commodore Clarence E. Hutchinson, who was instrumental in its purchase. A wharf was built off Brent Island in Bayou Chico and the vessel was soon converted into a fully functioning clubhouse. It contained three decks with a gymnasium, a dining room, and an assembly room. The upper deck consisted of a large salon, a tea room, and several state rooms, while the hurricane deck included a large dance floor and roof garden. The original plan was to take the entire clubhouse and staff to important regattas and on the annual cruise. However, the cost of operation was too high and the idea of moving the ship was soon abandoned. 
The only recorded time the ship left its wharf was during the hurricane of 1926. The strong winds blew it off its moorings and pushed it up the bayou where it smashed into the train trestle. However, the ship was recovered and returned to its dock, where it continued to serve the membership as a superb clubhouse. Unfortunately, on August 1, 1932, the Commodore Hutchinson caught fire and was totally destroyed, along with most of the club records and many artifacts.

After the fire the club moved back into the Keyser building for a short period until it could rent from the city a building at the foot of Palafox Street.  The contract required PYC to pay a rent of $1.00 per year for the hall upstairs and to take over management of the popular Lantern Tavern on the ground floor.  This clubhouse served the membership adequately for 12 years, providing space for dances and other social functions.  Meals were now served on a weekly schedule; one of the favorite menu items being a tasty chowder cooked by Sparks, the club chef. The Fish Class boats were moored nearby at the commercial docks behind Witherill’s store and races on the bay were visible from the clubhouse balcony.

As Pensacola experienced growth following World War II, the membership soon felt the need to move out of the bustling downtown.  Commodore J. T. Warthen commissioned a search committee to find a suitable location for a new clubhouse. In August, 1947, the club purchased 14 acres and a large home at the entrance of Bayou Chico.  The house was originally the J. M. Muldon estate, but it had been converted into a restaurant by Jim Morton.  During the war it became very popular with the young military personnel training at the Naval Air Station. As soon as PYC secured ownership, the members began converting it into a fine clubhouse.  The first meeting in the new facility was held on November 19, 1947.
In 1948, under the direction of Commodore John C. Pace, the membership financed the addition of a large ballroom, upgraded the lounge, and constructed a boat dock on the bayou. Only a year after moving into the new facility, the club hosted the 1948 Lipton Cup Regatta with much pomp and celebration. With its new clubhouse capable of hosting large events and the beautiful lawn extending to the waterfront, everyone agreed PYC was indeed The South’s Finest Yacht Club.

Racing and Cruising
Pensacola Yacht Club has a long history of successful racing which continues today.  Racing in 1908 was primarily competed in small power launches, often also used for commercial purposes. These races provided entertainment for the local citizens during community celebrations such as the Fourth of July. The grand opening of the first Pensacola Bay Bridge in 1927 was an occasion for many competitions organized by PYC. The annual race to Fort Walton was always a competitive event, but as speeds became hazardous in the narrow waterways, it was converted to a very popular predicted log race.  After these races, the boats would anchor near the Pavillion at the Miramar Resort for the weekend, and the resulting parties were a major attraction for the skippers and their guests.

Racing changed dramatically in 1920 with the introduction of the Fish Class sailboats and the Lipton Cup challenge series. The boat was designed by Rathbone DeBuys of New Orleans as a two-man boat for use as an inter-club racer. In the same year, Sir Thomas Lipton donated a huge silver trophy to be awarded the winner of an annual regatta among Gulf Coast clubs. Pensacola Yacht Club purchased three of these new racers in August of 1920 and towed them from New Orleans to Pensacola Bay. Club members immediately began practicing in the new boats and established a series of races to determine the best skippers.
This beautiful trophy and the new Fish Class boats created great interest in sailboat racing. Pensacola Yacht Club was the first to challenge Southern YC for the rights to the Lipton Cup. The much anticipated regatta was held in October 1920, and PYC skippers Dave Witherill, Willie Walthers and Peter Altink proved successful by winning the first Lipton Cup Regatta.  The $4000 Lipton trophy (today worth over $100,000) was put on display in Elebash Jewelry store for all Pensacola citizens to see. Over the past 100 years the Lipton Cup Regatta has become the most competitive event in sailboat racing among the GYA clubs, and PYC has won the event several times.

In 1969 the Gulf Yachting Association changed their one-design race boats from the wood Fish Class over to the trailerable Flying Scot Class and PYC sailors also excelled in this craft.  The PYC team, led by skippers Bill Troendle, Paul Schreck, and Dick Lundqist, won the first Lipton Cup Regatta sailed in these new boats. PYC teams won again in 1970, 1976, and 1981.
In addition to GYA events, PYC members have won national and international competitions in very competitive one-design classes.  Brothers Tom and Bob Whitehurst won the Youth World Championships in 1975. In 1976 they won the US Olympic trails in the 470 Class and represented the US in the Montreal Olympics. Two other noteworthy accomplishments by PYC members are Paul Schreck winning the Flying Scot North American Championship in 1970, 1972, and 1975, and George Gamble winning the J-111 World Championship in 2015.
The introduction of fiberglass boats after WWII took sailboat racing along an alternate path. Larger fiberglass boats were much cheaper to maintain than wood and provided cruising amenities for families. Offshore racing quickly gained popularity as more and more racer-cruisers began showing up on the Gulf Coast and Pensacola Yacht Club members soon became leaders in this type of competition.  Skippers Joe Kennicott and Julian Watters, with PYC crews, campaigned their boats in dozens of Southern Ocean Racing Circuits against the very best international competition. Club members also participated in the challenging Marblehead to Halifax Race and the iconic Newport to Bermuda Race.
In 1978, PYC Commodore John Oerting proposed an inter-club competition consisting of a series of offshore races.  With the support of GYA Commodore Lewis “Buddy” Pollak, also a PYC member, the GYA Offshore Challenge Cup was first raced in 1979.  PYC skippers have also etched their names in the trophies of the Gulf Ocean Racing Circuit and the Gulfport to Pensacola Race among others. The very popular Pensacola to Panama City Race morphed into the West Florida Offshore Racing Circuit which PYC has hosted since 1983.
Pensacola Yacht Club currently hosts the start of the biannual Regatta al Sol race to Isla Mujeries, Mexico, first raced in 1965.  When diplomatic relations with Cuba improved, PYC organized a second biannual race, this one to Havana beginning in 2015.  Club members have been winners in these long offshore events many times. In addition, PYC’s warm hospitality, beautiful grounds, and efficient staff have secured the club’s reputation as a popular host for such events. Pensacola Yacht Club has become a much sought after host for national and international one-design championships, such as the 300 boat US Optimist Dinghy Championships held here in 2015 and 2018.
Pensacola Yacht Club members have also distinguished themselves as cruisers around the world. The PYC burgee has been carried in regattas and rallies in the Caribbean, Europe, the Mediterranean, and while crossing the Atlantic.  Several members have completed the America’s Great Loop and two members have sailed around the world. Ned and Mary Lynn Gatterdam made their circumnavigation in 1981 - 1985 aboard a Tartan 30. Past Commodore Ron Bruce sailed 35,000 miles around the planet and visited 64 countries during 2005 - 2013 aboard his PDQ 42 catamaran. (Ron’s wife Joanne accompanied him for most of the trip.) Ron is a recipient of the prestigious Circumnavigation Award and therefore accorded the title of Commodore in the Seven Seas Cruising Association.
Community Involvement
For over 100 years Pensacola Yacht Club has followed its original charter by serving the region promoting maritime activities. With an emphasis on youth, the club has at times sponsored a Sea Scout Troop, has taught countless youngsters to sail in its very popular junior sailing program, currently hosts the annual Jr Olympic Regatta, and last won the GYA Jr Lipton Championship in 2009. The outstanding Satori Foundation, a separate non-profit organization, serves as a charitable arm of the club, guides the junior sailing program, and introduces inner-city youth to sailing.
The city of Pensacola has a long history as a seaport and continues to attract maritime festivals to its downtown waterfront. PYC takes a leadership role in supporting these events by offering superb facilities for banquets and supplying enthusiastic volunteers to ensure successful celebrations. Due to Pensacola’s location on the Intracoastal Waterway, the yacht club has become an ideal harbor for cruisers working their way around America’s Great Loop.
Over the past 70 years the club’s facilities have been expanded and upgraded. The grounds have been improved, a swimming pool has been added, the marina has been rebuilt and enlarged despite several severe hurricanes, and a stand-alone sailing center has been erected. At one time there was even a skeet range on the waterfront. In 2008, under the leadership of Commodore Stephen Solice, Pensacola Yacht Club marked its centennial year with a series of commemorative races and festive parties.
Today the iconic PYC clubhouse stands as a historic landmark along the northern Gulf Coast. After 100 years Pensacola Yacht Club continues to be a favorite port of call for all boaters because of its longstanding maritime traditions and welcoming Southern hospitality.

David Hoffman
PYC Historian 2018