“Where are the yachts?” It's a common question asked about Mount Dora Yacht Club, the oldest inland yacht club in Florida. What the club lacks in yachts, it more than makes up for in its rich history.
Founded by a group of local boating enthusiasts, the original clubhouse was built in 1913 with a whopping five thousand dollar price tag. The yacht club's annual dues were five dollars after paying a five dollar initiation fee. Two of the club's founders, Henry C. Fuller and J. P. Donnelly, served as the club's first Commodore and Vice Commodore respectively.
Later that year the yacht club hosted its first powerboat regatta. The event was so anticipated by residents that local businesses closed so everyone could attend. In 1953, the annual regatta transitioned to sailboats to alleviate the noise caused by the loud engines.
Social activities were a big part of Mount Dora Yacht Club, but alcohol was prohibited. Early on there were two bowling alleys and a game room downstairs in the clubhouse. That space was reserved for men and their sons 16 years and older. At many of the social events, women had dance cards for men that sought to dance or converse with them. Times have certainly changed.
Originally, all members were required to be boat owners. That requirement changed during World War II when gasoline rationing made boat ownership impractical and the population of the city was a mere 4000 residents. During the war, the club was used as a USO facility and reportedly hosted over 17,000 servicemen and women while residents watched for enemy planes from a downtown hotel.
During the 1950s and early 1960s the yacht club used to give sailing instruction to the area's youth. Now the sailing classes are offered at Lake Eustis Sailing Club.
In 1966, the club's original building was destroyed by fire. A new modern clubhouse was built in its place and stands today at 4th Avenue and Lake Dora's edge. In the 1990's a private dock was built to accommodate members and club activities.
Disaster struck again in March 1993 when tornadoes tore through Mount Dora and inflicted $160,000 damage to the yacht club. The repaired and remodeled clubhouse reopened in September of the same year.
Today, Mount Dora Yacht Club has an active and diverse membership of 110. The clubhouse still boasts a gorgeous Lake Dora view in its expansive dining room, a cozy bar, and ample dock space.
The enduring history of Mount Dora Yacht Club ensures generational members like Edee Waite Robinson and Charlie Kennedy, both of whom had relatives that were commodores and went on to become commodores themselves.
Former Commodore Charlie Kennedy in the yacht club's bar.
Robinson's father was commodore in 1962-63, and she has fond childhood memories of seeing her parents dressed up for the club's social events and watching the sailing regatta with all the colorful boats on the water. Fifty years later, Robinson would become Mount Dora Yacht Club's first female commodore.
Kennedy has the distinction of adding another generation to the club’s future vitality: his daughter and son-in-law, Megan and Teddy Bland, are members.
"Currently, plans are underway to add a wonderful deck on the rear of the club, which of course takes it back to some of the high points of the original building which had two outdoor porches," said Robinson.
Every spring members still organize the annual Mount Dora Sailing Regatta which typically draws sixty to eighty boats during the two days of racing. 2017 will mark the 64th year of the regatta, the city's longest running annual event.