Published: November 2013 Southern Boating
© 2013 Troy Gilbert
The Gulf Yachting Association (GYA) is one of the oldest and most prestigious boating organizations in the United States, and while it originally formed around competitive sailing, the GYA member clubs are actively looking to increase their powerboating members. Today’s GYA is less about the old school rocking chair sailing fleet and has become more dynamic in what they offer to potential members – whether sail or power.
Formed in 1904, the organization comprises 33 yacht clubs from Houston, TX to St. Petersburg, FL with the majority located between New Orleans and the Florida panhandle. Counting four of the five oldest yacht clubs in the Western Hemisphere among its member clubs (Southern, Biloxi, Mobile & Pass Christian), the organization was preparing to host the U.S. Olympic Sailing trials in New Orleans and St. Petersburg when 18 of them were destroyed in 2005. Over the last eight years, each of these clubs have undergone multi-million dollar facility re-construction and improvements and now the Gulf Coast holds a stable of state-of-the-art private boating facilities.
Understanding that junior sailing is the key to creating and perpetuating a life-long love of the water and the boating lifestyle, many of these clubs re-dedicated themselves to this effort. Pensacola YC built an entire new junior facility towards this end. Clubs such as Southern and Gulfport restarted and grew their already successful programs which regularly send juniors to Optimist World championship regattas. Clubs on the Mississippi Coast immediately reached out and rebuilt high school and collegiate sailing programs.
For cruisers, club membership is smart if only for use of the reciprocal privileges afforded by membership. Most clubs allow overnight stays at their docks for free or at highly reduced rates. Plus there’s the added amenity of learning local sailing knowledge at the bar and restaurant by talking to the local salts. Boater’s in the know and who have no interest in getting too involved at their local club, can join other GYA clubs as a non-resident – sinking the already low monthly dues while enjoying most of the privileges.
Each club has a different personality, whether it be the Hobie-cat racers of Ocean Springs Yacht Club to the Olympic sailing of the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans. Most non-members dread the perceived old school traditions of yacht clubs, but the reality is that these clubs not only make financial sense, but they also make lifestyle sense. These are groups of boaters who know the difference between a fly bridge and a flying Dutchman – with a thousand stories regarding either.