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Lauderdale’s yachting history revealed

Organizers want the city’s new nautical museum to be a ‘lively, engaging, dynamic’ self-reflection

Organizers want the city’s new nautical museum to be a ‘lively, engaging, dynamic’ self-reflection

Jimmie Harrison, chairman of the board of the recently organized Fort LauderdaleMaritimeMuseum, gets right to the point.

“The yachting capital of the world ought to have a museum about how it became the yachting capital of the world,” says Harrison.

The museum has a new $2.1-million building on the New River. Its board is planning its first exhibit, one on megayachts — the new face of Ft.Lauderdale yachting — and it is campaigning to raise $200,000 so it can open in June.

“We’ve got the perfect location,” Harrison says. It is along a bend of the New River near the downtown Riverwalk’s west end, a short stroll from the historic Stranahan House — site of the 1895 trading post and ferry crossing where settlers and Indians came by boat to trade, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the Ft. Lauderdale Historical Museum and Museum of Science and Discovery.

The museum will have a 90-foot floating dock, one of six the city plans along the river for day use by small boats. The museum dock also will berth interesting or historic boats like the Amistad, a replica of a 19th century slave ship, that come to visit, says Harrison, owner of Frank and Jimmie’s Prop Shop, a second-generation business that has grown as boating has grown into one of the city’s biggest revenue producers with $10.7 billion in annual economic output.

Whether it was Seminole Indian dugouts or 19th century sternwheel steamers or modern megayachts, Fort Lauderdale long has been a magnet for boats, both work and pleasure. Its location along the New River, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean make it a crossroads. Harrison says the new museum will celebrate that and document how the city became a major yachting center.

“Our overall goal is to make this a very lively, engaging, dynamic kind of place,” says Alan Bogatay, program committee chairman. “Every three or four months we’re going to bring in something new that people can see, do or participate in. It’s not going to be a static kind of place where you just look at things.”

His plans are ambitious: nautical art and antique exhibits; megayacht models from local builders, dealers and brokers; a sportfishing exhibit featuring Rybovich, Merritt and other sportfish builders; an exhibit on workboats — tugs, pilot boats, rescue boats; offshore racing; an exhibit on classicand antique boat builders Gar Wood and Chris-Craft; “a lot of science” — research on tides, currents, water temperature and the ocean as an energy source; weather formation and forecasting; coral-reef research; the history of the screw prop; why a boat floats; how a sailboat sails; photos, artwork and charts celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s coast survey; historical, archaeological and teaching materials on the slave ship Henrietta Marie; local archaeological salvage treasures; radio control model-boat regattas; pirate exhibits; nautical photography from the Newport News Maritime Museum; sea chantey workshops; a build-your-own-boat weekend; a cruise-ship bridge simulator that visitors can use to “pilot” a ship into Port Everglades; a cargo-loading simulator; nautical art contest; model-building classes; a megayacht chefs’ cook-off; nautical fashions shows, andjob fairs and career days.

“Boating is part of the warp and woof of this area,” says former Mayor Bob Cox, now 90 and a longtime advocate for a maritime museum. Cox is no longer involved in the project — he says he keeps busy with the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, N.Y., that he founded — but he is gratified to see the museum coming to life.

“It has a good place and a lot of possibilities,” says Cox. “There’s one heck of a lot of interesting stuff going back in history here that no one knows about.”

Board member George Counts, who is working on the exhibits committee, tells of one early Lauderdale tradesman, E.T. King, who built boats for a living, but “when things were slow, he’d build caskets,” Counts says. “We are going to have a little of everything, including the early settlers, local boatbuilders …”

The 6,000-square-foot museum is part of the $5.2 million privately-developed New River Trading Post, a complex of 15 offices and retail spaces, eight live-and-work residential lofts, a restaurant and café. The one-acre development is on city-owned land where Fort Lauderdale’s first stand-alone post office stood from 1927 until its recent demolition. The city leased the land to developers Alan Hooper, Tim Petrillo and Kelly Drum for 50 years starting at a very favorable rent of $50,000 a year on condition they build a place for the museum, Harrison says. “We’ve got free rent for the first five years,” he says, but the museum still must hire a director, invest in its displays and pay utilities and condominium fees.

“The big factor right now is money,” says Counts.

Donations can be sent to the Fort LauderdaleMaritimeMuseum, 200 S.W. 6th St., Fort Lauderdale, FL33301 or from its Web site.