Sailing Into History
June 20th, 2017 by Pamela A. Keene

George Floyd in the wheelhouse of the paddle-wheeler.
Photo by Chelsea Venrick

Businessman returns home to Apalachicola and helps restore the town’s maritime museum and heritage

River water runs in his veins. As a fourth-generation Floridian with maritime roots, George Kerwin Floyd lives his mission of ecology and historic preservation in his hometown of Apalachicola.

In the past eight years, George has brought the Apalachicola Maritime Museum back to life, introduced a wooden-boat-building school that attracts people from across the country and introduced ecological heritage cruising to this once-sleepy Gulf Coast oystering town.

George’s latest endeavor is a five-year labor of love—with a bit of financial support thrown in—as he shepherds restoration of a riverboat paddle-wheeler replica once owned by the late Debbie Reynolds.

Christened the Patty Gordon when it was launched in 1983, it was renamed the Jean Mary. Moored in St. Augustine in 2012, George acquired the boat from the Reynolds family and began stem-to-stern restoration at a shipyard in Jacksonville. Two years ago, George moved it to a marina on the St. Johns River in Green Cove Springs, where work continued.

The vessel has been completely updated—from the hull and engines to the passenger cabins and the new commercial kitchen. George estimates more than 110,000 man-hours have gone into the project.

The restored paddleboat will take its 850-mile relocation voyage from its current port at Green Cove’s Reynolds Park Marina and Boat Yard to Apalachicola. It will head through the coastal waterways of Florida’s east coast, stopping at a half-dozen towns before crossing the state via the Okeechobee Waterway to emerge on the gulf for a 250-mile open-water cruise northward to Apalachicola.

“Once we move her to her permanent home at the Apalachicola Maritime Museum, she’ll be formally re-christened the Samuel Floyd in honor of my great-great-grandfather Samuel Augustus Floyd, who sailed these waters in the mid-1800s,” George says. “We’re restoring her original beauty and elegance and bringing paddle wheeling back to the Apalachicola River for the first time in more than 75 years.”

The Samuel Floyd will be used for excursions and as a special event venue for weddings, corporate meetings and family reunions. The plan also includes weekend and weeklong excursions up the Apalachicola.

The paddle-wheeler has six well-appointed staterooms featuring private baths, hardwood floors, wood trim and queen-sized beds. It has a wood-paneled library/salon with a working fireplace and a paneled dining room that can seat 16.

A successful businessman with a career in health information technology, George entered a new phase of his life about 10 years ago when he retired from the corporate world. With a passion for the environment and deep Florida roots, he left Atlanta and moved back to Apalachicola.

One of his first projects was to bring the maritime museum back to life.

“We wanted to bring the museum’s former flagship, the Governor Stone, back home, but she had been permanently moved westward,” George says.

The 63-foot two-masted schooner, listed as a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1877. It is now moored at St. Andrews Marina in Panama City, where it serves as a floating classroom.

George and others with the museum found an L. Francis Herreshoff-designed 58-foot wooden ketch in Maine and brought it to Apalachicola in 2007. A replica of a line of boats built in the 1930s, she was renamed Heritage of Apalachicola and stays busy with sailing adventures on the bay and river.

A second Herreshoff-designed boat, the Golden Ball, was added. At 46-feet long with a shallow draft of 2 feet, she is used for sailing training and excursions along the coast of Franklin County.

The museum also houses a wooden boat-building school. Visitors from across the East Coast learn to hand-build canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and dinghies.

“For a great weekend project, we’ve had families come and build a canoe,” George says. “It’s pretty simple, and kids can even help. When they’re finished, the boat is a water-worthy vessel that can be paddled on protected waters like rivers or lakes.”

Within the past year, George has announced plans to start a harbor and channel project connecting St. George Island to Florida’s mainland. One of the main components of the work is to dredge the harbor’s accumulated silt—much of it the result of Hurricane Dennis in 2005.

“What George has been doing is a great opportunity for Franklin County,” says Curt Blair, administrator of the Franklin County Tourism Development Council. “He’s got a pretty interesting story with the history of his family on the Apalachicola River, and now that he’s bringing paddle-wheel boating back, it’s a great way to connect the communities in the county and help with economic development and our brand.

“From the educational and environmental programs to the wooden boat school and now the paddle wheeler, George has been able to achieve a great deal more than a nonprofit could accomplish.”
For more information about the Apalachicola Maritime Museum, visit www.ammfl.org.