By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Of course the motorboaters also had a good time. They displayed their wildness by racing across Biscayne Bay and towing stunt artists who water-skied while standing on one another's shoulders. After some intolerant souls complained about noisy boats, a club leader beseeched members to use mufflers. During World War II the MOC organized patrols to help defend against possible aggression by the Axis powers.
The MOC's first clubhouse was an old wooden cottage on the eastern corner of Watson Island. The motorboaters had famous neighbors across County Causeway, the road that bisects the island and was later renamed for General Douglas MacArthur. The Goodyear blimp was stored there as were seaplanes from Chalk's International Airlines, which arrived on the island soon after it was created in the Twenties. A year later the Miami Yacht Club, then twenty years old, moved in next door to the MOC. (The yacht club had been headquartered on the Miami River.) The state turned the spoil island over to the city in 1949, with the proviso that it be reserved for public or governmental use.
In the Fifties the MOC organized the county's first marine patrol. Richard Taylor, a Miami lawyer who is now age 75, helped assemble the force at the behest of then-Dade County Sheriff Tom Kelly. "We were sworn in by the sheriff," Taylor remembers. "We didn't carry guns, but we had full uniforms and boats labeled with a police sign we put on them. And the main thing even then was controlling traffic, slowing people down at bridges, that kind of thing. It hasn't changed much, except the numbers. We were usually two in a boat. There were fourteen or fifteen of us. The sign and the uniform, that's about all you need. People slow down real quick."
Taylor, who served as commodore in 1960, introduced the first boat with an inboard motor to the club. A local mechanic installed the engine inside his nineteen-foot cruiser; the biggest outboard available at the time would barely move it.
In 1957 the MOC signed a twenty-year lease with the city at one dollar per year, and a new clubhouse, which still stands today, went up in 1958. But as the boaters fished and cruised away their days, little else changed on the island. One exception was the 1961 arrival of Hotei, a Shinto god of happiness. His pot-bellied granite figure was just one facet of the Miami-Japan Garden, donated by Japanese industrialist Kiyoshi Ichimura. Throughout the Sixties the MOC anchored itself as a Miami institution with charitable acts: hosting races for the Orange Bowl Regatta, providing Thanksgiving dinners for senior citizens, and sponsoring fishing tournaments for poor kids from social service groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The club in those days reflected Miami's population: The majority of members were Anglo. As Cubans streamed into South Florida after the 1959 revolution, the MOC became more Hispanic. But unlike at many local institutions, the immigrants were accepted as part of the gang, as long as they had a vessel, Taylor and other old-timers observe.
Edgar Lendian, a Havana native who arrived in Miami in 1961, was one of the first Latin members. He joined in 1964 after returning from college at Louisiana State University. There was no ethnic strife, he insists. "A lot of the Americans were my friends," says the lawyer and real estate broker, now age 66. He soon convinced another successful exile to join, Ed Fernandez. Fernandez, who had made a fortune packaging Sweet 'N Low, became the MOC's first Cuban-born commodore in 1975, ten years before Miami elected its first Cuban-American mayor, Xavier Suarez. "It was a gradual thing over the years," Lendian says of the club's demographic change from Anglo to Hispanic domination. The shift accelerated after the 1980 Mariel boatlift, he adds.
By the late Eighties the club's roster was full of Latin names. "It happens that Cubans like boating very much because we're from an island," says Lendian. "We're not land lovers, we're water lovers. I think that's what attracted us." He's always considered the club to be cross-cultural, though he acknowledges a drop in Anglo membership. "They retired and moved out. We kept on boating."
A few Anglos still belong to the club and keep boats there, but MOC social events are attended almost exclusively by Cuban exiles. Taylor, who joined in 1955, remembers that some Anglo members groused about their new minority status. But he thinks for the most part the organization has been a rare example of ethnic harmony in Miami. "We've had an invasion more or less and you might as well laugh at it and go along with it, or leave town," he declares. "I don't think grumbling is going to do a bit of good." He sold his 41-foot Hatteras in April, in part because he's feeling his 75 years. "It got to be a long way from the bridge to the engine," he says. But there are other reasons he rarely sets foot in the clubhouse anymore. "I've been backing off over the past year. I go over there and they are as nice as can be -- 'How you doin', Taylor?' -- but then they go right back into Spanish. And I'm a Berlitz failure."