Adventure and feel-good success have been the payoff for 58 years of hard work and rolling with the punches for Steve and Doris Colgate, founders of Fort Myers’ Offshore Sailing School. They spoke about the business of sailing and the ups and downs of entrepreneurship at the Wednesday, March 9, luncheon meeting of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce at Thistle Lodge on Sanibel Island, sponsored by Offshore Sailing.
“What makes us happy is changing lives,” said Doris Colgate. Offshore Sailing does that through a business model devoted to the romance and adventure of sailing, she explained, but also by supporting local charities such as Pace Center for Girls and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “The biggest thing we would like to do is make a difference. Whether you have money or not, you can find a way.”
The couple talked about struggling through lean times and recessions to reach their current status with seven resort-based sailing schools throughout Southwest Florida, and in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the British Virgin Islands. They have clocked 150,000 school graduates in all.
In 1972, the two sailors hatched plan for a flotilla cruise venture that rented sailboat cabins for excursions to 29 destinations worldwide.
“That’s how we got to see the world,” said Doris. “We didn’t have any money in those days.”
Steve had founded Offshore Sailing School in New York in 1964, based on a childhood love of sailing and later a career as an America’s Cup and Olympic racer. He was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2015. CEO and president Doris, the founder of the National Women’s Sailing Association and author of SAILING: A Women’s Guide, joined the operation in 1969. They moved to Fort Myers in 1976 and opened their first local school at today’s South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island. Their other two are based at Pink Shell Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach and Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village & Tarpon Point Marina.
The husband-and-wife team wrote several instructional and inspirational books about sailing through the years, and, in October 2021 announced the publication of their biography, Offshore High, by renowned author and executive editor of Cruising World magazine, Herb McCormick.
The two told chamber members funny and heartwarming stories from the book about sailing with kings and sheiks; rescuing two young capsized boys, one of whom returned the favor when Steve encountered him later in life; avoiding the Mafia while operating in New York; and taking the school on the road during the recession of the early 80s, which severely curtailed travel to Florida.
“With all the pressures on our business members these days, hearing the Colgates talk about their experiences truly felt like an escape and adventure,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “They inspired optimism and offered good, sound advice on making a positive impact.”
Lai spoke earlier in the meeting about legislative activities, visitation stats, and upcoming chamber events. He assured members that he and fellow water-quality advocates are continuing their push to see the notorious bill 2508 take better form. Lai also informed the crowd that Visit Florida legislation, for which the chamber advocated, had passed
“The reauthorization of Visit Florida extending the sunset date from 2023 to 2028 is an outstanding victory for our chamber, our tourism industries, and the residents of our state,” he said. “Tourism is our state’s largest employer, funds our attractions, and is the reason that Florida operates without a state income tax. As a board member of Visit Florida, I am grateful to the governor, the legislature, and our industry advocates who helped move this forward.”
Lai reported a welcome center visitation count of 469 two days earlier – the highest to date this year – and noted that the average daily visitation so far in March was 288. Tamara Pigott, executive director of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, spoke too about escalating numbers she is seeing, including a 92.9 percent occupancy rate in Lee County just the week prior.
The chamber holds its annual meeting on April 20 at Sundial Beach Resort to celebrate its 60th anniversary. There will be no business luncheons in April or May. Lai announced that this year, the chamber is taking over the annual Island Nights at Hammond Stadium, scheduled for June 1.
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With more than 460 active Chamber members from both islands and businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the visitor center one of 13 official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers in the state. It is open 365 days a year and provides comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, and where to stay, shop, and dine. The chamber website sanibel-captiva.org <http://sanibel-captiva.org/> receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.
For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org <http://sanibel-captiva.org/> or contact Landen Collins, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]> .