Steering New Waters
After a successful career, George K. Floyd returns to Apalachicola and embraces his family’s seafaring legacy
It’s a beautiful day in Apalachicola – the sky is clear, the wind is brisk, and the dark blue waters of the bay beckon sailors.
George Kirvin Floyd, founder and chairman of the Apalachicola Maritime Museum, would love to be out there right now. His 58-foot-long wooden sailing ketch, Heritage, is tied to its new concrete dock, its bow pointing south toward the bay, ready to be unleashed. But work comes before pleasure. These days, Floyd is all about going to meetings, reviewing plans and dreaming big.
He’s no stranger to hard work. Just ask him about the sailing odyssey he undertook a couple of years ago to bring the Heritage to Apalachicola.
“We went through some hellacious seas, and it was the journey of a lifetime,” says the 50-something entrepreneur and sea captain. From the day the boat arrived his crew has been making regular sailing trips to the delight of lovers of maritime history.
Sailing is in Floyd’s blood. His great-great-grandfather, Samuel Augustus Floyd, came to Apalachicola from Winthrop, Mass., in the 1840s. He arrived as a crewman onboard a trade ship and started the family heritage, working on the riverboats plying the Apalachicola River. He eventually worked his way up to captain on a local steamship.
His son, Theodore Archibald Floyd, built the house known today as the Apalachicola Inn and also ran riverboats. Then there was Albert Floyd, George’s grandfather, who “worked all kinds of jobs” on the river.
George Floyd’s father was a state wildlife officer.
A job transfer moved the family to Tallahassee when George Floyd was 5, but he spent his summers in Apalachicola. His professional life would find him far afield from the family’s seafaring legacy, doing freelance software development.
Floyd worked for the big accounting firm Ernst & Young as a health care management consultant. After eight years, he “bailed out” to start HealthLogic Systems Corporation, a healthcare IT company that would make his fortune.
“I founded that in a spare bedroom with a computer and a dream,” he says. “I ran that for 18 years, built it from scratch up to a $20-million-a-year business.”
Floyd sold the business to Bank of America for “a tidy sum” and became a multimillionaire. After working a bit during the transition, he formally retired in December 2007. It was then he rediscovered his roots and took to the sea – this time to educate people about Apalachicola, its namesake river, and even beyond. He founded the maritime history museum, along with a foundation, in 2007. The museum is located on Water Street inside what used to be a shrimp processing plant.
The stoutly built Heritage sits parked out back when not taking eco-tourists out for tours of the nearby bay and Gulf. Plans call for a new building on the site, a three-story structure that would superficially resemble a cotton warehouse from the port town’s heyday. But it will feature some modern tweaks, such as solar and wind power, LEED certification and a vegetative roof covering.
“And incorporated within the structure would be a two-story, climate-controlled shipbuilding facility,” Floyd says. “We will be quickly moving on to constructing our own vessels as training opportunities for local high schools, colleges and volunteers.”
The new museum will be the anchor for an entire ecotourism kayak and canoe rental enterprise that Floyd envisions running all the way to Georgia’s Lake Lanier, with a string of outfitting outposts between Buford Dam and Chattahoochee Landing serving “through-paddlers” winding their way down the Chattahoochee River.
“One of the things I think that led to the problem we have today with (the tri-state ‘water wars’) is that people aren’t thinking of it as a total basin concept,” he says. “We want to create a one-river focus where we bring everybody to think about the entire basin.”