By Larry Clinton
On September 23, the Sausalito Yacht Club will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a gala dinner dance.
Here is the story of the Club’s beginnings, excerpted and lightly edited from the book “Sausalito Yacht Club,” produced by Club members in the 80s.
In 1942, a group of young sailors: Roy Ashley, Park Densmore, Bob Dinehardt, Jim Enzensperger, John Ford, John Hooper and John Koenig, decided to turn their common enthusiasm for small-boat racing and cruising into something more.
At the time, there were several organized yacht clubs, but the members tended to be twice the age of these junior sailors and they did not have any junior member programs.
These young men felt they could better pursue their interests in racing and sailing by starting their own yacht club with rules appropriate to their interests. Thus, the club was formed and initially named the Richardson Bay Yacht Club. It was soon discovered that that name the club was owned by the San Francisco Yacht Club. It was then renamed "The Sausalito Yacht Club."
The first rule was that no member could be older than the age of the oldest founding member. At the time, the oldest member was 18, having two years on his sixteen-year-old companions. The age restriction was important to the young sailors because they did not want older sailors to join and take control of their club.
During the first few years, the members of the newly formed club tended to party together, organize intraclub races, cruise, or visit other yacht clubs on Saturday night.
The founding members held numerous races amongst themselves, as well as taking two weeks off in the summer and cruising up to Steamboat Slough. The early meetings were held in the homes of the members. The first clubhouse was the "Santa Barbara," a steam schooner grounded to form the breakwater where the channel dredging spoils were deposited to dam what was then known as Shell Beach. Even allowing for the fondness of memories, the old boat was considered rather grubby by the members. The only room remaining was the wood paneled officers' and passengers' salon. In it was a long wooden table surrounded by fixed swivel chairs, seating a couple of dozen people. It was here that the first board meetings were held. Social events were never held on the "Santa Barbara," as things got pretty musty what with a lot of dry-rot; it wasn't exactly a party atmosphere.
Before the tide completely absorbed the "Santa Barbara," the club moved into the upper floor of the old San Francisco Yacht Club building, now the Trident-Ondine building. Several fund-raising events and board meetings were held there, though its barren atmosphere by no means filled the bill for a clubhouse.
To improve these conditions, the club moved into an old army building adjacent to the Sausalito Yacht Harbor in 1945. This clubhouse was located on piles at the end of the pier parallel to Bridgeway. Over time, the space under the pier got filled in with mud from harbor dredging. The young club members took advantage of this and built a patio and barbecue. It was here that the club met and socialized for more than a decade.
Memories of these early years in the old SFYC building include a fund-raising dance with a live band that wasn't doing very well until the open-air dance at the Rose Bowl in Larkspur got rained out. Frustrated dancers returning to the City saw our banner stretched across Bridgeway and flocked to the Sausalito Yacht Club to make this a very successful fund-raiser.
In 1945, the club was incorporated. January of 1946 made a mark in the memories of early members, as the date of a spectacular initiation ceremony. The initiation was in the form of a football game between the new members, and true to form with the club's previous experiences, mud played a significant part. The day before the game, it had rained and rained, making the erstwhile football field into a sea of mud. Not to be discouraged, the members agreed to go on and play anyhow.
Well, if you've ever seen a group of men scrambling around in the mud playing football you can imagine what a sight it was to see. Many members and townspeople came by to watch, quickly spreading word to others. Member Dave Sheldon showed up at half-time in a brand-new, clean, white football uniform and joined in the game when it resumed. By this time, the "initiation" had turned into a town event, and when the game ended, the members made sure there was no way to tell what color Dave's uniform had been.
In the early years, since most members raced small boats, it was natural that the Sausalito Yacht Club should join the Small Boat Racing Association (SBRA) and start to sponsor SBRA races at Sausalito. The also club held "Fun" races on Saturday and a dance on Saturday night. This whole package was called the "Sausalito Regatta Days" and was co-sponsored by The Sausalito Chamber of Commerce. Also at that time, it was customary for the sponsoring club to provide lunch for the crews between races on Sunday, Jim Enzensperger relates his memory of one such occasion. "We had decided on beef stew for Sunday's lunch and prepared the food in a huge restaurant size stew pot on Saturday morning. We put the heat on low and went off to participate in the Regatta Days. By Sunday morning, not only was the stew done, it was cooked beyond all recognition. But, we served the stuff up with French bread anyhow!"
Next week: Construction of today’s clubhouse and berth of the Yacht Club’s signature youth sailing program.