Opening Day Goes Back a Ways

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Opening Day on the Bay is like New Year’s Eve for the yachting set.

There’s a decorated boat parade, the blessing of the fleet and epic parties at yacht clubs all around the Bay.  
The Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association (PICYA) has coordinated Opening Day on the Bay since 1917.



Drawbridge being raised on Belvedere Lagoon.

But the origins go back much farther than that. In the late 19th century, many arks and sailboats wintered in Belvedere Lagoon. A drawbridge between the lagoon and San Francisco Bay would be raised each spring to allow pleasure boats and some arks to go to their Summer moorings. The raising of the drawbridge signaled the beginning of the pleasure boat season and informal celebrations morphed into a more formal and elaborate parade of boats.

Even before that, individual yacht clubs were staging their own spring openings. As far back as May 1889, the Sausalito News reported on San Francisco Yacht Club’s program: “Dancing and other festivities will be indulged in during the day. Commodore I. Gutte has issued orders to the fleet of yachts that they dress ship on Saturday morning at 8 o'clock. On Sunday morning at 9 o'clock the captains of the different yachts will assemble on board the flagship, the Chispa, for sailing orders and observe the signal ‘103’ (come aboard and take a drink.)” The club was based in Sausalito at the time.

Similar festivities were planned at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon, according to the paper: “Reception to visitors will take place at the club house and on yachts during the afternoon. Dancing will begin at 8 p.m. The moon will be full; high water at 11:10 p.m.; low water at 4:41 p.m. Tomorrow will be given to the opening cruise on signals from the flagship. Manager Hannon said the band programme for the coming minstrel show will be full of ragtime music.”

In April 1912 the Sausalito News reported that the San Francisco Yacht Club had invited members of the Corinthian to join their opening festivities, since the Corinthian club house had been destroyed by fire in 1910: “One hundred and fifty of the members of the Corinthian club have expressed their Intention of being on hand this Saturday afternoon at the San Francisco quarters at Sausalito. With the San Francisco and Corinthian talent combined the amateur tars are looking forward to the most interesting jinks they have ever attended.

“The day's exercises open with the usual reception and dance, dancing commencing promptly al 2:30 p.m. After the dance dinner will be served at 7 o'clock, and It is expected that over 300 covers will be laid on the tables.

“Then comes the regular jinks, and upon the stroke of midnight follows the low jinks. Sometime In the neighborhood of 1:00 a.m. a special boat will leave the club house for the city to take home any members and visitors who are unable to stay overnight, A big program has been provided by the jinks committee, as will be seen from the follow partial list of entertainers: The San Francisco Yacht Club band, known strictly among themselves as the "Dago” band; the Olympic Club Trio; Allen Dunn in his ‘Lecture on Yachting,’ or how not to sail a craft; Professor Perkins, who knocks pots off the piano; Dennis Jordan, songster; Harry Lambertson in a Scotch dialect role; Bob Mitchell and Kid Nelson, two of the best known entertainers of the Corinthian Club's membership.”

In 1917, with worries of war on many minds, a PICA member suggested the that Bay’s yacht clubs host a parade along the city front, which also coincided with the opening of the Belvedere drawbridge. The event has traditionally been held on the last Sunday in April, so look for lots of colorful yachts off Sausalito on April 28. And if you’re out on the water, remember: safety first.