The Full Story of the Berkeley Yacht Club
Berkeley Yacht Club was established in 1939, as our charter states: "To promote the science and art of navigation and naval architecture; to encourage the sport of yachting in all its branches, to assist in making members proficient in the science of navigation and in the sailing and operation of pleasure crafts of all kinds; to develop aquatic sports; etc."
...when the City of Berkeley provided land and the Federal Government provided labor to build the Berkeley Yacht Harbor, the genesis of the Berkeley Yacht Club took place. It was a group of boaters whose boats were berthed in the harbor that formed the nucleus that would become the BYC.
This founding group agreed to raise $1,000 and the City of Berkeley agreed to provide $2,500 for the Yacht Club. Professor B. H. Crocheron, head of the UC Agricultural Extension Dept., Dean Frank Probert of the UC School of Mining, Glenn Waterhouse, Olympic Champion Star Racer, Ralph Hoyt, District Attorney, Weldon Nichols, Tom Lake and Charles Pease were among this group. They were all able men of imagination, courage and unselfish devotion to boating.
On April 28, 1939 BYC officially came into being. Before the clubhouse was built, meetings were held at Drakes Restaurant, which was located on Bancroft Way near the UC campus. An article in the Berkeley Gazette dated April 25, 1939 reported that plans for a formal christening and flag raising ceremony were scheduled at the club on Saturday May 6, 1939. Dean Probert and Glenn Waterhouse were in charge of plans, which included the first BYC Regatta: a Snipe race and a 21-gun salute.
The New Club is Launched
Berkeley Yacht Club joined the Pacific Interclub Yacht Association in 1939 and was first listed in the 1940 yearbook. The original club fleet included 11 sailing boats and 9 power craft. The sailors were active racers in nearly all the one design fleets.
The first staff consisted of Commodore Professor Crocheron, Vice Commodore, Dean Frank Probert, Race Committee Sheldon Nichols, Secretary/Treasurer Lex Jensen, District Attorney Ralph Hoyt, and Directors Dr. Thomas Lake and Glenn Waterhouse. Early meetings of spit and polish correctness reflected the personality of Commodore Crocheron, raised in the yachting tradition of the East Coast.
The first formal dinner of BYC was held at the Claremont Hotel on June 1, 1939. Over 75 members and families, local yachting notables, city officials and representatives of other yacht associations were in attendance.
Initial membership was limited to 50, anticipating the limited size of a new clubhouse. The first clubhouse was dedicated at its present site on March 29, 1940. The clubhouse was a two-story Cape Cod, painted white with dormer windows. The city furnished two flat roofed existing structures which were connected to the main building. The flat roofed section to the east contained a small galley with wood and electric stoves, electric water heater, sink and dish cupboards. In coordination with the Berkeley City Engineer’s Office, the clubhouse was entirely constructed with the labor of young people from the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency. When the clubhouse was completed on June 1, 1940, the club was solvent; all bills were paid, and five years of rent were paid in advance to the City of Berkeley.
The Early Racing Program
BYC became a member of the Yacht Racing Association (YRA) and the schedule for the 1940 season listed 14 different events. That year two BYC junior members, who were also students at the University of California, took all three first places in a race with Stanford. On August 25, 1940, BYC held a regatta on the Bay. 108 boats participated, making it one of the largest races of the season.
Numerous trophies attest to members’ victories in racing events on the Bay and Pacific Ocean. One of the clubs most prominent founding members and first Rear Commodore, Glenn Waterhouse, was an internationally known sailor and Olympic sailing champion who raced under the yacht club burgee. More recent champions include winners of the Pacific Cup race (from San Francisco to Hawaii). A major historical note is the fact that BYC organized the first Women’s Race in Northern California more than 30 years ago and continues to have a large number of women skippers and boat owners.
Junior sailing programs at BYC began almost at once with an active training program that included the El Toro.
As the club moved into the war years of 1942 to 1945, the Bay became restricted and boats could not move on the Bay at night. The Coast Guard had to be notified when a cruise was planned and many areas were completely off limits for pleasure boats. BYC members became a part of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, active in coastal patrol duties and civil defense work. This included evacuation plans on private yachts in the event that the Bay Bridge was damaged in a bombing raid, a plan formulated by Ralph Hoyt, Commodore in 1943.
One of the most honored war heroes was Admiral Chester Nimitz, whose membership in BYC is commemorated in the Nimitz Regatta held each year.
A long welcomed group at BYC has been the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla #26. Since 1945 the meetings of the Flotilla have been held in the club house and they contributed much to the general welfare of yachting as they do to this day with classes on seamanship and boat safety.
The New Dining Room
In 1948 a caterer was engaged for club dinners and in 1956 construction started on a new dining room. The dining room was completed in 1957 while Bruce Wilson was Commodore. Repayment of funds, advances by the members, was completed during the next two administrations. In 1963 the club membership was up to 80 and finally during the administration of Commodore Bert Emberton in 1965 BYC reached the magic number of 100 active members and Bert obtained for us our liquor license.
In the mid 60’s, Architect Jim Lucas, very active BYC member and Commodore in 1968, designed our club building to conform to marina standards. The first stage was the lounge/bar area on the west side. This was done during 1967 under Commodore Rollo Wheeler, a well-respected sailor whom we honor with the Rollo Wheeler Regatta every year.
In 1972 the new dining room and galley on the east side of our Cape Cod clubhouse was begun. The old dining room was sold to Spinnaker Yacht Club for $1 and they had to haul it away. The construction was finally finished by the hard work of four commodores and staffs in 1975 after four long years. In 1977 under Commodore Lloyd Tosse, the final phase of construction took place. The old Cape Cod cottage was demolished and a new two-story center section was completed in 1979.
With the completion of a major building project, BYC set about adding many more activities and members to the life of the club. With the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary in 1966 or 1967, with Rose Wright as president, the Children’s Christmas Party, an International Dinner, and in 1972 the first Women Only Race were added to the calendar.
Continuing the BYC Legacy
Currently with over 300 members, BYC continues to participate in racing, cruising, social and community activities including the Berkeley Marina Day Festival and a Youth Sailing Program. Under all volunteer leadership BYC promotes and manages racing that includes free weekly Friday Night Races during the summer and Sunday afternoon Chowder Races during the winter. There is also a Midwinter Series originally cohosted with the Metropolitan Yacht Club, the annual Wheeler Regatta and various other regatta events. BYC also manages the starts of the biannual West Marine Pacific Cup for the Pacific Cup Yacht Club, the largest long distance race in the Pacific. Members participate in all these races and are strong contenders in the Pacific Cup. Monthly cruises are planned for those who enjoy cruising. The founding members of BYC would approve of the carrying on their legacy of a rich and active boating and social life at the Berkeley Yacht Club.