In the beginning

In the Beginning…  The Early Years of the SBCC

by Gene Reardon

The notion of forming an organization to bring together the owners of cruising boats on Great South Bay originated with three sailing friends who lived in the Babylon area at the time. Bill Carl, Jamie Swan and Ted Zimmerman talked up the idea among their friends, with the result that 15 skippers gathered at the Babylon Yacht Club on a rainy Friday night, June 11, 1951.

The initial meeting was chaired by Ted Zimmerman, acting as temporary commodore. That meeting established the purpose and tone of the organization, to have “…cruising auxiliary sailing vessels participate in events mutually beneficial to all concerned in the way of races and rendezvous.” There was no need to consider a fixed base for the Club because the early members already belonged to local yacht clubs where their friends and guests would be welcome for social gatherings. These club memberships provided such necessary amenities as boat hoists for the one-designs and junior sailing programs for the children, not to mention the traditional facilities of docks and clubhouses.

That first meeting was a highly productive one. The dues and voting structure were established, William P. Carl Jr. was chosen to be the first commodore, by drawing the short straw as he says, and a burgee design suggested by Hervey Garrett Smith was adopted. The first race, also suggested by Hervey, was scheduled, sailing around West Island in either direction. Additionally, a handicapping system was agreed upon to score it. Two classes would be offered, one for catboats and one for everything else. Only working sails, those used going to windward, could be set and, while outboard powered auxiliaries were allowed in the Club, they were not eligible for prizes.

By the second meeting, a race committee under Jack Travis had been organized, Brion Foulke’s motorboat FOLKS  commandeered to be committee boat, and the first race committee decision promulgated – barging at the start was not allowed. Furthermore, the first gift of a perpetual trophy had been received, Fred Schnur’s Perseverance Trophy for the last boat to finish in the West Island Race.

Thirty-six yachts sailed in the first West Island Race. Gortie Baldwin was the winner by a half hour in his 30-ft S&S sloop CHANTEY, that had been built out of dead trees by Jakobson’s in 1947. Jack Croft’s 24-1/2-ft NAIAD  won the catboat class and Doc Hansen’s 26-ft sloop JUDY was ceremoniously awarded the Schnur Trophy.

By the end of the first season, the Club had sailed in the GSBYRA Race Week, participated in its first invitation race, provided by the Sayville Yacht Club, and raced to Bellport to deliver the small fry for the BBYC Labor Day Regatta, thereby starting a traditional Smith Point rendezvous on that weekend. A constitution had been drawn up with the  advice of Fred Schnur and the basic committee structure that we have today was in place. The Cruising Committee Chairman was Henry Post; Regatta Committee Chairman, Jack Young, and Social Committee Chairman, Jamie Swan. The Fleet Captain was Hervey Smith and Fleet Surgeon Doc Hansen.

The Club began its second year with 62 members. The first annual meeting was held in January following dinner at a Sayville restaurant at which 120 guests were present. The 1952 officers and board were elected, with Jamie Swan being named as commodore. The first Club cruise was also planned, with Shinnecock Bay as its destination. That summer, four boats spent a week on the cruise. Two of those who were on that cruise are still members of the Club, Marguerite Post and Everett Seidenberg.

By the first business meeting in early May, a set of bylaws had been prepared by the Club’s resident counselor, Fred Becker, and were read and approved. The same meeting saw the introduction of the official SBCC chantey, “Connetquot River”, by the Chanteyman, Freeman Bloodgood. (Great South Bay is mighty shoal, heave away, heave away……. to the tune of “Codfish Chantey”.) The members also agreed that the next year’s yearbook should include photos of all the Club yachts. The additional cost was to be defrayed by a charge of fifty cents a copy.

All of this was duly recorded in the first, tentative Club newsletter, a full 8-1/2 x 11 page of single-spaced typing that was issued by Jack Young, the Club Secretary, complete with a hand-drawn club burgee.

At the next meeting, in mid-June, the members agreed to establish an annual cruising award to recognize what a committee made up of the flag officers and cruise chairman would deem to be the best-planned and best-executed cruise of the season. A preliminary itinerary had to be filed before departure and a log submitted upon return. The log would be judged on the amount of detail it included, the extent to which the itinerary was adhered to, the length and the duration of the cruise. The deed of gift established a scoring system in which a maximum number of points could be awarded, depending on merit, in each category. The winner would be determined on the basis of the greatest number of points. Jack Young was the winner that year, with his 41-ft yawl REVERIE,  for a cruise to Nantucket and the Cape.

The year 1952 saw additional race invitations received. The Babylon Yacht Club provided a Fourth of July weekend handicap race to Islip and return, with all SBCC members and their crews invited to a dance at the yacht club that night. The Club cruised to Bellport on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, where the Bellport Bay Yacht Club scheduled a handicap race starting off their club dock on Sunday morning, proceeding to the Blue Point flasher (left on either hand) and return. The following day the Wet Pants Association conducted an invitational race in Patchogue Bay.

By the fall meeting, the treasurer could report 127 paid members and a bank balance of $96. The only nomination for officers for the coming year was for a continuation of the 1952 slate, thereby establishing the Club tradition of two-year terms for its flag officers.

The Club began its third year with 168 people attending the mid-winter dinner at the South Bay Golf Club, which was located across Montauk Highway from Southward Ho. Dues for the year were established at $3.00 for boat owning members, $1.00 for non-boat owners, plus $3.00 for a yacht photo in the yearbook and 50¢ a copy for the yearbook. In April, the Club undertook its first effort at political activism, mounting a campaign in opposition to a Suffolk County proposal to build a fixed bridge at Smith Point with a vertical clearance of 30-1/2 ft. The Army Corps of Engineers sided with the Club.

The Club celebrated the first official opening of its sailing season with a commissioning day at the Babylon Yacht Club on Saturday, May 30th. Eight Club boats were present, and the fleet captain hoisted a new 36”x80” burgee at gunfire. Later that summer, an ocean race was inaugurated, about a 15-mile course from the start off Democrat Point to the offshore whistle buoy that replaced a lightship marking the approach to Ambrose, and return. Thirteen yachts participated and the race was won by John Beinert in his 22-ft Sweisguth catboat LADY LOU V.

The season concluded with a last meeting at which the treasurer announced that he had $53.40 in the bank, leading the members present to vote to increase the dues to $6.00 for active members and $3.00 for subscribing (non-boat owning) members, these fees to include the yearbook charge. The 1954 season would open with 140 members and 80 yachts in the Club fleet.

The foregoing has been culled from several retrospectives prepared by Everett Seidenberg, one of the founding members, eighth commodore and first  historian of the Club, and from the available newsletters of the period.  G.R.