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Our History

A Yacht Club is Born

Excerpt from the 50th anniversary publication of the Clear Lake Yacht Club (1985)
Written by MaryAnn Sanchez-Jones.  Edited by Barbara Nicholas.

The momentum of sailing enthusiasm may have sagged for a short time, but it was never entirely lost.  In 1933, when Dr. William W. Egloff bought a new Johnson Class “X”, the spark of his enthusiasm ignited that of others and a few modern sailboats now appeared upon the lake.

Two years later, in 1935, L.F. “Cookie” Cook, along with Dr. Egloff, Dud and Em Decker, Thorkel Sondrol, Jr., Lyman Harris, Ralph Anderson, Bill and Jim Wagner and many others established the Clear Lake Yacht Club.  The aim and purpose of the organization was, “..to promote clean sportsmanship and competitive spirit among boat owners and sailors; to teach respect for water safety to all lovers of one of the oldest sports; -the racing of sailboats.”

By June of that same year, the Clear Lake Yacht Club was off to an enthusiastic start with Ed Selby, one of the first organizers, serving as Commodore.  In the early days there were no “official headquarters”.  Various individuals and businesses allowed the club use of privately owned space.  Club members also met in each other’s homes where membership dues of only $1.00 were collected!

The Yacht Club’s first membership consisted of four C class owners:  Thorkel Sondrol, Jr., Emerson and Dud Decker, Dean Avis, and of course, L.F. “Cookie” Cook.  There were also several X boat owners; Bill and Jim Wagner, Dr. Egloff, and the Brereton Family.

Other names were quickly added to the list of members and by 1940, there were 9 C boats and 18 X’s, owned by Eunice Anderson, Bob and Don Campbell, Bill Blackmore, Kenet and Janet Pearce, and Odette Stoddard.  In the immediate years to follow other familiar names in the club included; Charles and Dorothy Crane, Joe and Patty Craven, the Moore and O’Brien families, Bill Osmundson, the MacNiders, Sedgwicks, and Woodwards.

The first races were disorganized affairs in which rules and regulations were loosely applied.  Sailboats started out between the City Dock and a starting buoy, and then followed more buoys placed in various positions around the lake.  No efforts were made to start against the wind or to follow courses in any sequence.

Dr. William Egloff, a sailing enthusiast, was responsible for establishing some order when he explained to many sailors how amateurish it was to start down wind.  His own style of racing set the pace for sailing in a more orderly fashion and he soon had others following his style.

Over the years, club members would follow several different sailing courses around the lake.  In the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, the courses were all triangular.  Each course covered two full triangles.  Then the club went to two and a third triangles.  Eventually, the club devised a course which interspersed windward and return legs before arriving at the Olympic course sailed today.

Sailboats in the early years of the Yacht Club were; Amundsons, Palmers and Johnsons.  They were made entirely of wood.  (Some were gaff rigs, some Marconi rigs and some, a cross between the two.)  Sails were made of cotton and came complete with wrinkles.  They stretched out eventually and were then used for “heavy wind” sails.

The sailing clothes worn were nothing fancy or special.  People dressed for comfort and utility.  Some wore authentic sailor hats with brims turned down.  There were no hiking straps and crews rode the lee boards and chalked up their stitches.

When racing first began within the club, all boats carried different numbers or letters.  Sailors often used initials from their names or numerals which had particular meaning for them.  A basic order was achieved several years later when everyone agreed that the letter “H” be used.  Many years later, in 1953, when the Clear Lake Yacht Club would join the Inland Lake Yachting association, all boats would carry the familiar letter “Z”.

The first sailboat races began at City Dock where the “starting line was boxed” to the windward and one had to beat up to the line rather than running down it.  The start of every race was heralded by the sound of gunfire from the old seawall as Dr. Kunz, W.P. Butler and others would do the honors.

The hardy and competitive racing atmosphere also required that one learn many tricks of the trade.  Jim Wagner remembers one trick he and his crew learned in vain.
“Our first experience with real competition was with the Brereton brothers and both my brother Bill and I really found what competition was because the Breretons were excellent sailors and excellent competitors.
One time L.F. Cook, who had the first marconi boat, visited us and suggested that we put in a pucker string.  We didn’t know what a pucker string was and we weren’t able to feed a string down the seam on the roach of the sail, so we sewed little eyelets, spent all one day sewing eyelets on the back of the sail so we could have a pucker string.
And when we went down to the dock, low and behold, we looked at Brereton’s sail and they had had the same idea at the same time so all our advantage was lost from a pucker string.”

Learning tricks of the trade and adhering to rules and regulations were necessary aspects of sailing.  However, before the start of every race there was preliminary work of a “social” nature to be done.  The back booth of Roseland’s Corner Drug Store often served as the Yacht Club headquarters, and Bill Osmundson, Sr., recalls that, “All boats would gather at city Dock, tie up there before the race and everyone would go to the Corner Drug for a pre-race soda, sundae or “Mud-clown”.
Just the tying up of the boats at the dock was a sight.  They were tied bow to stern in rows of three to five boats each, separated by only one or two dock posts and the crashing and crunching, particularly in heavy winds, was something else.”

Sailboats in the beginning were relatively inexpensive and skippers were willing to risk a few collisions.  Ruth O’Brien Smith paints this scenario of collision trouble:
Scene; O’Brien dinner table after a Saturday race.  Dr. Steve sits at one end of table, Mrs. (Edith) at opposite end.  Marie O’Brien on one side.  Ruth (me) on the other.
Marie:  “I’d have come in third if Adelaide had given right of way.  She never gives me right of way.”
Dr. Steve, “Marie, we are tired of hearing about Adelaides’s failure to give right of way.  I’d suggest you do one of two things, either accept what happened and be quiet about it, or do something about it and be quiet about it”.
Silence.
Next day, a very windy day before the race.  Marie appears determinedly dragging heavy wind sails.  Dr. O’Brien takes one look at her face, then at the wind and says “You must give fair warning.”
Midway through the race I tack far afield from the X fleet.  Jack Roseland, my crew, is muttering about long tacks and the wrong side of the lake, and coming in last.  I say the C race and this side of the lake is going to be more interesting.
Twenty minutes later we come upon the O’Brien C and the Anderson C, sails down, floating side by side.  There is a large hole on the port side of the Anderson boat.  There is a smashed bow on the O’Brien boat.  Both boats are waiting to be towed to Henningsen’s for repair.
Sunday night dinner at the O’Brien cottage.  The subject of the race is carefully avoided.

Humor, too, was a basic part of early Yacht Club life.  When crews consisted of family members, disagreements were certain to be a result.  The Woodward brothers, Art and Ed had many disputes where to tack and when to tack and they settle them verbally and physically.

Jim Wagner recounts one of those times.  “One time when Tommy Swale was crewing for the Woodward boys, we passed them and Tommy was hiding behind the mast, the sail was flopping in the breeze and both Ed and Art were having it out standing in the middle of the cockpit slugging away with fisted cuffs!”  Although possibly the most notable, the Woodwards were not the only sibling sailing team to settle disputes in this manner.

According to Charles Crane, “One day a week we would all go over to the Island, (in a group of about 20 kids) for a noon picnic and play ‘capture the flag’ all afternoon.  We would sail over if the wind was adequate otherwise we would go in motorboats.

We had something going on all the time.  We sailed a lot.  When somebody put a sail up on one part of the lake another sail would go up shortly and before long there would be a flock of boats sailing.

During this period the various areas of Clear Lake were named; South Bay was “Seaweed Cove”, Buzzard’s Bay was “Buzzard’s Bay”, North Shore was called “Mud Flats”.

As veteran sailors worked to drive the club’s membership up, more people became interested in racing.  W.L. Nicholas started his sailing career in 1940.
“I sailed my first “X” boat on Clear Lake in 1940 when my dad purchased one from Amundson in White Bear, for $200.00.  I had become interested in sailing after watching the Deckers anchor their C in front of my parent’s cottage.
I tried to persuade my dad to buy a $35.00 attachment from the Montgomery Ward catalog to put on our canoe.  I was very surprised in the spring when he announced he was getting me an X boat.
There were no trailers, so the boat was hauled from White Bear on the back of a farm truck.  The neighbors gathered around the boat and offered advice on how to attach the boom and mast.  My dad insisted the boom be attached upside down but after an hour, we finally rigged the boat correctly.”

A great deal of socializing was going on amidst all the sailboat racing and pleasure boating in the 1940’s.  Wednesday afternoon races, moonlight races and picnics on the Island were the order of the day.  The Yacht Club held skating parties at the old skating rink at Bayside and picnic lunches on the beaches.

Winter sports were also popular with Yacht Club members.  All winter, Clear Lake was kept clear of snow because of the ice harvest.  Kids would iceboat on the “cleaned off” patches.  When the lake was naturally cleared of snow by the elements, there might have been as many as 20 boats riding the cracking, crunching ice at one time.

Time was going rapidly by and, inevitably, as the nation was plunged into war, the “war years” touched every aspect of the Clear Lake life.  The Yacht Club would experience its fair share of wartime changes.

W.L. Nicholas says boats were hard to come by.  “There were no new boats from 1941 to 1945 during the war because of the lack of metal.  In 1944 we tried to order a new C but Iver Johnson told us the only way he could build one would be for them to find an old C to strip the fittings from.  We finally bought the Woodward’s old C, “Chance”, since they had gone into the service (as had the Sedgwicks, Butlers and other prominent sailors.)”

There were no shells for the gun used on the judge’s boat during WWII so 12 gauge shotgun shells were used.  (If a boat was in an unlucky location it was possible to get spent pellets on the deck!)  Yacht Club members solved the problem by having a member sign up for a hunter’s ration of shells and turn them over to the judges.  Trophies, once large and impressive, were scaled down to modest paper citations on wooden shields for lack of materials.

Other changes during the war years are recalled by Bill Osmundson, Sr., “During the war, the Navy V program at Ames brought up sailors each weekend who would sail with us in our “X” boats.  Most of these people had never been on a sailboat in their life, but it was a kick for the 13 year-olds or 14 year-olds to have these “older fellas” eating at their home, sailing on their boats during the races, etc.  We also enjoyed the letters we received from these people, both while they were in the program and later when they were on active duty.”

As the years passed, the Clear Lake Yacht Club grew and became firmly established as an integral part of Clear Lake life.  In the late 1950’s the Clear Lake Yacht Club was still basically a sailing club.  There didn’t seem to be any need for a sailing headquarters because there were very few activities held off the lake.

It has only been within the past 15 years or so that the Yacht Club has become a social organization with social memberships.  In June of 1984, the club acquired the old Jaycees bathhouse on Main Avenue from the city of Clear Lake and fixed up the building with a little help from Bill Osmundson and crew.

To jump from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s to the 1980’s is like spanning a great chasm of time and space, of people and events.  However, the Yacht Club has filled that space to overflowing with major national regattas, weekend races, picnics, parties and club award dinners.  And memories, too, all preserved for posterity in the Crow’s Nest newsletter still written today

They can still be read by new generations of club members who have grown up and learned to sail, and are now teaching their offspring, the next generation, the skills of sailboat racing.  The deep and personal rewards granted by this fierce and competitive sport, they must learn for themselves.

As they do, they will come to the realization that the world of sailing, the excitement of racing and the lively personalities of yacht club members past and present have become their legacy.

Their turn at fulfillment of the legacy comes not only with the celebration of the 50th year anniversary of the Clear Lake Yacht Club, but in their responsibility to continue a club whose members know that, as much as sailing has to do with the competitive spirit, with elements of wind and water and the beauty of white sails; it has also to do with people and their vitality and zest for life.