Corinthian Yacht Club
Corinthian Yacht Club

Club History

The Corinthian Yacht Club has an extensive history spanning over 130 years here in the Bay Area. It is the second oldest yacht club in Northern California  and remains in its original location since its founding in 1886.

  • Formation Meeting and Founding 1886
    • On March 16, 1886, 32 gentlemen, mostly members of the San Francisco Yacht Club, disappointed that their racing and cruising interests in the “Mosquito Fleet” were being ignored, met at Arion Hall in San Francisco to discuss forming a new yacht club for small boat sailors (boats not to exceed 45 feet).

      They had been preceded in 1878 by a number of wealthy yachtsmen who left to found the Pacific Yacht Club (disbanded some 15 years later) following strong disagreement over where to locate SFYC’s new clubhouse (both clubs in fact moved to Sausalito).

      More than 30 years later (1927) 49 members of SFYC walked out of the annual meeting to form St. Francis Yacht Club. Once again, the dispute was where to locate a new clubhouse. SFYC moved to Belvedere to be near its “offspring,” the Corinthian; the “49ers” moved to San Francisco. Neither the Corinthian Yacht Club of San Francisco nor the San Francisco Yacht Club is actually located in San Francisco.

      Two weeks following the initial meeting, another was held on April 1, 1886, at Irving Hall in San Francisco, and the Corinthian Yacht Club was permanently organized (although for reasons unknown, it was 10 years before it was officially incorporated on Jan 31, 1896). A constitution was adopted and officers elected. Twenty-five persons signed the roll as charter members and total number of members was to be limited to 40. This restriction was lifted almost immediately. The Initiation Fee was $5 and Annual Dues $10. The constitution prohibited the “sale of liquors, cigars or refreshments,” in accordance with the restrictive covenants affixed to the land lease. Fortunately, the covenants said nothing about the consumption of such items.

      Wasting no time, the club’s first cruise was organized the following month to Martinez, with the fleet assembling off Tiburon, “where the club proposes to establish an unpretentious clubhouse and anchorage….” (San Francisco Evening News)

      FIRST REGATTA JUNE 19, 1886

      Three weeks after the first cruise, the first regatta was held, won by Spray on corrected time over Pearl in a “…stiff breeze and lumpy sea.” The membership now stood at 75. 

      First Clubhouse

      It took the founders just three months to select a site for the clubhouse, at the tip of what was then Valentine’s Island (later renamed for the Corinthian). The land was leased in August 1886 initially for five years from T.B. Valentine at an annual rent of $12. The original clubhouse, built by members, was completed at a cost of $1,500. 

      But within three years the clubhouse as already too small for the fast-growing club, and underwent major remodeling in 1889 with the addition of a boat deck and verandah. Then in 1890 members blew up the large rock under the club to make way for the now-famed Pneumonia Alley with its sleeping rooms and private saloons (converted to member gear lockers in recent times).

  • The Early Years 1890 – 1912
    • Not all member efforts were dedicated to building and sailing. According to theSausalito News (December 26, 1890) “Among the many attraction at CYC is a young gorilla … by the name of Johnson, and although only a year old drinks whiskey straight.” The newspaper also reported later that “Dick,” CYC’s pet raccoon, passed away the following May. Members had also befriended a black bear that roamed the beach, and had a ring-tailed monkey. Club legend has a story about what happened to the bear, but there are no reports about what became of the gorilla. 

      First Club Dinner 1890

      What became the first of the Annual Member Dinner was held in 1890, in San Francisco, as the logistics of holding it at the small clubhouse in Tiburon had not been resolved. By the following year the membership had increased to 175 and as reported in the Overland Monthly: “Without a doubt, the most active and progressive of the local yacht clubs is the youngest, Corinthian….”

      The first New Year’s Day Dinner was in 1892, and was a relatively informal affair. Then “Boss” John Keefe (Port Captain for 24 years!) combined it with the Annual Dinner on January 1, 1897.

      Cooks & Waiters Union 1898

      Moreover, the members cooked the dinner themselves, starting a tradition that give rise in 1898 to forming a tongue-in-cheek “union.” First called “Medera Parlour,” changed in 1900 to “Freda Court 7-11” it was eventually named Marine Local 23.

      Club legend is that dinner the first year included the black bear, which was kept in one of the Pneumonia Alley lockers (in those days, sleeping rooms). It had grown big and unmanageable, and so was dispatched, cooked and eaten. History records, however, menu on this day in fact was roast beef – cooked in Tiburon and paraded over to the clubhouse.

      More than a century later the tradition remains alive and well, although no longer held on New Year’s Day, and the roast beef only gets paraded from the galley to the ballroom. Once a year the staff are sent home for the weekend, the decks cleared of women and visitors, and some 40 to 50 members, decked out in white uniforms and chef hats, prepare and serve a banquet, complete with entertainment and music. This is accompanied by a strike, first organized at the inaugural dinner to lend authenticity to the Union, which is rapidly broken up by liberal rounds of booze. A highlight of the dinner in the early days was a concoction named Corinthianscwasersportsgelschaltzweibelsalad (described as a “liver-capiszer”).

      Remodel, Fire and Rebuild

      According to the Sausalito News, “On February 15, 1900 a “Night with the Corinthians” was held at the Native Sons Hall in San Francisco with proceed to benefit enlarging the clubhouse.” Membership was now 220.

      In August 1908 the club had finally purchased its property from the Corinthian Island Company (successor to T.B. Valentine) for the sum of $4,000. Two years later a fire destroyed much of the clubhouse. Retaining only the “Yachtsmen’s Accommodations” (Pneumonia Alley), the magnificent new clubhouse, standing today, was built in six months at a cost of $25,000, including $10,000 of debt. It was unveiled on July 4, 1912.

      In the meantime CYC was making its presence felt in Bay Area yacht racing. In 1897 Corinthian had won the inaugural Perpetual Challenge Cup, and competition between CYC and SFYC (with an occasional interloper) was becoming serious. In 1904 the extreme racing yacht “Corinthian” was built by W.F. Stone solely to defend the Perpetual Challenge Cup against SFYC, which she successfully did, winning again in 1905. The boat was then withdrawn from competition forever. Her name board survives and is displayed in the club entrance lobby. The Perpetual Challenge Cup was won by Corinthian 27 times in the next 44 events.

  • Coming of Age 1920s – 1940s
    • Corinthian was never famous for keeping records and much of its history of this period is lost. But bracketed by two World Wars and bisected by the Great Depression, there was only a decade or so to go sailing. The legendary “R” boats became the rage in the “Roaring Twenties” and were almost exclusively the weapon of choice for the Perpetual Cup Challenges. In 1934 Corinthian won the inaugural Sir Thomas Lipton Pacific Coast Perpetual Challenge Trophy with “Maybe.”

      Following World War II, society’s interest in yachting returned and the Corinthian began to attract new members.

  • Post War Period 1950
    • The CYC Midwinters Regatta was inaugurated in 1952 with 72 entrants from many local clubs. It has grown to become one of the most popular events on the bay, associated with equally popular post-race parties in a crowded clubhouse. By the early 1980s in excess of 220 entrants was typical.

      True to its roots of “mosquito” boats, Corinthian formed the Small Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay in the 1950s for racing dinghies. (Today the club owns two Cal-20s that members can sign out.)

      The 1950s began to see the club pier and float undergo increasing stress and loading from winter storms and discussions began about building an enclosed harbor. To fund it, the club agreed to a 40-year lease of owned tidelands to a private corporation formed by a number of members, called the Corinthian Harbor Company. The ribbon was cut in 1960 for a harbor with berthing for 84 boats, plus a parking lot. Capitol was provided by selling stock in the company, entitling stockholders to berthing rights. Tidelands were swapped with Sam Vella, of Sam’s Anchor Café, trading a tide lot his house sat on for one fronting his café. His house was moved back to the shoreline, and his café gained access to the bay, occupied to this day by the dock at Sam’s. The small cove where the house had been, now owned by CYC, was filled to create the club parking lot. With the new harbor, three hoists were installed for dry boat sailors.

  • Interior Remodel 1963
    • A major rearrangement of the clubhouse interior saw the locker area on the main floor (complete with a fireplace) turned into the dining room; the old dining room became the main floor bar; the Ladies Room was converted to the upstairs bar. The then-Modernist architecture (aluminum frame doors and windows and stark walls) were replaced with brown wainscoting below red-flocked wallpaper – reminiscent, some said, of Sally Stanford’s in San Francisco … er … for those familiar with that institution.

      That year the club also began the annual Blessing of the Pleasure Craft. The traditional Opening Day ceremony can be traced to the 1800s with the opening of the drawbridge at Beach Road and Main Street in Belvedere, to allow arks and boats back into the bay after wintering in the Belvedere Lagoon. In 1963 the Corinthian created the blessing of boats as a part of Opening Day. A 50-foot Stevens motor yacht was the platform for clergy who blessed all boats that sailed between the clubhouse and the anchored vessel.

      As the event grew in numbers and stature and was opened to the public, by 1966 the club was “borrowing” a US Navy destroyer, replete with navy band and a flotilla of Admiral’s gigs to ferry observers back and forth. By the 1980s an estimated 4,000 yachts annually paraded by. Cutbacks in military spending eventually saw the Navy give way to the Coast Guard, and eventually the USGC cutter was replaced by a buoy tender. The club came full circle and once again uses a private vessel. The on-going tradition combines a harbor decorated-boat contest with deck parties. But the day begins with a breakfast in the ballroom that includes representatives from the USN, USCG, and state and local governments, followed by the on-the-water blessing ceremony.

  • Friday Night Racing 1970s
    • Started by club members as a casual way to begin the weekend – or to finish up a workweek – and soon joined by other clubs, Friday Night Racing at the Corinthian grew over time to become perhaps the best racing series on the bay, and for many years SFYC members have had a standing invitation to participate.

  • Women’s Sailing Seminar 1985
    • Conceived and organized by Rosalind Colver, Jytte Birnbaum and Ranee Soleway, with Peggy Blair, the inaugural class graduated 21 students. Women teaching women to sail was a winning formula and 30 years later the program is more popular than ever. Thirty-foot Knarrs, the largest and most competitive one-design fleet on both the bay (44 boats) and in the club (7 boats) were used for instruction the first year – possibly because all the organizers were Knarr owners and sailors.

  • Centennial Celebration 1986
    • CYC celebrated by publishing a 100-year history of the club; hosted its first major international regatta (the 18th Knarr International Championship); resurrected the Corinthian Games, an early 1900s tradition, with a picnic at Paradise Park; and held a Centennial Ball with music by the 6th Army military band.

  • Another Remodel 1987/1988
    • Members approved taking a loan of $500,000 (increased to $800,000) to pay for a building program that included major repairs to the club’s underpinnings, footings and foundations; refurbishing the Sun Porch, dining room and entrance lobby; rebuilding and relocating the main bathrooms – including moving the women’s restroom from what is now the manager’s office; and remodeling staff offices and the library. It was funded by selling 10-year notes to members. The offering was oversubscribed.

  • New Harbor 1996
    • The approaching expiration of the tidelands lease to the Corinthian Yacht Harbor Company in 2000, plus delayed harbor maintenance, and a major storm in 1995 that breached the breakwater, served to bring both CYC and the Harbor Company to an agreement for an early surrender of the lease. CYC members approved borrowing $1.65 million to construct a new harbor breakwater and related improvements. This was subsequently increased to $1.925 million as the program was expanded. The loan was serviced solely out of harbor revenues. The new harbor was completed and dedicated in July 1999.

  • Freda - Corinthian's Flagship Vessel
    • Freda - Corinthian's Flagship Vessel

      , an equally stately and beautiful wooden gaff-rigged sloop made right here on the shores of Tiburon, became a flagship vessel for the club under the ownership of Theodore F. Tracey, a founding member and one of the club's first Commodores. This vessel still sails today.

      While membership unrest was brewing at the San Francisco Yacht Club in 1885, eventually leading to the creation of the Corinthian Yacht Club, on the beach in Belvedere next to Valentine’s Island Harry Cookson – a local bartender and part-time boatwright – was building a classic example of a late 19th century American sloop: a gaff-rigged center-board that was 32 feet on deck and 52 feet overall, with her large bowsprit. She had a dish-shaped hull, was tiller steered, and was named “Freda,” after his daughter.

      Soon after Freda was launched, Cookson was racing in SFYC’s “Mosquito” regatta against such boats as Thetis, Ripple, Spray, Clara, Magic and Dawn, all to become charter yachts in the new yacht club being formed for small boat sailors. There are no records to show when Cookson became a member of the Corinthian, but in 1890 he sold Freda to Irving Lyons, a founding member of CYC who continued to race her until 1894. It was then sold to Theodore F. “Joe” Tracy, a key figure in the founding of the Corinthian, who had just become Commodore.

      Freda became an important part of Corinthian’s history for the next 23 years as the club’s flagship under the command of Tracy. A colorful life over the next 90 years temporarily ended in 2005 when she sank in her berth in San Rafael. She was rescued by the Master Mariners Benevolent Association and taken to the Spaulding Boat Works in Sausalito (founded in 1950 by the legendary Myron Spaulding, an honorary member of CYC until he died in 2000).

      Freda spent the following nine years undergoing a keel-off restoration and reconstruction by the Arques School, a boat-building school housed within Spaulding Boat Works. The restoration as supported, and often financed, by CYC members. She was re-launched in 2014 and is the oldest recreational sailing vessel in the western United States. A full-rigged model of Freda is displayed in the clubhouse lobby.
  • Staff Commodores
    • W.C. Moody 1886
      Louis B. Chapman 1887-88
      George E. Billings 1889-90
      James H. Johnson 1891
      W. Arthur Stringer 1892
      John W. Pew 1893
      Theodore F. Tracy, Jr. 1894
      John W. Pew 1895-96
      Alexander J. Young 1897
      Carl Westerfeld 1898-99
      Harry D. Hawks 1900-01
      Edwin F. Sagar 1902-03
      Thomas Jennings 1904-05
      John C. Brickell 1906-07
      W. Frank Stone 1908-09
      William J. Hogg 1910-11
      Edward J. Convey 1912
      Henry E. Picker 1913
      John F. Campbell 1914-15
      Gus E. Dorn, Jr. 1916-17
      Thomas Degen 1918-19
      Nelson D. Phelps 1920
      Stuart T. Hynes 1921-22
      Charles A. Langlais 1923-24
      Frederick H. Meyer 1925-27
      Roland D. Fontana 1928-29
      Arthur F. Rousseau 1930-31
      Frank B. Drake 1932-34
      John G. Tornberg 1935-36
      Fred L. Woods 1937-39
      Nelson E. Jones 1940-41
      Herman C. Hogrefe 1942
      Dr. James Nuckolls 1943
      Christian T. Struven 1944-45
      Arch Monson Jr. 1946-47
      Sherman Peterson 1948-49
      Dr. Francis H. Romick 1950-51
      Aldo Alessio 1952-53
      Douglas O’Hair 1954
      Phillip B. Wallace Jr. 1955-56
      Dr. Anthony P. Souza 1957
      Norman Louvau 1958
      Ronald L. Buist 1959-60
      Robert D. Evans 1961-62
      C. Edgar Wade 1963-64
      Charles S. White Jr. 1965
      Marin C. Matosich 1966-67
      Milton L. Stannard Jr. 1968-69
      Robert G. Gillespie 1970
      Sidney L. Chapin 1971-72
      George C. Berticevich 1973
      Tom O. Maxwell 1974
      Harold Monozon 1975-76
      John C. Colver 1977
      Jack R. Cooper 1978
      William F. Patry 1979
      John C. Colver 1980
      Harry Salesky 1981
      Richard S. Slottow 1982
      Warren Vincent 1983-84
      Evan T. Pugh 1985
      William R. Bremer 1986-87
      Leonard J. Crunelle 1988-89
      William B. Canada 1990-91
      Greg Quilici 1992
      James H. Gibbs 1993
      S. Ron Kell 1994
      Peter J. Hogg 1995
      Anthony Fisher 1996
      Mark G. Thompson 1997
      P. Jeffrey McQueen 1998-99
      Diana L. Fischer 2000
      John W.W. Bogue 2001
      Daniel A. Carrico 2002
      Ron H. Roberts 2003
      Clifford E.Donoho 2004
      Bruce M. Powell 2005
      John W. Warren 2006
      Michael D. Moradzadeh 2007
      David W. Johnson 2008
      Allyn D. Schafer 2009
      Sharon Marsh Barr 2010
      Aaron de Zafra 2011
      Pat Goss 2012
      Mark Leonard 2013
      Eric Artman 2014
      Kim Schafer 2015
      Timothy Ballard 2016
       Jim Erskine
       Trip Ames  2018

  • Member Interviews

Corinthian Yacht Club
Corinthian Yacht Club