Introductory Words to Club History

By Jean Marshall, SYC Secretary

I would like to welcome you all to the 35th Anniversary year for the Semiahmoo Yacht Club (SYC). It is based in Blaine, Washington, on the shores of the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea is an intricate network of costal waterways in the southwestern portion of British Columbia and northwest portion of Washington State. It reaches from Desolation Sound at the north end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the south end of Puget Sound, Oakland Bay in Hammersley Inlet. It is this location that draws recreational boaters to the area; the perfect place for a yacht club. It has the Gulf and San Juan Islands for island cruising, Desolation and Barkley sound for destination sailing and the west coast of Vancouver Island for blue water experiences. It is in this ideal setting for the on-water and on-land activities planned and supported by the SYC.

It also is an area with strong historical roots. The first inhabitants came from the Bering Land Bridge, which was flooded at the end of the last ice age when the ice sheets melted, raising the sea level. They moved into what is now southern Alaska, the northwest coast of British Columbia, and the Pacific Northwest USA.

They were the ancestors of the First Nation’s people, the Coastal Salish, and settled along the coast; taking advantage for the rich waters and lands to provide all that they needed. We can learn about their culture in the totem poles and village artifacts they left. Next to arrive were the explorers from Europe, looking for the Northwest Passage and marking their presence in the area by the names of water and land features.

The Northwest Passage was never found but their exploration opened up the area to the whalers and trappers, harvesting the bounty of the sea and land. After the whalers depleted the whale and seal population, they turned to the fish, salmon. This endeavor necessitated the construction of the fish canneries to process and preserve the fish so it could be sold around the world. This brought more people to the area, and towns and cities quickly followed. The history of man settling the area is strongly tied to the sea and the waters of the area.

We look to our years ahead and to the positive results of our collaboration with colleagues around us. Enjoy this year’s Annual as we plan for the future and help to preserve the past.

Semiahmoo Yacht Club History

By Chris Lilly Backus, SYC Communication Officer

Sail Past 1985
Opening Day Sail Past 1985

Semiahmoo Yacht Club started out in 1981 as a twinkle in the eye of a group of sailors from British Columbia and from northwestern Washington State. The early rosters show members from Abbotsford, Burnaby, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, Langley, Vancouver, White Rock and Brentwood Bay, and from Point Roberts, Bellevue and Blaine. They were drawn together by our love of boating and our desire to make friends with fellow boaters from both sides of the border. They also found that the Semiahmoo portion of Blaine, Washington has affordable, available moorage and ready access to the beautiful San Juan and Gulf Islands.

Between late 1981 and 1983 the club was pretty informal. Friends got together to race their sailboats, go for short trips and to take longer cruises together to places like Stuart Island, Deer Harbor and Ganges. Members simply enjoyed being out of the water with fellow boaters and relaxing together.

Several of the first Semiahmoo Yacht Club members described themselves as “hard-core, go-out-every-weekend-rain-or-shine kind of boaters.”  There were more sailors than power boaters but everyone was committed to getting out on the water.  Some of our early members were self-employed or retired. So early on a Friday afternoon they would take off for Sucia.  The rest would follow and raft-ups were the norm. When folks got together there would be a hot drink at the ready and the stories would begin. Then on Saturday they would hike a trail or row over and visit each other in the cockpits of some of the bigger boats.

Sail Past 1985
Opening Day 1987

When the weather was nice the group sometimes had a potluck on the beach. When it was rainy they would eat aboard someone’s boat.  Longtime members recall that Karl Warner would often bring out his guitar and they would all sing, usually starting with “Spanish Eyes” and going on from there. Jerry Campion and Bill Ketting began a tradition of the men cooking the breakfast on the beach on Sundays.  Everyone would drag barbeques ashore and lug in bags of food. Then they would boil water for coffee on the fire and the guys would cook bacon, sausages, eggs, hash browns and toast!  It was a feast and folks would have time to visit for a while before thinking about heading back to Semiahmoo.

Early memories were that the club was very open and everyone was always ready to extend a welcome to newcomers. From those early years there were also memories of hearing that a developer was going to build a world-class golf course and a resort in the cannery buildings. The group’s reaction was, “Yeah, right...”  They would walk through the rusty buildings and wonder if it would really happen!  Some people remembered driving on the spit and losing their car’s muffler because the road was so bumpy. And at times they had to get out of their cars to move logs out of the way after a winter storm had tossed them up onto the road!

Stan Hegstrom served as the club’s first commodore for the 1983-84 year. Our bylaws borrowed from Crescent Beach Yacht Club were first drafted during his term of office. To this day the bylaws talk about the club seal, to be kept by the secretary. No such seal has been found. The club gradually evolved to become more organized and have regular communication with members. For example, in the October 1989 newsletter -- which is a simple mimeographed single sheet -- Secretary Dee McGinty tells members what happened at the previous month’s AGM and promotes the upcoming Commodore’s Ball slated for November 18 (for $20 US per person or $24 CDN). Four new reciprocal locations are announced: Orcas Island Yacht Club, Nanaimo Yacht Club, Port Madison Yacht Club and False Creek Yacht Club.

By 1992 the simpler “Current News” newsletter became more sophisticated and had a touch of color and slick paper. The SYC logo also has gone through several different looks. And in the last few years our logo has been emblazoned on Nauti-gear, so that members can show their “team spirit” by wearing attractive jackets, fleeces, hats, visors and carrying SYC tote bags.

Typically, the commodores of SYC have served one-year terms. Steve Thomas (1991-93), the late John Black (1994-97) and Jimmy Johnson (2005-07)) deserve special thanks for serving “above and beyond.”

Howard Hegstrom 1984
Don Howard & Stan Hegstrom 1984

From the start, the leaders of SYC knew that, beyond seeking fun and fellowship, many people joined the yacht club to have the benefits of reciprocal moorage as they travel. By 1992 the club had 25 reciprocal agreements, ranging from Rose City Yacht Club on the Columbia River to Saltspring Island Sailing Club at Ganges Harbour.

Hoyt Hatfield notes, “In the late 1990’s we worked to build relationships with two prestigious clubs: the Seattle Yacht Club and the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. These alliances opened doors for more and more clubs to welcome SYC members to their docks. In 1999, SYC joined the Semiahmoo Marina Association. Initially, members made an agreement with the marina to keep a portion of the gas dock cleaned up, to provide reciprocal slips there for traveling fellow boaters.” Today, SYC is fortunate to have access to 150 reciprocals in our region and another 700 through Yachting Club of America.

Hoyt recalls that by the mid-1990’s the ratio of sailboats to powerboats was about 3:1. He said membership was up and down as people’s time and energy ebbed and flowed. Numbers ranged from as few as 20 households to as many as 100. By the 1999-2000 year the club grew from 40 families to more than 120.

In 2001 a concerted effort was made to increase membership, urging members to talk up the club with friends and colleagues what they enjoyed most about SYC. Their effort proved to be a success, so that by 2004 the club listed more than 150 households. Today SYC boasts more than 300 members in some 170 families. And to this day friends recruiting friends remains the very best way to keep our club growing.

The facilities at Semiahmoo grew from very basic to very elegant. Debbie Morley, former manager of West Marine Express in Blaine, reminds us that in the early years there were no residents in what is now Semiahmoo. Then, as homes went up people became involved.

Debbie recalls the early days when she and her husband were bringing their sailboat into the Semiahmoo docks for the first time. Since there were no lights on the dock the harbormaster put a candle in the window to guide them in. Now the marina is well-appointed and adjacent to the destination resort in Semiahmoo, which draws in people from across the US and Canada and from around the world.

Over the years SYC has teamed up with International Yacht Club, based in White Rock, BC. The “Current News” details joint efforts for the Christmas Lights Parade for December 8, 1990. In recent years this tradition had faded, but happily, we renewed this partnership for our “Light Up the Bay” holiday parade on December 3, 2005.

Our paper newsletter was replaced by BorderLines, our electronic newsletter edited by our longtime Communications Officer, Karen Szol. This year we have switched over to shorter notices distributed to members several times a month via MailChimp. Chris Backus has succeeded Karen. She appreciates the foundations Karen laid and thanks Budd Churchward for being a great help.

Sucia 1985
Sucia 1985

Through those years the image of SYC has changed. At first we were seen as a small group of dedicated sailors meeting in the Peace Arch Park pavilions or in a rusting cannery. Now SYC members enjoy a club built on the work of the scores of volunteers who have gone before us. And our club has improved its image over the years in supporting our community, forging partnerships with Drayton Harbor Maritime (the 1944 foot ferry Plover and the Diamond NN 59 sailboat), the Blaine Sea Scouts, the Blaine Boys and Girls Club, the Blaine Food Bank and the DHM Sailing School.

We are proud to continue cruises in NW Washington state and Beautiful British Columbia. Overnight trips and extended cruises fill a variety of needs.

In early and mid-1990s Steve Thomas taught celestial navigation to members. He enjoyed hearing back from students who put their learning to use, while traveling to Mexico.

Last year the club rekindled its interest in education. Ed Lee and his committee arranged deep discounts on classic boating reference books and printed useful materials for new member packets.

We have been faithful stewards of the hopes and dreams of our founding members. And we have expanded on those early plans. For instance we enjoy Nauti-Fridays to socialize and try out new venues for meals and entertainment. We now offer extended cruises, during which members can travel for all or part of a multi-stop journey. People can drop in or out of the trip. And the shorter weekend cruises remain popular.

During this 35th anniversary year, let’s look to the future so that our club will be even stronger when we celebrate our next big anniversary. We still hold hopes of having our own clubhouse someday. Are we up to the challenge?

Thanks to Jean Marshall, Steve Thomas, Hoyt Hatfield, and Debbie Morley for their contributions.