A Century of Service, 1921-2021 Centennial Celebration Southern California Yachting Association

San Luis Yacht Club and burgee

It all started in the late 30s. A few of us “salts” enjoyed Avila, the water and the best beach in Central California. This era was near the end of the great depression, with “all hands” short of money. Despite lack of funds, we all had enthusiasm for the sea and boats and were willing to go in debt for boat ownership. Sooo! We built our own! Constructed in our garages. We scrounged all materials possible. The various craft were built mostly with individual designs. Most boats were built of Redwood and/or Douglas fir. A few Snipes were constructed of heavy mahogany. Sails were laid out from bed sheeting or inexpensive canvas. Bolt ropes were hand sewn on the sails. Hull hardware was composed of wooden blocks and cleats, with P.G.&E. wire used for mast stays, all which cut down expenses. Power craft were homemade and some were propelled with used Star and Model “T” automotive engines usu-ally equipped with “Joes” reverse gears. Sailing craft were the most active, by racing. Powerboats “just went fishing.” Following the tradition of the seas when two sailing craft were in sight of each other, it always becomes a race! This evolved into informal sail-boat races which were not fair, due to unlike hulls and equipment.

The Wilkie-Puffin was the first Snipe Class sailboat in the Yacht Club. The Snipe was soon the largest one design sailboat class in the world. Auston Peeples and other engineers at Douglas Aircraft, with management approval, set out to make world championship Snipes for Douglas employees. A massive jig was built. Snipe specifications naturally allowed small tolerances. Sooo! The jig was designed to make hulls with maximum length and mini-mum “rocker.” The most important detail was minimum boat weight! The hulls were “laid up” with Sitka Spruce keel and ribs with Western Red Cedar planking. They had a streamlined bronze dagger board with exceedingly smooth hulls and sleek paint jobs. Even then, the hulls were too light. Measurement weight was ac­complished by adding an anchor of the proper weight. The rigging was composed of a spruce, hollow, pear-shaped mast with a bolt-rope slot. They had the best sails available sewn up with exotic materials. The hulls were always kept dry. They were only placed in the water at regatta time.

Club members Paul Wagner and Gerard L. Parsons built two modem, lightweight “dry” Snipes. Member Bob Woolf bought a surplus Douglas Snipe. Others obtained Snipes. An active Snipe fleet enjoyed many spirited races. Woolf, with his skills, became the “top dog.” Lee R. Parsons, club member, had three unique hobbies: (1) bee keeping, (2) crafting many beautiful, mellow violins, and (3) designing and building small sailboats. His final craft was the “Preel,” a fast, 16′ round chine design, bronze daggerboard, with 26 – spar and loose-footed mainsail. Post-war, many Regattas were held at Avila. The “Hot” sailors from Southern California again took home most of the trophies!

In the early years of the club, most sailing craft and power-boats were small, homemade and under 20′ in length. The Sea Scout vessel was the first real yacht type used on the waters of San Luis Bay. Ship #21 of the San Luis Obispo Sea Scouts acquired a U.S. Navy surplus, 24′, open whaleboat in the late 1930s. The craft was received in very poor condition and stored in a shed at the San Luis Mill and Lumber Co. This was the time of the Great Depression and funds were really short! Leonard Lenger and other adult leaders of the Sea Scouts supervised them in rebuilding and con-verting the open whaleboat named the “Sea Lion” to a two-masted Ketch. It was a tremendous task, requiring every weekend for months (maybe a year). Many of the ribs were broken. They were replaced by 1 – 1/2″ x 1-1/2″ green (not dry), fine grain, long-grain, bending oak were steam bent with a homemade steamer composed of a 15-gallon, water-filled drum heated with a wood fire. Steam was piped to a 10′ long irrigation pipe in which the 2×2’s were inserted. Boy! Were those ribs limber! The hull was decked over, making a cabin. Spars were shaped. Sails and related gear were made by hand. She was rigged as a ketch with gaff-headed main-sail, Marconi-type mizzen, with a club-footed jib.

On launch day, the “Sea Lion” was placed on a trailer and pushed out on the County’s Avila Pier. The county hoist was old, constructed of 6×6’s with a hand-operated winch. Commercial fishermen viewed the heavy ketch and antique hoist and stated: “NO CAN DO, BREAKA DA HOIST.” The fishermen were concerned, as the hoist was the ONLY way to unload their catches! Lenger and crew were fortunate as the “Sea Lion” was safely launched. The Sea Scouts and their leaders enjoyed sailing the Ketch for years. Eventually, the hull got “tired,” became a “leaker” and sunk at its mooring in a violent winter storm.

In 1937, the first meeting was held and the sailors and powerboat owners determined that we should organize a club which was named the San Luis Sail and Power Club. The following officers for 1938 were elected: Herb McBratney, Commodore; Leonard Lenger, Vice Commodore and Gwen (Mrs. Paul) Wagner, Secretary-Treasurer. Gwen Wagner requested donations for incidental expenses. A total of $5.50 was collected! Kay McBratney (Mrs. Herb) submitted a design for the Club Burgee which was approved and burgees were ordered. It was passed unanimously that club meetings were to be held from time to time, as necessary, in members’ homes for discussions and planning the club’s activities. The club also circulated a petition, with 307 signatures, requesting improvements to the Avila County Pier and Port San Luis Harbor. The petition called for: 1. Closed harbor; 2. new and improved landing facilities; 3. new winch on pier for lowering and raising pleasure and fishing craft. The petition pointed out that the improvements would benefit the County and attract pleasure seekers from this locality and also from the San Juaquin Valley. Commodore McBratney was appointed to present the petition to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

The normal boating season at Avila is from May to September. During that time power and sailboats were tied to the Avila Pier. Owners installed moorings, outboard from the pier, with stem lines to the ladders or pier. At the January 5, 1939 meeting the name of the club was changed to “San Luis Sailing Club.” For the third time, in January of 1940, the club membership changed the name to the “San Luis Yacht Club.” Annual dues were then raised to $1 for the male of the species. An additional S.50 for the spouses!

In the formative years of the San Luis Yacht Club, sailing craft were a hodge-podge of all types of boats, mostly “Homemade” non-class hulls with homemade sails. Informal races were held but the vessels were so varied that it was difficult to determine the winner. “Class” boats soon became popular throughout the world. These boats were “one design” – identical in construction and materials and thus subject to documentation and official measurement. The idea was that the best skipper and crews would win out since the boats were all the same.

In 1937 nine members of the San Luis Yacht Club decided that competitive fleet sailing was the ideal way to go. Jerry Bond, Roger Berger, Fred Hamlin, Homer Hamlin, Delbert Hollinger, Vernon Hollinger, Leonard Lenger, Howard O’Daniels and Harold Wilkinson became students of the San Luis Obispo High School nighttime woodshop class. A “Boatyard” was created in the basement of the San Luis Fremont School. These students constructed a “jig” to facilitate construction of conforming hulls. The hulls were constructed with two wide twenty foot long Western Red Cedar side planks and flat plywood bottoms. The deck was made of 1/4” plywood and the mast was made of 3” by 4”, twenty foot long spruce wood. The price of sails was limited to $75 for mainsail and jib. After ten hulls were completed a drawing was held to deter-mine ownership of each hull. The new hull owners worked diligently to fit their hulls with hardware and rigging. Each hull and equipment was subject to rigid measurements by an official measurer and certified to meet National specifications, This “Flattie” design was selected due to ease of construction, sturdiness to sail in rough waters, and the ability to plane.

Many spirited fleet races were held under the jurisdiction of the Yacht Club Race Committee. Charles Berkemeyer’s fifty foot Stevens Cabin Cruiser, skippered by Dr. Rudolph Poe, was used by the Race Committee to supervise these very competitive races. Delbert Hollinger and Howie O’Daniels usually shared the honors of winning. These two participated in the Flattie Nationals and, when sailing in northern California, they viewed the beautiful sails that were composed of the newest exotic materials, they questioned the legality of these sails since the specifications established a seventy five dollar maximum cost. The reply was that the sails only cost seventy-five dollars, but the sail bag cost seventy five dollars.

When Ted Geary, the designer of the Flatties, died the name of this fleet craft was changed to “Geary 18” in his honor. Tom Jennin and later Tom Jennin Jr. of our club participated favorably in the nationals. In 1951 and again in 1966 the San Luis Yacht Club hosted the Geary 18 International Championship Regatta. Staff Commodore Del Hollinger and his wife Hilde were Co-Chairmen of the 1966 Regatta. Several years ago the late Mitch Walker, “Flot” sailor in our club, won the Geary 18 B Fleet Nationals in Oregon.

At this time in 1940 the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors notified the Club “that the War Department of the United States, has enacted the following rules: All boats, moored on the navigable waters of the United States, shall display mooring lights, from dusk to daylight.” This was very controversial as a constant power source would be required; very difficult, especially on small vessels, with no generator. The Southern California Yachting Association, American Power Boat Association, Commercial Fisherman and Yacht Clubs drafted Federal legislation that was adopted. This legislation created mooring zones in Federal waters of the United States. San Luis Bay mooring zones were: #1 Adjacent to the Avila Pier, #2 surrounding the Port San Luis Pier. No mooring lights were required in authorized mooring zones.

In 1940 Club Officers were Harold Puffer Commodore, Paul Wagner Vice Commodore, Kay McBratney Secretary-Treasurer and Gerard L. Parsons Fleet Captain. The Board adopted an amendment to the Club Constitution; the name of the organization shall be changed to the San Luis Yacht Club. As of February 1940 the club joined the Small Boat Division of the Southern California Yachting Association, Membership fee $10 annually! At the April 27, 1940 meeting the Club Constitution was amended regarding Club membership qualification: “1. Actively, interested in boating. 2. Willing to cooperate in Club activities. 3. Good moral character. 4. Satisfactory credit standing. 5. Favorable personality.” Motion adopted. Members may invite guests to club meetings. A 15-cent fee to Treasurer for each guest!
From time to time, informal club meetings were held in the members’ homes. It soon became apparent, as the membership grew, that there was a need for a clubhouse. The Board appointed John Jones, Dr. Rudolph Poe, Gerard L. Parsons and Harold Wilkinson to the Clubhouse Committee, with instructions to locate a building on the shore side adjacent to the waterfront for a meeting place. The Committee reported that they were unable to locate a suitable site and recommended that the Club study the concept of building a clubhouse adjacent to Avila Pier. The Secretary-Treasurer announced the Club Treasury showed a deficit of $2.25!

A banquet was held on December 5, 1940 at Mattie’s Tavern in Shell Beach. The following officers were elected for the year 1941: Harold Puffer, Commodore; John Jones, Vice Commodore; Gerard L. Parsons, Secretary-Treasurer; and Walter Meng, Port Captain. Leonard Lenger presented preliminary plans for a clubhouse to be built on pilings at the foot of the Avila Pier. The cost estimate was $370. Commodore Harold Puffer was appointed to confer with the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors regarding a long-term lease for a clubhouse site adjoining the Avila Pier. In 1941 annual dues were raised to $5.00 with an additional $1.00 fee for spouses. Junior membership $2.50. An anonymous club member donated $100 to the Club with the stipulation that it be deposited in the Building Fund. With $147.96 in the Building Fund prospects for a Clubhouse seemed possible!

This yacht club history is reproduced from the SCYA 2017 Race Calendar & Yacht Club Directory