There is, perhaps, no parallel in the history of yacht clubs where one has the dubious distinction of being named after a hairnet. This curious factalone can account for the Club's later reincorporation with a more appropriate name. The story of the embryo days has a color that the adult era has never been able to emulate, and that story goes somewhat this way according to local survivors and charter members.
Where the Oberg Funeral Home used to be located, at the corner of Hylan Boulevard and Great Kills Road, there lived a very wealthy man named Henry Salomons. Mr. Salomons had established his vast fortune on a chain of beauty parlors as well as in the manufacturing of beauty aids, principally the hairnet. This gossamer gadget of the early twentieth century was the invention of a French woman whom Mr. Salomons discovered in Paris. He brought her over to this country, and with his money financed and promoted her invention. Her name was Yvette.
In the early 20's Mr. Salomons was approached by a group of local racing sailors, headed by the late Daniel P. Higgins, a prominent architect and member of the Board of Education, to support and finance the organization of a yacht club. Brothers Nick and Al Williams, later of Star racing fame, the Hassel brothers, Thomas Williams, Raymond Newberry, Raymond Coddington, Robert Dowd and Walter Hall completed the group of Founding fathers; some of whom served as Flag Officers, notably Dan Higgins and Nick and Al Williams. The first club house was originally a large two storied houseboat with what would be called today in current parlance a walk around deck. The houseboat had been used as a sort of private maritime school according to local authority, and was owned by a Mr. Knudsen. It was then located near where Sorensen's Boat Yard (now Staten Island Boat Sales) stands today. In what is described as a masterpiece of timing and engineering. It was floated in on a full moon tide to rest on 12" x 12”‘s supported on piles. Large holes were cut in below the waterline to prevent it from floating. It was located where the former club house stood (now Marina Cafe). The dock at that time ended at the pavilion.
Thus was born the Yvette Yacht Club officially incorporated the 17th day of September, 1923. As a yacht club the Yvette was more of a social organization made up largely of local residents.
The shallowness of the water it is said precluded any real boating activity. When Mr. Salomons had a 48 foot yacht built it was moored well out in the harbor.
This boat, locally built, was the last word in luxury and equipment of the day. For a name the owner chose that of his adopted grandson, Henry David, and for the christening ceremony, chorus girls and beauteous ladies who had endorsed his hairnets were imported with the blessing of David Belasco. The era being Prohibition and all things being thoroughly legal, the gleaming bow of the HENRY DAVID was baptized with fragrant powder puffs tossed from the hand of the gorgeous assemblage.
In 1929 the name of the Club was changed from the Yvette Yacht Club to the Richmond County Yacht Club and a certificate of change of name was duly filed with the Office of the Secretary of State as of October 1st of that year. The change, coming as it did at the beginning of the depression, brought with it monetary troubles not encountered earlier. The financial crash shook the Club badly as well as its Commodore and "angel". It is reported that Mr. Salomons tapered off in his interest in the Club but remained as its head until 1934 when William O. Steele took over the office.
The hurricane of 1938 inaugurated a series of such devastating storms during the next fifteen years that made a shambles out of many of the harbor's facilities and wrecked many a fine boat. In 1941 a fire swept the houseboat that was the Club House and reduced it to a smoldering hulk along with its contents and valuable records. The fire is said to have started in an adjacent boat yard.
The new replacement building was designed by the late Daniel P. Higgins, mentioned earlier as a founding father. In 1947, during Howard R. Hill's tenure as Commodore, the pier was extended.
With the development of the harbor by dredging and eventual bulkheading, by the Federal WPA, the Richmond County Yacht Club became a Yacht Club in fact rather than just in name as is so ably shown in an article which appeared in the first edition of RANGE LIGHTS, dealing with the history of sailing up to 1958.
The club has been active in sailboat racing from the beginning. The original fleet was a miscellaneous group of sloops which were raced on a handicap basis.
The club wanted to get more people involved and felt a one-design class would be the answer, so a 16 foot centerboard sloop with a shallow rudder, for the conditions then prevailing, was designed. It was called the "Richmond County One-Design class".
The Original clubhouse was a houseboat constructed in the early twenties atop a flat barge.
They were raced inside the harbor thereby permitting the non-participants to root for their favorite from the Club pier. Some years later RCYC started a new one-design, called the "Harpoon" class. They were 19 foot, round bottomed, centerboard sloops.
The years have seen many fleets of one-design class racing at Richmond County. Stars, Comets, Penguins, Thistles, and Lightnings. Of them all only the Penguin fleet continues to race, but the auxiliary fleet has grown and races with a full schedule each season.
1963 celebrated the acquisition of the north property. Then, with the club growing beyond its limited boundary, so was the membership.
To forestall the latter, a policy of limited membership went into effect thereby creating a waiting list and a backlog of desirable future members. The next year saw a significant change in the legal framework. Revisions in the constitution were started and completed at this time. It was an arduous task involving many evening meetings.
And so changes and improvements were made where needed, but despite these modernizations the Club was forever faced with an urgency to expand within the narrow property limits. Plans were drawn to construct an additional story plus extending the building into the space occupied by the lockers. This proposal never got off the ground as it left the Club still with land difficulties so the idea was dropped.
In 1970 Brown's Dock adjacent to us offered their property for sale. This included a main building, a dock with slips and a parking lot. The situation appeared made to order. It also meant that to purchase this property the present club house and land would have to be sold. Excitement and interest rose as it became a matter of "now or never". "Operation Transplant" was duly born.
At the annual Meeting of 1970 acquisition of the Brown property was approved to be financed by a refundable bond issue together with monies received from the sale of the original club property to the Great Kills Boat Yard and Marina (presently the location of Atlantis Marina). With design and labor furnished almost completely by RCYC volunteers, the new club came to life in a form much more physically accommodating. The addition of the upstairs bar allowed for an all- weather commanding view of the Harbor, previously only available from the outside roof deck of the old clubhouse. The new location provided boat slips for the use of club members for the first time, a major operational change from the original club facility which only served boats on moorings by Tender, as well as small boats launched from the deck hoist.
In 1964 Op-sail events began occurring in New York Harbor. At that time many RCYC members made it their business to cruise by the vessels anchored in Gravesend Bay, hailing the crews of the visiting nations School Ships, welcoming them to the Harbor. This perhaps set the stage for much greater involvement by the Club in Op-sail events. For the 1976 bi-centennial OP-sail, in addition to many members viewing the festival of Sail on their own boats, the RCYC hosted its own party for a fleet of 40 visiting German yachts with a huge barbeque for all to enjoy. Op-sail 1986 was attended again by many members cruising up to the ships and viewing the Parade of Sail. In 1992 the club participated in a much grander style, hosting the Officers and Crew of the Portuguese Tall Ship Sagres II as well as the United States Navy’s Annapolis Racing Team. A party was held at the club with over 1000 in attendance. The day of the event included a drenching rain storm which failed to dampen any spirits as the entire parking lot was covered in a gigantic circus-style tent. The celebration went on into the wee hours. The Club similarly hosted the Officers and Crew of the Canadian tall ship Bluenose II in OP-sail 2000 with a grand party.
RCYC members for whatever reasons have from time to time taken up some serious Blue Water sailing. In the pre Loran/GPS world of the 1960’s and 1970’s a number club members ventured out over the horizon to distant Bermuda, Nova Scotia, Puerto Rico, and even Spain, relying on celestial navigation and good old dead reckoning. This has continued as other of our members more recently have sailed to Bermuda, the Caribbean and European destinations as well. There must be something in the water of Great Kills Harbor that spurs certain wanderlust to travel afar.
In the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s the Club played host to some major league sailboat racing events. The Newsday Stars and Stripes regatta was started out of the RCYC as was the Around Long Island Race. Both events completely filled the Harbor with visiting yachtsmen, as well as the Clubs bars, food service and Tenders. They were great events that put the RCYC “on the map” and encouraged much good cheer among all. Unfortunately due to economic downturns in the early 1990’s these events largely funded by Newsday, where scaled back and hosted out of other venues. The RCYC has continued however in hosting other Racing events including Laser Nationals, the Transplant Regatta, J-24 Nationals and other events when the opportunity arose.
September 11th 2001 was a dark day for New York and its RCYC community. Two RCYC Members lost their lives in the World Trade Center attack. Many members suffered the loss of family and friends. A literal Pall of smoke hung over the upper and lower bays for weeks on end, reminding all of the horror that had taken place so close to home. RCYC members responded in joining a flotilla in New York Harbor on the one year anniversary of this tragic event.
Over the years the Club benefitted from the ongoing service and commitment of the Flag, Board and volunteers in keeping the Club up to speed and improving the facilities and programs available. In addition to ongoing house and grounds improvements, a significant dock re-build project was accomplished in 2006. A great Junior Sailing Program prospered at the club involving not only RCYC members' children, but children from neighborhood schools as well.
There has always been an interesting relationship with the Club and Mother Nature. Some days are basked in glorious sunshine and fair breezes. Others are not.
Through the 1930’ to the 1950’s the club was pummeled by a number of Hurricanes and storms. In 1960 the Club at its old location survived a great flood from Hurricane Donna. Boats were strewn about Mansion Avenue and dumped on the bulkhead across the Harbor. In December 1992 a Nor-Easter flooded the present clubhouse with a foot of water causing significant damage. These storms however, pale in comparison to the effects of Super Storm Sandy. The destruction visited on the club by this storm was truly unpresented. This “imperfect storm” damaged the Club physically, structurally, emotionally, as well as financially. Through much effort and perseverance by the volunteer Officers, Board, Committee Members and the General Membership, the waterside facilities of bulkheads, docks, tenders and workboats were not just repaired, but improved. As this issue goes to print a new 21st Century Clubhouse is being built. While the club still has a good way to go and many challenges remain in the post Sandy re-build, progress is well underway. The history and traditions of the RCYC keep it well in continuing its contributions to the local boating community.
Original Clubhouse, 1923