Oakland Yacht Club (in Alameda) celebrates a century

Oakland Yacht Club (in Alameda) celebrates a century

Janice Worthen

Oakland Yacht Club members Fred Joyce, Christa Schreiber and Jim Jessie at the club, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Photo by Janice Worthen.

Veteran seaman Fred Joyce has been a member of the Oakland Yacht Club for about 40 years, but a next door neighbor got him involved in sailing when he was just a boy. He’s had many adventures over the years, including sailing a boat from Hawaii to California as the second crew member in a two-man crew at just 11 years old and sailing single-handed from San Francisco to Kauai.

Joyce said he goes to the Oakland Yacht Club to share sailing and racing stories with friends like Jim Jessie, a club member for more than 50 years, and Christa Schreiber. All three agreed there’s something special about the Oakland Yacht Club, which this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

In honor of this milestone, the club dedicated their new Centennial Garden on September 14 and held a garden party for members. Although the club is done with events celebrating their anniversary, members have the Change of Watch on November 9, the holiday club decorating after Thanksgiving, and the Lighted Boat Parade on December 7 to look forward to.

For the past 36 of its 100 years, the club has resided in Alameda. When it was founded in 1913, the club was located at 12th Street in Oakland, but moved the next year to 19th Avenue, where it remained until 1977.

Jim Jessie, who’s sailed the world twice and is a former commodore, said the Port of Oakland decided not to renew the club’s lease that year. So Jessie and other club members cut the berths, which the club owned, into sections and floated them down to Alameda overnight on the tide. When morning came, it seemed as if the club had simply vanished, he said.

The move to Alameda was hard at first. The club lost over half its members and was short on funds. But the club worked with existing boat owners in Pacific Marina in order to build a place for itself on the Oakland/Alameda Estuary, which members affectionately call the “Alameda Riviera.” Today, according to its website, Oakland Yacht Club is one of only four area yacht clubs that owns all of its own facilities.

Joyce said the club has not only survived but continues to thrive because it’s “incredibly well managed” and “pretty conservative financially.” Joyce said that while other social clubs are experiencing a decline in membership, Oakland Yacht Club is seeing numbers rise.

The club has a long and rich history to inspire its members. One of its first members was writer Jack London. Other notable members include former Governor George Pardee and Bay Bridge builder Steve Bechtel.

Besides affordable membership that draws in new members, Joyce said the club has fewer factions and controlling social groups than other clubs, so it’s friendly and inviting. Members come from all professions and all walks of life, and this has made the club stronger and more inclusive, he said.

Christa Schreiber attributed the club’s success to its generosity towards others. When the Navy pulled out of Treasure Island, Schreiber said members of the Treasure Island Yacht Club were left with nothing. But the Alameda-based club stepped forward and offered membership to Treasure Island members at no additional cost. This is how Schreiber became involved with Oakland Yacht Club and she said she’s seen this generous spirit continue through the years.

The club hosts many different events and activities for members throughout the year, from races to dinners. Some of the big annual races include the Perpetual Cup and the Sweet Sixteen. According to the club’s newsletter Seascape the Perpetual Cup race series was started to “foster sportsmanship, good fellowship and to encourage better yacht racing within the club.” Last year’s winner was Dick Johnson on Nice Turn.

The Sweet Sixteen consists of two sets of eight races that take place on Wednesdays from May until September, with a break in between. The club serves beer and dinner and awards prizes after each race.

The club’s most recent race was the Oktoberfest Race on October 5, which sent racers around Treasure Island and back to the club. A party with beer and bratwursts followed the race.

Jessie and Joyce said that many exciting things have happened at the club over the years, but they enjoy the racing the most; Joyce said they are both “dyed-in-the-wool racers.” Jessie won a race from Acapulco to Manila, and both men have participated in multiple Transpacific Yacht Races, or “Transpac” races, from Los Angeles to Hawaii.

Recent excitement has focused on the 34th America’s Cup, which just concluded in San Francisco. When a reporter spoke to Jessie and Joyce, they were seated at the club’s bar watching the winning team, Oracle Racing, accept the Cup. Gary Jobson, commentator for this year’s America’s Cup, has visited the club a couple times and was granted honorary membership.

Besides the racing and sailing, Joyce said food plays a big part at the club. Members and their guests enjoy lunch on Wednesdays, and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Joyce said he likes these opportunities because everyone can get together, “tell lies and drink beer,” and recount races where they “snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.”

Joyce said that the club is like a big family. Members come together to talk, share stories and their love of boating, and learn from one another. Joyce said families raise their kids at the club and that on Saturdays, the harbor is filled with children.

Many of the current members have parents or grandparents who were members before them. Jessie’s father was also a commodore and started teaching him how to sail at the age of 5. But he said anyone interested in sailing is welcome to join the larger club family and become part of the continuing tradition.

Additional information is available on the club’s website or by calling 522-6868.