A Beacon in the Pages of History

[For Sail Team Seattle Magazine/Seattle Yacht Club]

"Sir Tom" with crew, courtesy of SYC"Sir Tom" with crew, courtesy of SYCIf you were to gaze off the shore of Elliott Bay in the year of 1894, you might catch a glimpse of nine-year-old Ted Geary, testing his mettle in the school of wind and water. Geary, born the son of a piano maker, spent many days on the water, playing hooky to sail the Sound in the first boat he ever built: a nine-foot, homemade canoe rigged with a gunnysack.

Geary went on to design and skipper such winning yachts as Spirit, Pirate and Sir Tom, turning from boy wonder to one of the most acclaimed yacht designers the Pacific has ever known.

Geary’s genius, enthusiasm and vision still echo through the halls of the Seattle Yacht Club, where his portrait hangs, with his crew, onboard Sir Tom, an “R” class boat that dominated the racing circuit along the West Coast for three decades.

The Seattle Yacht Club maintains this legacy of vision, relentless fortitude, and passion for wide-open water. Founded in 1892 as a gathering place for yachting – including power and sailboat racing and recreational boating – the vigor of the yacht club has reached throughout Puget Sound, across international borders, onto Olympic podiums, and deep into the vibrant community of its home.

A Scope on History
The Great Fire of June 6, 1889 destroyed much of Seattle’s commercial core and every waterfront wharf from Jackson to Union Streets. In the wake of rebuilding efforts, Washington become the country’s 42nd state and Seattle, “bubbling with ambition and optimism” was said to be “the boomingest place on earth,” cites historian John Caldbick.

In 1892, the Seattle Yacht Club was formally founded, naming Fred E. Sandler as its first Commodore. Charter memberships were offered for $5 each; Monthly dues were one dollar.

In 1893, everything changed. The Panic of the New York Stock Exchange’s free fall triggered the worst economic depression the United States had ever experienced to-date. With 20% unemployment in the Seattle area, interest in yachting and social clubs dwindled, along with the fortunes and hopes of many.

In the Roaring 20s, prosperity prevailed and luxury yachts were in vogue, including these moored at the Seattle Yacht Club in Portage BayIn the Roaring 20s, prosperity prevailed and luxury yachts were in vogue, including these moored at the Seattle Yacht Club in Portage BayGolden Days
When the first load of gold from Alaska’s Klondike arrived in Seattle aboard the steamship Portland in July 1897, hard times began to dissipate, and the region began to enjoy prosperity once again.

A second yacht club formed in Seattle in 1894. The Elliott Bay Yacht Club began with 50 sailors, 25 vessels, and a home at Brighton Boathouse at the foot of Battery Street. The Elliott Bay and Seattle Yacht Clubs engaged in a friendly rivalry until 1909, when the two clubs merged into one. The new club, touted by the Seattle Times as “one is one of the strongest on the Coast,” took the name of the Seattle Yacht Club and the leadership and burgee of Elliott Bay’s club.

In 1913, the Seattle Yacht Club launched the first formal celebration of boating season's Opening Day on Elliott Bay. In 1920, SYC’s new Clubhouse on Portage Bay was dedicated in a ceremony that drew more than 1,000 people. That same day, the Montlake Cut saw its first Opening Day Parade and, with few exceptions, Opening Day has been celebrated there on the first Saturday of May every year since.

World War II
On December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II. Seattle Yacht Club members answered the call in a variety of ways, including 141 members who served in the armed forces. In 1942, the U.S. Coast Guard established Flotilla 24, made up largely of SYC volunteers and their vessels, to patrol the Northwest coast and inland waters. Before the war's end, 60 yachts from the Seattle Yacht Club and 300 members had been on active duty in Puget Sound. The women of SYC formed a Red Cross unit charged with supporting the war and the men fighting it. On Opening Day in 1944, the Seattle and Queen City Yacht Clubs treated 200 wounded sailors and their nurses to a day on the water. When World War II ended in 1945, only 139 of the 141 serving SYC members returned home.

Slo-Mo-Shun set the world water speed record on Lake Washington and won the coveted Gold Cup iPhoto Credit: Collection of the Hydroplane and Raceboat MuseumSlo-Mo-Shun set the world water speed record on Lake Washington and won the coveted Gold Cup iPhoto Credit: Collection of the Hydroplane and Raceboat MuseumThunderboats
In the 1950s, the Seattle Yacht Club jumped into a whole new type of racing with unlimited hydro-planes. SYC’s thunderboat, Slo-Mo-Shun IV, set a new speed record of 160.3235 miles per hour on Lake Washington. A month later, the yacht club sent “Slo-Mo” to the Gold Cup race on the Detroit River, where it became the first boat west of the Mississippi River to win the national trophy – a prize it held onto tenaciously. For the next four years, the Gold Cup was run on Lake Washington, and it was won every year by either Slo-Mo-Shun IV or its sister craft, Slo-Mo-Shun V. The club eventually stepped back from the unlimiteds, but the thunderboat races that it first brought to Seattle more than half a century ago are still an annual Seafair tradition.

The Next Generation
In the 1950s, Seattle Yacht Club purchased a fleet of Penguins – small, single-sail boats ideal for teaching. First used to instruct the children of club members, the Junior Sailing Program opened to the public more than 25 years ago, and is now one of the club's most popular offerings. The club also sponsors a Junior Race Team, a High School Sailing Team, and the “Opti” Green Fleet Program, which teaches racing skills to those aged eight to 13.

The future of the Seattle Yacht Club belongs to the next generation. Youth programs, sailing schools and a cadre of engaged junior members ensure a bright and vital legacy that young Tom Geary might have once imagined, and certainly helped build.