Mobile Yacht Club members are proud of our club’s long and oftentimes colorful history. Established in 1847, Mobile Yacht Club is the 2nd oldest private boating and sailing club in the United States and the oldest club on the Gulf Coast.
Throughout its long and distinguished history the club has been known as Mobile Regatta Club, Eastern Shore Yacht Club and Mobile Yacht Club. In the early years, unlike today, the “eastern shore” of Mobile Bay was reachable only by boat as there were no causeways or bridges over the Mobile River delta, and the Eastern Shore (or, as we call it, “over the bay”) was summer home to many Mobilians.
As early as the 1830’s local “boat clubs” were holding organized yacht races on Mobile Bay and in 1847 Mobile sailors organized the Mobile Regatta Club at Howard’s Landing, Daphne (Daphne is “over the bay” from Mobile). Large regattas held on the Eastern Shore at Point Clear, Battles Wharf and Howard’s (all “over the bay”) attracted racing yachts and high stakes from all along the Gulf Coast, and competition among cities like Mobile, New Orleans, Pass Christian, and Biloxi was fierce. The public came out in droves to watch, often leaving the city of Mobile seemingly deserted.
The Civil War and the presence of the Union Fleet on Mobile Bay successfully discouraged yacht racing, and the activities of the club were suspended for several years. Challenge sailboat racing began anew as early as 1867 when a meeting was held above Jenkin’s Royal Street Bar in Mobile, again establishing regattas between Mobile and New Orleans. The races were primarily held at Point Clear, or between Mobile and Point Clear.
After Reconstruction, sports of all kind began in earnest and it was in 1882 that interest in sailing and boating had again developed to the point that the Mobile Regatta Club was reorganized with a clubhouse on the east bank of Mobile River opposite the foot of Dauphin Street. This site was selected primarily because of its accessibility to the city and the protected harbor for the boats.
“With the formation of the club, it was necessary that a clubhouse be built as a base of operations. Money to erect this clubhouse and to purchase the land was raised through the sale of stock at $25 a share. A major portion of the stock was bought by Mobile merchants, favoring the organization. Among the purchasers were: E.O. Zadek, Adam Glass, Jacob Mayer, Edward Pincus, Abe Spira, Tom St. John, and many others. The property was purchased from Cleveland brothers for the sum of $1000. The clubhouse was built over the water with a small landing pier to one side. The river site was selected due to the natural harbor which protected the small boats from heavier seas and for its proximity to the city. The club was reached by a sail ferry operated by the organization, the ferry being hailed by a whistle blown by a member waiting transportation, each being furnished with a whistle” T. Gaines St. John’s History of the Mobile Yacht Club.
Yachts were owned by individual members, with craft of all sizes and description serving the purpose. These boats, practically all centerboard craft, carried an exceptionally large amount of sail in comparison to present day yachts. To counteract the excessive yardage of sail, each boat carried sandbag ballast. In addition to this, every member of the crew equipped himself with a long board, a hiking plank, which fitted into a slot. When winds sprang up, heeling the boat well over, each crewman would grab a sandbag, crawl out to the end of his board, and ride the race out over the water.
A certificate of incorporation and deed was issued on May 8, 1894 acquiring the south 125 feet of lot seven Blakely Island and officially changing the organization’s name to Mobile Yacht Club. After the affairs of the old club had been wound up the new corporation was organized with capital stock of $2,500, divided into one hundred shares of $25 each.
After 15 years of occupying the first clubhouse, the growing membership outgrew the small clubhouse at the foot of Dauphin Street. Crowds that gathered on the veranda to watch races, participate in dances and other social activities more than overtaxed the club’s accommodations. At the 1897 annual meeting the Commodore appointed a committee to consider a new building. The famous New Orleans architect and prominent yachtsman, Thomas Sully, designed the elaborate clubhouse a few years later. The original structure was torn down and a second one, considerably larger, was built near the old location on Mobile River.
A 1903 publication of the Southern Gulf Coast Yachting Association described the club as “a very neat and commodious structure and is very comfortably furnished; the walls are decorated with pictures of many of the celebrated crack yachts of the past and cup defenders which took part in all the regattas along the Gulf Coast; in addition to yachting a special feature of this club is trap shooting. The club now owns its own power launch which is used in carrying the members across the river to and from the club.”
Boating and social activities at the second Mobile Yacht Club on Mobile River came to an abrupt end with the arrival of a hurricane which struck Mobile on September 26, 1906. The greatest damaged appeared along the waterfront, especially both sides of Mobile River at the city. A huge wave swept inland for a distance of a mile and a half. While the clubhouse weathered the storm without appreciable damage, the club site and river conditions were no longer conducive to mooring and sailing. The clubhouse was abandoned and a search began for a new location.
On April 28, 1901 Mobile Yacht Club joined Biloxi Yacht Club of Mississippi and Southern Yacht Club of New Orleans as charter members to organize the Southern Gulf Coast Yachting Association. The association was reorganized in the fall of 1920 as the Gulf Yachting Association (GYA) and Mobile Yacht Club was extremely fortunate and honored to host the first meeting of the organization in Mobile.
After the hurricane debris was cleared, the old river location was no longer desirable due to the increased harbor traffic and the river current. By then electric streetcars has lured the focus of the city away from the downtown waterfront to the parks, theaters and beaches that lined the western shore. Monroe Park was well know to the sailo
Mobile Yacht Club built its third clubhouse at the end of a 600 foot wharf adjacent to the public wharf.
The lavish two-story clubhouse had wide verandahs, was decorated with pictures of famous yachts, and was comfortably furnished. This clubhouse was completely destroyed by the hurricane of 1916. Only its pilings were left standing.
As a result of the Monroe Park clubhouse being destroyed by the hurricane of 1916 and the United States entering World War I shortly thereafter, another clubhouse was not immediately built. Many people at the time spent summers “across the bay” on the Eastern Shore and everyone agreed that the one thing lacking was seeing sailboats on Mobile Bay. In the summer of 1920 sailing enthusiasts completed work on the Eastern Shore Yacht Club.
Profiting by the experience of the old Mobile Yacht Club, which was washed away by the hurricane of 1916, the new clubhouse is described as “built on the bank of the bay”, instead of over the water. The clubhouse was a two story building, 50 feet long by 35 feet in width, with a wide and roomy porch entirely surrounding the west and south sides. The Eastern Shore Yacht Club’s races and social activities soon made it the center of attention on the eastern shore of the bay.
The Eastern Shore Yacht Club was host for the Gulf Yachting Association’s first meeting regular membership meeting on November 13, 1920. As the delegates arrived they were met by members of the yacht club, taken to headquarters at the Battle House where they were dined, then given a tour of the city. Fifty enthusiastic young men were present at a banquet that evening, at which the constitution of the Gulf Yachting Association was drawn up and adopted.
In 1928 the Eastern Shore Yacht Club changed its name to Mobile Yacht Club and five years later in 1934 moved to Barretts Beach on the western shore of Mobile Bay. The name was changed as the members lived in Mobile and it was their desire to be the legatee of the Mobile Yacht Club name.
The eastern shore of Mobile Bay had no inlet suitable for safe mooring between Blakely River and Weeks Bay. Fly Creek was only a trickle over the beach at low tide and Point Clear Creek was a good swimming hole but without a navigable entrance. Dog River, on the western shore of Mobile Bay, was not considered suitable until the old manual center pivoting bridge was replaced with a new bascule bridge, and Fowl River wasn’t convenient due to its distance from points of racing. With the opening of Cochrane Bridge in 1927 and without the bay boats, a certain mystic was lost for the eastern shore.
There had been an interest in finding a new club location within reasonable distance from a protected harbor. Barretts Beach Clubhouse had been vacated in 1930, and with its proximity to Dog River and easy accessibility, was an ideal choice. The building had the same furnishings used at the old location and the interior was very much like the old club with a sparsely furnished great hall downstairs and a dormitory upstairs. A juke box played the favorites of the day. The main entrance was on the north side facing the public pier, a cat-walk surrounded the building and stairs lead down from the cat-walk to a small landing dock.
In 1940 a new 2-story clubhouse was built just north of the mouth of Dog River on the site of the existing Mobile Yacht Club. By 1959 development of a harbor west of the clubhouse on a canal off of Dog River was underway. The addition of a harbor began a gradual change in the character of the club with a trend toward privately owned boats that continues to this day. Successive expansions, bulkhead additions and dredging further improved the harbor.
Hurricane Camille struck in 1969, and although Mobile was only at the edge of the storm’s path, the flood-tides and storm driven waves played havoc with the club building. Water was three feet deep in the Great Hall, and the clubhouse was shifted off its pilings. The clubhouse was rebuilt and continued to operate until September 12, 1979 when Hurricane Frederic damaged the clubhouse beyond repair and left the harbor in shambles.
The current clubhouse was designed by Commodore Fred Haidt, an engineer, to withstand future storm tides and waves. Since being built in 1980, the clubhouse has survived Hurricanes Erin and Opal in 1995, Danny in 1997, Georges in 1998, Ivan in 2004, the infamous Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as numerous lesser and long forgotten storms.
The new clubhouse commands a spectacular view of Mobile Bay to the east, and a forest of masts in our harbor to the west. Its’ amenities include a full service bar and galley, casual and fine dining seating, bathhouse facilities, a swimming pool, wrap-around porches and decks, a race committee room, fireplace, wireless internet access and a boat launch. Harbor amenities include wet slips and dry storage, an electric lift and utilities.
In May of 1982 Mobile Yacht Club reincorporated as an Alabama non-profit corporation and bylaws were adopted by the membership. The Club is governed by the officers under the supervision of a six member board of directors elected by the membership. The Club has eight standing committees: House, Bar & Galley, Entertainment, Race, Cruising, Junior, Harbor and Finance.
In May of 1983 several members incorporated a separate non-profit corporation to run a sailing school under the name Mobile Bay Sailing School, Inc. During the summer the school conducts classes in sailing at the club under the agreement with the Club.
Mobile Yacht Club sponsors and participates annually in numerous club regattas, as well as races in affiliation with the Gulf Yachting Association, of which Mobile Yacht Club is a charter member. The club and its individual members have fared well in local, regional, national, and international sailing competitions. Some of the most favored and well-known of the local races include the Dauphin Island Regatta, the GYA sponsored Liptons, the Norton Brooker Broken Triangle Race, the Round-the-Rig Regatta, the MYC Anniversary Regatta, to name a few.