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Yacht Club Culture

The yacht clubhouse at Morro Bay, as seen from the guest dock.


What we meant to say is that the unlimited welcome mat is not out at the Morro Bay Yacht Club. 

Monday’s ‘Lectronic, in which George Durden of the Berkeley YC-based Jeanneau 45.2 Epiphany expressed disappointment with the treatment he felt he received from the port captain of the Morro Bay YC, generated a lot of response.

A number of readers reported they’ve had wonderful visits at the Morro Bay YC, which has an almost legendary reputation for hospitality both in years past and this year. They wondered what, if anything, might have changed at the club.

Others wondered if Durden expected too much and suggested that perhaps he was the problem. Baja Ha-Ha entrants Diane Grieman and Tony Bishop of the San Jose-based Cape Dory 33 Dolce came to the defense of the Morro Bay YC and its port captain, Lynn Meissen. “Mr. Durden,” they claim, “was outraged when he arrived, without calling ahead, to discover that the club charges for the use of its docks.”

On the other hand, Dudley and Jean King of the Hatteras LRC 48 Stormy Weather report they’d also had trouble with the club’s port captain. “We stayed at the Morro Bay YC for two nights, and it did meet our needs in a most pleasant environment — if you can get past the port captain’s total lack of charm and inclination to go off on an angry tirade. We got up at 5:30 a.m. to start the 12-hour run to Santa Barbara. The port captain also got up to yell at me for being a bad guy in all sorts of ways. Her list was long and surprising to me.”

We weren’t there at the Morro Bay YC when either Durden or King was there, so we have no idea what transpired. Maybe it was the fault of the club’s port captain. Maybe Durden and King had been unreasonable. Who knows, maybe everyone could claim a share of the blame.

The view this morning from Morro Bay YC’s webcam.

© Morro Bay Yacht Club

We think the lesson to be learned is that yacht clubs and the individuals in charge of them can have very different cultures and personalities. And that the culture of the clubs and personalities of the officers and members can change over time. Clubs also have very different facilities and policies.

Similarly, yacht club members and others who visit yacht clubs come in all different personalities, too. Not all are as nice as they can be, and some have totally unreasonable expectations.

We suppose that it also wouldn’t be entirely surprising if a member of a yacht club that offers visitors free berthing wasn’t happy to visit another club that didn’t reciprocate. Not that any club is required to or capable of doing so.

The above incidents reminded us of a couple of the unusual experiences we had at yacht clubs decades ago. Back in about 1980 we were honorary members of the San Francisco YC, thanks to the efforts of Dave Allen, owner of the legendary world-beating Imp. So when we were in San Diego in quiet November with a new 39-ft boat, we decided to inquire about getting a reciprocal berth at the San Diego YC. The woman at the front desk was very pleasant, but said that while SDYC had a long list of clubs with which they had reciprocal agreements, unfortunately SFYC wasn’t anywhere on her list.

We found that hard to believe, so we called the woman at the office of SFYC. The woman there laughed heartily when we told her what happened. “Of course our members have reciprocal privileges at SDYC,” she said. “A number of people are members of both clubs, and our clubs have had a great relationship for a long time.”

But not even she could convince the woman at the desk at SDYC, who insisted that she could only allow people from the clubs on her list. She was nice enough to try to call the commodore, but wasn’t able to reach him. We went somewhere else.

Then there was the time we went to cover the end of the then-West Marine Pacific Cup at the Kaneohe YC on Oahu. We showed up at the front desk at the same time as did the female representative of West Marine. The woman at the front desk asked to see Ms. WM’s yacht club membership card. Ms. WM said she didn’t have one, but noted that she was the representative of the primary sponsor of the event. If we remember correctly, back in those days West Marine used to give the Pacific Cup about $35,000 to help defray expenses. The woman at the front desk was not impressed. Being corporate and professional, as well as a very nice person, Ms. WM continued to patiently try to reason with her.

We didn’t have a yacht club card either, but we aren’t corporate or professional. Nor are we patient. So we walked around the side of the club, passed by the busy swimming pool, said hello to some friends, picked up a drink at the bar, and returned to the front desk from the inside of the club to see how Ms. WM was doing. She had finally, but begrudgingly, been allowed in, which is maybe why she’s now pretty high on the corporate ladder at West Marine.

But it didn’t end there. In those pre-email days, it was not always easy for journalists such as ourselves to get the story from the owners and crews of boats that arrived in the early morning hours, as after a drink or two they tended to take off for the crew houses and not be seen for days. This meant that we needed to keep close track of the ETAs of the arriving boats so we could be on site when they arrived.

So we approached the officer of the day, who just happened to be another woman, and asked for the latest ETAs. She said we’d have to wait until the club office opened the next morning at 9 a.m. to get them. When we explained that that wouldn’t work, as several important boats were expected to arrive hours before that, she told us that it was our tough luck.

We then tried to explain to her that we represented a sailing magazine that had gone to considerable time and expense to try to cover this event, and could use a little understanding and assistance. “Could we at least have the number of the race shack so the folks there could give us the ETAs?” we asked.

“So you have a sailing magazine?” she snorted. “Big deal, I have a beauty salon.” Obviously the hair dye from the salon had leaked through her skull into her brain, negatively effecting her ability to calculate relevance. Fortunately, one of the senior members of the club overheard the ridiculous conversation and gave us the number of the race shack.

The above negative incidents were rare and unusual, and more humorous than anything. Since then we’ve often enjoyed outstanding hospitality at SDYC, one of the finer clubs in the world. And we never had another hint of a problem at the Kaneohe YC, a super-friendly club.

Indeed, 99% of our experiences with yacht clubs — which are far fewer in number than any of you would imagine — have been positive. But we do make a point of conforming to what we perceive as the culture of the club. And we are aware that some have inherent limitations.

What should members of yacht clubs expect from other yacht clubs? Speaking as a member of about five yacht clubs, most of them honorary memberships, we expect nothing of the clubs we visit. As such, we’ve never been disappointed. On the contrary, we have almost always had our expectations greatly exceeded. If we are planning to visit a club and hoping to get something, be it a drink at the bar, a shower or a berth, we tend to contact the club in advance to understand their policies and determine if there are any major events scheduled that would alter their normal policies.

We’d also like to remind everyone headed south that, thanks to the Ha-Ha, there are a very large number of boats migrating to and staying in San Diego until the October 31 start. Things like berths at yacht clubs are going to be limited or not available at all, particularly the closer you get to San Diego.

As for the port captain at the Morro Bay YC, Mr. Durden and Mr. King, we wish we could have you aboard Profligate for some sundowners one day. We’re pretty sure we could all leave with a greater understanding of each other’s situation, and thus as friends. Peace.

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