ESSEX YACHT CLUB HISTORY
The genesis of the Essex Yacht Club can be found in the Inaugural Eastern Frostbite Dinghy Regatta held on March 4 and 5, 1933 with racing off the old Steamboat Dock. Frostbiting had begun a year earlier on Manhasset Bay, Long Island, giving dinghy sailing a tremendous boost. When a neutral meeting ground was required for rival frostbite fleets, Walter Rowe organized a regatta at Essex. On March 4, 1933 a fleet of 23 Class A and B boats, assembled from the New England and New York frostbiting ports, sailed in the competition off the old Steamboat Dock. The dinghies were manned by some of the most illustrious yachtsmen of the Great Depression including George Ratsey, Corny Shields, Alan and Ted Clark, Arthur Knapp, Sherry Fahnestock, Sam Wetherill, Lorna Whittlesey, John Alden, Eleanor Wood, Bob Bavier, and Bill Dyer. The town of Essex enthusiastically supported this first regatta and superb still pictures of the event by Lank Ford hang in the Clubhouse.
Interest in dinghy sailing continued to grow and by the time spring arrived a cruising headquarters in Essex was needed. Walter Rowe called organizational meetings on May 20 and 27, 1933 where a constitution, bylaws and burgee were adopted. Rowe was elected Commodore, Hervey Stockder was chosen Rear Commodore, Dyke Wetmore was made Treasurer and the Reverend Bert Chandler, Secretary. The Club leased the Steamboat Dock and was officially commissioned on June 17, 1933. Active membership stood at 60 and annual dues were $10 for residents. In November, the second Frostbite Regatta was held, this time under the Essex Yacht Club burgee; 46 boats attended, a record for those times, with Sam Wetherill the winner of the Roosevelt Trophy. The Essex Yacht Club was undoubtedly the first, if not the only, yacht club inspired and founded on frostbite dinghy sailing.
During the mid-thirties, membership in the Club continued to grow, as did interest in dinghy racing on the river, and the number of cruising yachts. By 1935, the Club had outgrown its space at The Steamboat Dock, which had few amenities and opened only on weekends. That year an arrangement was made to construct and rent from E. Van Dyke Wetmore, Club Treasurer, a two-story building immediately adjacent to the south side of the Chandlery. In March of 1936 before the new building was complete, a spring flood put the first floor under eight feet of water. Luckily little damage was done to the building and it was commissioned later that year.
In the years after WWII the sport of yachting began to change from mostly a men's sport to a family affair; the Club saw the make-up and interests of the membership change. In the 60s cruising boats came into the limelight and the Essex Yacht Club was well represented in the cruise-racing arena. Throughout the seventies dinghy racing remained active on Blue Jays and Inter Clubs.
Membership continued to increase in the seventies and the Club was becoming over crowded. In 1978, a search committee appointed by Commodore Cornwall Miller ag- gressively sought a permanent clubhouse and dock site. William Boyd offered to sell his handsome riverfront parcel south of the rented quarters. In 1979, the membership voted to purchase his two-acre property and marine lab building. On May 10, 1980, after extensive remodeling the new clubhouse was dedicated and commissioned. Essex Yacht Club finally had its own quarters on the riverfront.
Through the 80s and 90s, sailing and racing activities remained an active part of the Club. In 1997, the Club was chosen to host the Rum Challenge, an ECSA racing event that promoted the Essex Yacht Club to a prestigious level among yacht clubs. The Rum Challenge is held each summer and is open to Club and non-Club racers. In 2004, the Club purchased a fleet of Ideal 18s and enthusiasm quickly built for the one-design races on the river. A Ladies Sailing program was started on the Ideal 18s in 2007 and over 50 women participated in the sailing instruction and racing.
On May 16, 2008 the Essex Yacht Club began its 75th anniversary with a boat parade on the river. The next day at 1700 the formal commissioning of the Club and the 75th Anniversary Celebration was held. After the opening ceremonies, members celebrated on the lawn before moving to the tent for dinner and dancing. In honor of the 75th a special commemorative book with the history of the club was published for members to enjoy. As the Club moves forward it remains committed to its heritage of promoting excellence in yachting activities, the Corinthian spirit and camaraderie among its members.