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HISTORY OF THE GRAND RAPIDS YACHT CLUB

 

Established in 1931, the club first operated from the lawn of its commodore, R. Wallace Hook, who lived on the south shore of Reeds Lake. Eleven members and six used C scows comprised the yacht club’s first season.

In the mid 1930’s the growing success of the club led to Manhattan Beach for more room; to Point Paulo for two seasons; and back to the Manhattan Beach area where a rented cottage served as the clubhouse.

Manhattan Beach was a popular public beach and a stop on the route of the excursion steamer “Ramona”. It is not hard to imagine the disruption caused by passage of the steamer through the sailing fleet. The captain of the steamer had notoriously little tolerance for novice sailors running into his vessel.

The present site on the west end of the lake was purchased in 1941. On a February day members moved a small deckhouse and the club furniture across the ice to the new property. The new property boundary on its south side was the same as today, with the old EGR fire station, police department and city hall immediately next door. The north property boundary was a few feet on the north side of the present Snipe launching ramp. The club driveway and launching ramp were actually an extension of Wealthy Street all the way to the water’s edge.


The clubhouse built at this spot lasted until July 4, 1956, when it burned to the ground the night following the holiday celebration. The current clubhouse was constructed at the same location and was featured in Lakeland Boating magazine for its attractive design and comfortably appointed meeting room. From 1993 to 1995, major renovations were undertaken that increased the interior dimensions of the clubhouse by enclosing the lakeside porch, and the kitchen and locker rooms were completely remodeled. In 1999, the chimney was replaced after being struck by lightning. In 2010 and 2011, the exterior of the building was re-sided and a storage garage matching the clubhouse design was built into the hillside; a wooden deck was removed and replaced with a single-level concrete patio that runs the length of the clubhouse to the north end of the beach area. In addition, a major re-landscaping program was begun around the clubhouse and hillside behind it.


In the late 1950’s, the club acquired the land between the Snipe launching ramp and the city launching ramp near Rose’s restaurant. That ramp was originally an extension of Barnard Street that extended west through what is now the apartment property and what was the Ramona Medical property. Our west hillside, behind the current boat parking area, still holds the concrete foundation remains of the old armory that was a dominant feature of the landscape for years.


The city and the club have for many years had a close relationship. The club has been a source of on-water assistance to all Reeds Lake boaters for decades. We have been involved in countless rescue situations, and a number of our members can tell stories of their efforts helping out stranded and distressed boaters and, in some instances, lending medical aid due to injuries. For several years, a GRYC member operating from club property was the lake harbormaster and assisted the city with regulation enforcement. The EGR July 4th fireworks were launched from club property and produced numerous stories of singed boat covers and, in at least one instance, a boat destroyed by smoldering fireworks ash. In addition, club members regularly lend a helping hand with the swimming portion of the Reeds Lake Triathlon.


The club is also the site of public sailing classes for beginners through adults. In collaboration with the EGR Recreation Department and the Grand Rapids Junior Sailing Association, hundreds of prospective sailors take advantage of the opportunity every summer. The club provides support by lending its property and equipment for the classes. In the same way, the club helped the EGR High School crew team programs get up and running in their formative years.


About 1960, the club and city had ongoing discussions about long-term plans for the future of both. The club owned a large portion of the land on the west end of Reeds Lake, and the city was interested in creating a public park. The club and city made an agreement whereby the club transferred a portion of its property to the city and in exchange, the city vacated the Wealthy Street extension and transferred ownership to the club. Several club members personally paid for the cleanup and initial landscaping of what became Collins Park, many years before the city created the beautiful park we now see. Our present GRYC property boundaries and the Collins Park property are a result of the cooperation between the city and club.


Over the years, there were concerns on the part of the city that the club projected a footprint too large for the lake and shoreline. Until the late 60’s, most of our boats were moored on the water all summer long. At the time, we didn’t have enough land available to dry store boats, and in the days before fiberglass construction was commonplace, most wood boat hulls needed to remain wet so the wood “swelled up” and maintained tight joints. New hull construction technology and the land swap with the city occurred in a timely fashion to alleviate city concerns and meet our needs for additional land storage.


In 1999, the city and club went one step farther in reaching an agreement that assures the club’s primary focus remains sailing and it will not become a powerboat marina. The agreement spells out property usage limits that were not necessary in our early years.


The club maintains a high profile in the heart of the city on what has become a prominent piece of real estate. In spite of the many lives it has touched over the decades and the support we receive from the public, it is not unusual for some to be unaware of our contributions to the community and its development.

 

Over the years other fleets joined the C boat fleet. In 1939 GRYC received a Snipe fleet charter. Originally used by the club as a junior trainer for future scow sailors, Snipe popularity grew steadily, and it ultimately outsized the C fleet. In the late 1950’s and the early 1960’s, the fleet, numbering more that 50 boats, was recognized as the largest Snipe fleet in the world. Snipes are actively sailed and raced at GRYC today.


The Dinghy fleet began in the early 1940’s with Alden X class dinghies of lap strake wood construction. In the mid 1960s, with fiberglass taking over the boat building industry, the O’Day Interclub appeared at GRYC and eventually replaced the X class boats.


The Rebel Fleet was established in 1952, and the MC fleet followed in 1974. The Butterfly was introduced primarily as a junior trainer in 1961, and in 1990 was granted senior fleet status. A junior training program utilizing the Optimist Pram started in 1959 and lasted a number of years. With fiberglass construction, the pram is popular again for junior instruction. A Portsmouth fleet was established in 1994 to accommodate mono-hull boats with Portsmouth ratings, and an M-20 Scow Fleet was started in 1996.


The ever-changing tide of popularity has taken most of the fleets through cycles of dominance and decline. The C boat fleet, which numbered more than 25 boats in the early 60’s, has disappeared, and the MC, a cat-rigged scow, similar to the C-boat and Butterfly, is popular as a fast, one or two-person boat.


The Laser is designed for all levels of sailors from the recreational cruiser to the Olympic athlete. Its popular design comes in three configurations allowing for all weight ranges and sizes. With hundreds of regattas each year, it’s clearly a boat for everyone.


In 2011, the Melges 17, a new scow design for two people, gained fleet status for its first season of racing.

The GRYC membership is dedicated to the instruction and enjoyment of sailing and one-design sailboat racing. The recognized sailboat classes accommodate single person sailing, couples, and parent/child, teams. While the type of sailboat may affect the speed across the lake, we have found that the destination, family fun at the GRYC, has remained a pleasant constant over the years and a valuable asset to the community.