Sail Through History

Plymouth Yacht Club holds tight to its heritage while introducing a new generation to the joy of sailing

By Moira McCarthy Stanford
Photography by Denise Maccaferri

It was the summer of 1885 when someone had the idea to organize a boating regatta in Plymouth that would give sailing enthusiasts a chance to compete and provide locals with a reason to gather along the waterfront and celebrate the Fourth of July beside the sea. “It is hoped,” the regatta organizers wrote, “other parties with patriotic impulses will constitute themselves a committee on music and fireworks.”

Excitement in the local boating community continued to grow and in 1890 the Plymouth Yacht Club (PYC) was incorporated. The club, which is located on Union Street just south of Plymouth Rock, continues to embrace the same core values established by its founding members: a love of boating, an admiration and respect for the sea and a desire to celebrate and share the experience with others.

While PYC is a private club (those interested in joining must submit two letters of recommendation from current members and be reviewed for entry) the club’s sailing lessons are open to non-members as well.

“They don’t have to be members; nor do they have to have a boat,” says Doris Johnson, a sailor who has been a PYC member for more than 40 years. Beginning sailors in the junior sailing program range in age from 8 to 18 and learn to operate Prams, Optimists, Lasers and 420s. In many cases, the sailing instructors themselves grew up sailing at the club.

According to current PYC Commodore Paul Nugent, the sailing program is at the heart of what the club is all about. The goal is not just to teach kids (and adults) to sail, but to give them a respect for the waterfront, a love for the sea and an understanding of just how special seaside living is.

“The great thing about sailing,” says Nugent, “is that you can go anywhere and rent a boat and sail it. We’re giving kids that gift for a lifetime.”

Jesse Butterfield Hanlon was one of those kids, and today, her own children love to spend time at PYC. “One of my kids’ favorite things to do is to walk down on the water’s edge and turn rocks over to hunt for crabs,” says Butterfield Hanlon. “I mean that’s just fun.”

The sailing program promotes competition and water safety skills and occasionally it breeds champions. In 1988, the club had the unique thrill of watching one of its previous sailing students, Lynne Jewel, win a gold medal in sailing at the Olympics. Jewel is so thankful for the sailing lessons she learned at the club that she comes back each year to personally present the junior sailor award, which is given in her name. “It’s just that kind of program” says Nugent. “Folks never forget what it brings them.”

For those that love the thrill of competition, PYC also maintains an active Performance Handicap Racing Fleet, which provides opportunities for experienced yacht owners to race their larger vessels in the waters off Plymouth. Junior sailors learn from experienced instructors and coaches who are US Sailing Certified, and include current collegiate sailors. Those same vessels are used for adult lessons offered all summer as well.

PYC also offers services to transient sailors who come to visit Plymouth by boat. “We are the eyes and ears out on the water and along the waterfront too,” says Nugent. “We don’t rent moorings, but we do provide a launch service. When you pull in as a guest we treat you as a member for the day.” (The club charges $50 for this service, which allows guests access to showers, lockers, the grounds, the Topside Bar and whatever events may be going on at the time. It also often means members toasting you, introducing you around and making you feel like one of the group, a PYC tradition.)

“When folks come here for the day we don’t just welcome them here at the club, we direct them downtown to the restaurants, shops and sites. We make sure they enjoy the entire town.”

Families cherish the close-knit community environment and social opportunities that club membership provides. “People who were children here take a brief hiatus and then come back with their own children in tow,” says Nugent. “I think that’s a tribute to what kind of club we are and what we are about.”

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