GTYC History

Written to mark the opening of the new club building in 2009 after the fire of April 2008 which irreperably damaged the facility which had housed the club since 1966

Opening the new building just in time for this year's season, GTYC's 50th year conjured a feeling of Phoenix rising from the ashes. To mark the transition, we looked back at the history of GTYC, to the founders and their commitment to start a Yacht Club on Grand Traverse Bay. A Record Eagle photo of the founders was published April 26, 1960 with the notice of a get acquainted dance to be held Saturday at Ray Darrow's Marina. That would seem to be the precursor of the annual spring Oyster Clam Bake membership drive party in more recent years. 

The formative first summers centered around Darrow's Marina on the site of today's Harbor West facilities while winter gatherings were held at local meeting houses such as Sleder's Tavern. In those early days, sail racing meant Lightning Class events although power boats were an active GTYC fleet as well. Indeed, there were power and sail fleets each with a flag officer. In 1966, an ambitious plan was launched to buy a waterfront property, the defunct Monta Mower factory. The founders reached an agreement with Gerald T. Montague for $35,000 and turned to the tasks of making the early 1900's structure into a proper yacht club. Most memorable of the transformation was removing decades deep grease from the building's interior. So began the GTYC membership tradition of "roll up the sleeves, get involved" participation. 

To this day, lawnmower parts emerge from time to time in the sandy bottom of the waterfront. Along the way, much of the original building was demolished to make room for parking, a sea wall was installed giving us the front lawn of today's Club, and a corner section of the interior was partitioned off, furnished with a bar and christened the Orion Room, later the Commodore's Room. 

The fleets ebbed and flowed, the Lightnings giving way to fleets of J-boat one-design keelboats, Lasers, Interlakes, Melges, and an array of larger yachts. The races evolved too, becoming longer and more adventurous with overnight destinations and lively social schedules around the Bay all the way to Charlevoix, Leland, Beaver Island's St. James Harbor and even Mackinac. Today's fleet ranges from Opti prams to veteran long distance blue water racers, trawlers, and speedy multi-hulls. 

In this fiftieth year (2010), the race program centers on Wednesday buoy races plus half a dozen distance races for the PHRF fleet. Tuesday and Thursday evenings are dedicated to Laser and Interlake fleets. In recent decades, Club members formed new fleets with new interests, cruising and ice boating. In the 1990's, a few "hard water" sailors found a way to add a whole season to sail racing. Their ice boats, mostly hand built and patterned after the 1930's "DN", a design only 12 feet long popularized by the Detroit News, are exhilarating fun skating at highway speeds just inches off the ice. The group has grown steadily and adopted the moniker GTIYC, " I " for Ice. The Club has hosted competitors for major ice boat regattas at the Nationals and Worlds level. 

At the turn of the millennium, members with a yearn to sail beyond the Bay formed the cruising fleet for those whose joy is in a timeless voyage and the destination. Cruisers host monthly dinners featuring distinctive themes with programs for the armchair sailor and the accomplished voyager. GTYC now counts among its members some with experiences and adventures every bit the equal of any glossy magazine piece whether it's a North Channel raft-up, a winter escape to the Caribbean or years of worldly navigation. At the fifty year mark, the Club is still growing its membership and interests and accomplishments. 

Fittingly, GTYC logged another achievement this year, being the first to win a new prize in a very old race, the inaugural Point Betsie trophy of the Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac. For the record, 2009 GTYC membership stands at 150 full voting members and 150 social members. It would be impossible to spend so much time talking with founding members, past Commodores, or second and third generation members without appreciating that the Grand Traverse Yacht Club of today is the sum total of all those people's efforts over the last fifty years. 

So it is that we start GTYC's second half century with a new building and an old commitment, a new outlook and old traditions. It was a privilege to pen the history during the Club's landmark 50th year. It does though cause one to ponder … which if any of those toddlers at yesterday's Christmas children's party will be crafting this page when the Club is celebrating 99 names on the Past Commodores list. 

Tom Cowell, Past Commodore 47

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