Clubs have been around for as long as mankind has shared common interests. In New England Yacht Clubs, the advent of yachting for pleasure rather than boating as a profession, plus the familiarity of famed yacht clubs in the United Kingdom and Europe, set the stage for these nautical groups.
Today, hundreds of yacht clubs from Connecticut to Maine operate from May to October. Some are known for racing, others are more social, several welcome both power and sail, many have junior programs, and just about all have full-service waterfront clubhouses. Most are private clubs rather than public recreational facilities.
That said, members of clubs either affiliated with U.S. Sailing or the National Association of Yacht Clubs can enjoy reciprocity. A letter of introduction prior to arrival paves the way. Beyond this, anyone can cruise by and admire the stately clubhouses as well as watch regattas underway. Here are eight notable New England yacht clubs.
Boothbay Harbor, ME
Called the Boating Capital of New England for the array of craft on its waters, Boothbay Harbor is a beacon for local and visiting yachtsmen who come to experience the fabled Down East cruising grounds and picturesque bay. Incorporated by the Maine Legislature in 1895, the club outgrew its original inner harbor location decades ago with its clubhouse, sailing center, tennis courts and docks now in West Boothbay Harbor. The signature fleet of locally designed 21-foot Boothbay Harbor One Designs launched in 1938 still sail. This year, the club added a vintage boat class to its annual regatta in July, a move that brings together its renowned racing tradition with the region's shipbuilding history. bhyc.net
Founded in 1869 after several Portland area yachtsmen cruised to Boothbay Harbor and back, the club is one of the oldest continually operated in America and has counted U.S. presidents as members, including George and Barbara Bush. A key attraction is its location on the shores of Casco Bay, where the 365-some calendar islands make for excellent cruising and natural marks for racing. The club started its first one-design fleet with a Starling Burgess sloop in 1903. The tradition continues with J/24s and Etchells. There's also Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHF)-scored races for cruisers. portlandyachtclub.com
Located 17 miles north of Boston, this 1866-founded club counts famous naval architect Nathanael G. Herreshoff, then still a teenager, as one of its original members. The club operated in six different venues through the years, but all operations are now in Marblehead. The membership is keenly sailing oriented, so much so that the start line of many races was reconfigured to be spectator-friendly, having the fleet sail toward shore before heading seaward. Hundreds of land-lubbing onlookers and often 400-plus spectator boats watch as yachts depart on the world's longest-running offshore ocean race, the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race, which starts July 11, 2021. bostonyc.org
The who's who founders and members of this 1885-founded club on Marblehead Neck include past and present boat builders and sailmakers such as John Rhodes, John Alden, George O'day, Ted Hood and Robbie Doyle. Today, the club is a hot spot all summer long, from junior sailing programs to major regattas hosted almost weekly from June to August. The signature event is the century-plus-old Marblehead Race Week, where 200+ boats compete in classes such as International One Designs, J/70s, Rhodes 19s and Viper 640s. Members, guests and friends of regatta competitors enjoy a front-row view from the porch of the 19th century clubhouse. corinthianyc.org
Located on Martha's Vineyard, what was once the main whaling wharf in Edgartown is now home to this club's facilities over the water. The first members in 1905 raced catboats, knockabouts and sloops followed by clambakes and ice cream socials. Nowadays, while dock space is limited, the town-run mooring field in the harbor is the best vantage point. The prevailing southwest breeze in the summer is extremely reliable, making for superb racing until winds lie back down in the evening. The club's major races, like its nearly century-old annual regatta, often maintain a crew board or listing of yachts looking for race crew. The quaint town, with its historic houses, restaurants and shops, is within walking distance.edgartownyc.org
Namesake of the famous 19th century keeper of the Lime Rock Light in Newport Harbor, the 1928-incorporated club is now rooted on this rock. The club's burgee gives a nod to Lewis, with the 18 white stars circling the blue lighthouse representing the number of lives she saved. Today, a small light on top of the clubhouse remains with a few artifacts on display, although the bulk of Ida Lewis memorabilia is displayed at the Newport Historical Society Museum. The club has an active summer-long racing and cruising calendar, with cruises to neighboring islands. ilyc.org
Rules are strict on who gets into the prestigious New York Yacht Club in Newport, a century-old residence modeled after a French chateau that the club purchased in 1988. Even from the outside, cruising by on Brenton Cove or from Sail Newport across the water, this piece of architectural eye candy is equally impressive when its fleet is docked and characterizes quintessential New England yachting. Those lucky to be invited on the grounds by a member can see the first clubhouse, an 1845-built Gothic Revival building, which was moved to Harbour Court in 1999 and is still used for meetings. nyyc.org/harbour-court
The Connecticut River and its beautiful view is the focal point for activities at this nearly 90-year-old club. Yacht racing happens most weekends in the summer. Regattas range from community-oriented events such as the Special Olympics Invitational Regatta in June on the club-owned fleet of Ideal 18's to highly competitive one-design, double-handed and distance races. Onshore sunsets are spectacular to see from the riverfront benches, grassy lawn or gazebo. The club is set in an easily walked nautical hub with the Essex Corinthian Yacht Club next door, the town dock next to that, followed by the Connecticut River Museum. essexyc.com