Bass River is one of the oldest yachting and racing centers on the Cape. Given two sailing vessels within sight of each other and headed roughly in the same direction, you have a race. So, with the advent of summer visitors sailing for pleasure in the 1890’s, it is hardly surprising that such casual contests evolved into planned and scheduled racing over a designated course and gained enough attention to have been noted in historical records. This activity does not, of course, constitute a yacht club, and thus the entry in Lloyd’s Register of American yachts for 1975, page 659, under Yacht and Sailing Clubs showing that the Bass River Yacht Club was organized in 1896 may be considered more enthusiastic than accurate. The formal organization of a yacht club in Bass River, with a name, a burgee, an elected Commodore, and meetings of the membership had to wait another 35 year.
We may borrow from the detailed history of the club’s early days as gleaned from the early yacht club logs. The passages in italics that follow are from that history.
There was some informal racing in the early 1890’s and in 1896 a series of races started for catboats about 21 feet at the waterline. At first there were only three or four of these boats in races held every Saturday, but later the fleet was larger, and in some cases the races were run on a handicap basis because of the considerable differences in length. Some of the larger catboats varied the usual large mainsail with a long boom and also had a long bowsprit and a large jib.
There were no jetties in those days, and the boats started off the river mouth and raced out around a black spar off the stone breakwater, around another offshore buoy, and then back to the river. Often the races were three times around and cash prizes were offered so that considerable talent, of which there was much in those days, took an active interest in the races. A little later, the lower end and north of the river were buoyed with markers that carried red and green lights at night. One of these original lights was for years on the entrance drive to Ship Shops, the marina next to the club. farther up the river, the channel was often marked by pine stakes – plain stakes to starboard and “brush” stakes to port (this was a common practice on the northeast coast in years gone by.)
Around 1898 there was also racing in flat-bottomed skiffs which were steered with an oar in a chock over the stern or in the leeward oarlock. These races were often three times around the island, and it took real skill to beat to windward in these boats. There was a class of about eight of these skiffs, of which the ‘Clam’ and the ‘Haricot Verte’ were the most famous.
In 1902, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts built the eastern and western jetties. Both jetties were originally built of wood and suffered considerably from winter storms. Much later the outer end of the eastern jetty was rip-rapped with stone, and in 1948 (after a winter in which great quantities of sand washed through the wooden part into the river creating what we know as ‘Eastern Beach’) the stonework was continued all the way inshore. The western jetty, which is now of stone, was extended one hundred feet to sea, and a new light was placed at the tip.
There was steady racing with several classes until 1910. Charles H. Davis in this period had such famous boats as the beautiful sloops ‘Atilla’, ‘Hun I’, ‘Hun II’, ‘Kentenia’, and a series of powered craft called ‘Ildico.’ The last of these, Ildico IV, performed what is claimed to have been the first rescue of shipwrecked mariners by a gasoline-driven vessel when the schooner ‘Charlotte T. Sibley’ went aground in 1907 between Bass and Parker’s rivers in a fall southeaster. There were often open races at Wianno and Hyannisport, and at times some of the largest boats would go as far afield as Chatham, Buzzard’s Bay, Nantucket, and New Bedford. After 1910 racing lapsed for a time, but later was taken up by several skippers and their Wianno Seniors (the same class we race today). The large catboats were dying out with the advent of the one-design concept which eliminated questionable handicaps and pitted skipper against skipper.
Around 1926 the Cape Cod Baby knockabout Class began and along with other factors stimulated the idea to formalize a yacht club at Bass River to handle the races. It became apparent that regular, formalized racing was needed. In 1931 the Bass River Yacht Club was organized and started for the first time. This year also saw the first official meeting of BRYC.
The meeting was held in what was then known as the ‘Chart House.’ It was actually a studio/office that contained many large road charts of the entire US road system. The first commodore received from his employer the gift of a sea chest which contained a burgee designed by his company’s art department. It became the club burgee and is still in use today.
Again from the history of the early logs:
About 1934 the Beetle Cat class was started. The first beetle on the river was even sailed to Nantucket and back to prove its seaworthiness to the other potential buyers. By 1948, the beetle fleet numbered over 50 boats, in spite of the heavy losses to the hurricane of 1944.
A high point of every season has been the trip to Edgartown where the Knockabout and Wianno Senior fleets participated in the annual Edgartown Regatta. Although the weather has presented us with everything from no wind at all to a very severe blow in 1956, a beautiful fleet is always found there and the regatta is one of the largest yachting events in Southern Massachusetts. In 1948, five of our Beetle Cats sailed under convoy to and from Edgartown and returned with almost all of the silverware offered for the Beetle class. Not a bad take for the Beetle Cat fleet’s only visit to Edgartown! in recent years, only the Wianno Seniors have represented Bass river, but the Wianno Senior fleet is now the largest one-design class in the regatta.
In the years after WWII, the Beetle Cat class began to slowly decline. The Knockabout skippers moved into Wianno Seniors. Just after the war, the Knockabout fleet was our largest number of headsail boats but slowly disappeared. The number of Wianno Seniors increased slightly but some were lost to the Stone Horse Yacht Club in Harwichport. The Wianno Senior fleet has remained numerically about the same to the present day.
Around 1954 the club obtained its first clubhouse, an old boat house which was relocated and refurbished. For the first time we could carry out our own events; the club was officially incorporated in 1956. Shortly thereafter the club purchased its first committee boat, named ‘Commode,’ but changed hastily to ‘BRYC-a-brac.’
In 1961 the club had a chance to buy a house and property with river-front property. The Board of Governors and many of the members had come to realize that we needed waterfront property to carry out our responsibilities as a yacht club. However, when the property came before the Yarmouth Board of Appeals for a variance, we lost the appeal. The abutters and the neighborhood association fought us, causing the loss. However, with this loss came the chance to buy property at our present location on Pleasant Street.
In the later 1960’s, programs were implemented to draw capable people into the club’s management with the advantage of some years of experience before being plunged into the most responsible assignments; this resulted, as might be imagined, in more capable financial management as well as a seasoned executive group steadily replenished as newcomers were brought in.
The official records of any yacht club list the officers, the governors, and the trophy winners, but BRYC has always had another side to it. As in governments, businesses and families, yacht clubs never have enough money to do all the things they’d like. In the case of Bass River, this led to the sort of bootstraps financing which tends to prevail in Cub Scout troops, churches, PTA’s, and other volunteer organizations; the ladies took a hand. They have provided, ever since we have had a clubhouse to contain the functions, programs of parties, dinner, and auctions. Cocktail hours, fashion shows, and an uncounted list of other activities for which the membership happily paid modest fees to facilitate the club’s income. in most cases these events have been headed by the Commodore’s wife, but some of the more indefatigable ladies have taken more upon themselves when the Commodore’s wife was not one who enjoyed this sort of endeavor. To pass these intrepid damsels without note is unthinkable, but comparison or omission might be grounds for keel-hauling. We will ask you to call up in your mind’s eye the charming presence of our five most overworked, but ever gracious hostesses. If you happen to pick the wrong ones, the problem is your own!
We should mention that the club has become more complex than it once was. In 1965 it was decided that the club needed a steward. There has also been a demand for swimming training for the children, a practical and indeed a necessary adjunct to any boating activity. And a yacht club might be expected to be a source of knowledge in its specialty; we teach sailing. We have had our share of enthusiasts who have brought these things to fruition, often by means of a great deal of time and effort and their own money expended.
The first BRYC cruise was undertaken in 1975 and many cruises have since followed to places such as the Maine coast, the Chesapeake, and the Caribbean. With the later addition of a new wing onto the clubhouse which connected the main building and the boat shed, our social facilities were greatly increased.1981 marked the 50th anniversary of the formal organization of the Bass River Yacht Club, and the celebration to commemorate the event left no survivors.
The 1990’s have seen many changes around the club. As our membership and programs have continued to grow, so have our facilities. We acquired a boat shed and expanded our dock facilities after Hurricane Bob hastened the planned enlargement of our existing dock in 1991. Recent additions include an outdoor patio, a refinishing and remodeling of most of the interior of the clubhouse, and the addition of an outdoor awning over the main deck. And now, a long way from the days of cloth sails and wooden jetties, we have a place in cyberspace.
As a group we salute those most actively engaged in the Bass River Yacht Club’s ongoing history: officers, governors, committee chairpersons, and most, perhaps, the quiet workers who work because they enjoy it, and because they do it well.