The winter's chill brought with it the opening of a comprehensive exhibit on Port's nautical history, which opened on Feb. 1, in the Port Washington public library. The exhibit highlights the history of people, boats, and boat builders, on Ports waterfront going as far back as the mid-1800s. If you're interested in seeing it, the exhibit will run until the end of February. Consideration is being given to extending the closing date.
The sponsor of this exhibit is the Nautical Center, which was founded in the mid-1960s to raise awareness of Port's nautical history on the surrounding waters of Manhasset Bay and Hempstead Harbor. The exhibit was organized by the Nautical Center's captain resident Andrea Watson based on a concept advanced by Judy Geller in cooperation with the director of the Port Washington Library, Nancy Curtin. Andrea Watson, a resident of Port for over 30 years and a member of the Nautical Center for over 10 years, assumed the presidency in December 2006.
Nautical Center President Andrea Watson points out an historical photograph taken in 1965 at an assembly of the principals of the Port Washington yacht clubs in Manhasset Bay.
The exhibit documents the history of a number of yacht clubs, which have played an important historical role over the years in Manhasset Bay. A well-prepared complementary program for visitors links the numbered exhibits on display with a comprehensive explanation in the program. The history of some of Port's boating clubs is also in the program, has been excerpted for this article and is presented below.
The North Shore Yacht Club started life as the New York Canoe Club and enjoys the distinction of being the oldest organization of its kind in America. John McGregor of Scotland is generally believed to have developed the first sailing canoes. During the 1860s, he had at least seven boats built that he called the Rob Roys. He founded the British Royal Canoe Club in 1866. The New York Canoe Club, founded in 1871, was next.
By 1879, canoeing became better known and more popular probably due to the fact that sailing qualities of the canoe had been greatly improved. As the membership grew, a clubhouse became a necessity. The first one was located on Staten Island. The real canoe boom came in 1880 with the formation of the American Canoe Association at Lake George. About this time, the Royal Canoe Club of England developed a special type of sailing canoe, but this type of boat was not suitable for the open waters, riptides and strong winds of New York Harbor, conditions very different from the tranquil waters of the of the upper Thames. The Americans took an interest in the decked sailing canoe and this is what the majority of members of the New York Canoe Club competed in. The NYCC Challenge Cup was established in 1895 and has a long and prestigious history. It was won by the Royal Canoe Club of England in 1959 and has resided there ever since.
In 1965, three of the local yacht clubs, Manhasset Bay, Knickerbocker, and Port Washington (North Shore Yacht Club joined at a later date), formed one of the strongest yacht-racing organizations in the country. The goal of the committee was to unify yachting throughout Manhasset Bay and contribute to the quality of yachting on Long Island Sound.
Horseracing and boating may seem to be sports antithetical to each other yet oddly enough Knickerbocker Yacht Club traces its beginnings to a group of horseracing and boating enthusiasts. The story goes that 17 boating men from Harlem, City Island and Manhattan, who frequently met in Knickerbocker Tavern on Warren Street in New York City, boarded a train in Jersey en route to the Kentucky Derby. After backing the winning horse, the 17 yachtsmen met at the Knickerbocker Tavern and decided to pool some of their winnings, form a yacht club and call it 'Knickerbocker.'
From their first clubhouse on the Harlem River at 130th Street to Port Morris, then College Point and finally Port Washington in 1907, this yacht club is known throughout the world as a friendly welcoming club because of the Knickerbocker Cup, a match racing event started in 1983 by the late Ed du Moulin and the late Arthur Knapp, which attracts top match racing teams from all over the world.
From the 1870s through the 1890s, the period of national expansion that followed the Civil War, an explosion of interest was seen in the sport of yachting. It was during the Gilded Age that many yacht clubs were formed. During the winter of 1888-1889, William G. Neumann and a friend, George A. Corry, gathered around them a score of yachtsmen for the purpose of organizing an informal sailing club from which later sprung the Douglaston Yacht Club. By numerous regattas and social functions, the club actively encouraged racing through the 1890s in Little Neck Bay and western Long Island Sound. The lack of a permanent clubhouse, the gradual silting of Little Neck Bay and the mining of Long Island Sound in the Fort Totten area during the Spanish-American War caused the members to seek a better location in Port Washington.
On June 3, 1889, the Club's name was officially changed to Manhasset Bay Yacht Club. In 1902, a permanent clubhouse was erected which stood until 1929 when the present one was built. In 1902, Commodore A.H. Alker established the Manhasset Bay Challenge Cup, which is still being actively competed for today. It is the oldest yachting trophy competed for annually in the U. S.
At the club's hundredth anniversary, the United States Merchant Marine Academy Band presented a tribute to John Philip Sousa commemorating his membership in service to the club (he was entertainment chair for 18 years).
Just 16 local yachtsmen, oystermen, clam diggers and other waterfront businessmen organized what was at the turn-of-the-century called the Cow Bay Skiff Club. Their headquarters in the years just prior to 1905 were modest indeed, located in an old waterfront shack south of the town dock known as the Custom House. By the fall of 1904, others expressed interest in joining. With a charter list of 76 members, the Port Washington Yacht Club was founded with these stated objectives of 'encouragement of yachting, ice boating, rowing, athletics, sociability and recreation among its members.'
On May 30, 1905, at a location that later became the Purdy Boat Co., the club was officially commissioned. At the first annual meeting, it was reported that tennis was the best sport, not surprising that PWYC was initially begun as a field club. But with the club's growing interest in boating, the Port Washington Club officially changed its name to the Port Washington Yacht Club in 1910. The first PWYC clubhouse was a shorefront dwelling located in what was now the Bayview Colony, later to move, in 1908 to its present location.
The Mill Pond Model Yacht Club started informally before the turn-of-the-century when Charles Dodge, Fred Farmer, Harold McKee and John Erickson raced their homemade wooden model sailboats on the Mill Pond. After a time, they decided to form a club and the Mill Pond Model Yacht Club was born in 1898. John Erickson was the first commodore. The present clubhouse was originally a small waterfront shop and, after the 1938 hurricane, was moved to Smull Place and later to its present site of the head of Mill Pond.
Model yacht activities reached its peak in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. The Model Yacht Racing Union of North America was formed in 1898 to support activities in the New York City area and the Model Yacht Racing Association of America was formed in 1921.
A national championship regatta was held at Mill Pond on September 8 and 9, 1984. At that time the village of Port Washington North presented the club with a bronze plaque dedicating the clubhouse as a village landmark. It is on display at the club's entrance.
The Nautical Center is considering undertaking a number of long-term projects, which include the establishment of a nautical museum, a community boating center and the evaluation of the condition of the Stepping Stone Lighthouse in Long Island Sound. Those interested in working with the Nautical Center should be aware that the Center functions as a working committee. As a working committee, all members participate in the work of the Center. Interested parties may call the Port Washington Public Library for further details.