History Of Port Orchard Yacht Club

By Rosie Atkinson

When the town now known as Port Orchard was platted in 1886 by Frederick Stevens, a railroader from Illinois, it was already a thriving business and residential community.

Frederick named the new town “Sidney”, after his father and in 1892 Sidney became the county seat. The town’s name was officially changed to Port Orchard, also in 1892 by petition.

Some years later several downtown businessmen and a few Puget Sound Naval Shipyard employees who owned boats, decided they needed a yacht club. Most of these fledgling yachtsmen moored their boats at the docks next door to the east of the present club site at Lieseke’s dock (also known as Port Orchard Marine Railway) along with the work boats and the fishing fleet such as it was. Russ Sweany, a local real estate broker, couldn’t see a yacht club happening in Port Orchard anytime soon. He cruised his boat under the Manette Bridge and through Port Washington Narrows to Bremerton Yacht Club and asked if he and his wife could become members there. They wanted to belong to a club that had some moorage and the Bremerton club seemed to have everything a boater could want. They had just recently been established as a yacht club and their property was on a protected bay just inside the approach to Dye’s Inlet.

They were denied! They went back home licking their wounds when a short time later they got word from the Bremerton club with the reason they were rejected: The BYC members had already decided to help the the Port Orchard yachtsmen form their own club.

That’s about how it happened in 1956, according to the late Kit (Katherine) Hall. Kit was widow of the POYC’s first commodore, Russell Sweany.

We were really feeling sorry for ourselves,” Kit said, “But it turned out all right. We were glad to have our own club after all.”

Soon after the club got going we bought the Concordia, an old Mosquito Fleet ferryboat from the Lieseke’s. That leaky old ferry boat became our first clubhouse. Before that we met in each other’s homes and on each other’s boats. There were just a few of us. We could all fit aboard one of the member’s boats in those days.

After we got the Concordia, for about $1,000, we really felt like a club. Russ was elected as the first commodore (1956-57) and we were accepted into the group of 14 clubs, then known as Puget Sound Inter Club when one of the other clubs withdrew. (The group’s name was informally changed in recent years to “The Grand Fourteen”).

Early on, in 1956, the members voted to charge everyone an additional $100 because we needed the cash! The ones who paid became Life Members. Those first few years we had a lot of social events aboard the Concordia, like Halloween and Valentine dance parties and box socials. But we were still hurting for funds, even with the recruiting efforts of Ross Powell, a local pharmacist, and other downtown business owners who grabbed the lapels of other downtown business owners trying to get them to join. In those days a rowboat in your backyard qualified you as a member.

A few of the members who rode the ferry to Seattle jobs, collared the neighbors on the boat. One of the commuters to Boeing, Charlie Atkinson, who had a boat on a trailer in his backyard, remembers Bob Drew pressuring him to join. The initiation fee was $36 and, because that was a lot of money for a young guy with six small children, he asked if he could pay on the installment plan. That was in 1960.

“We held a contest to design a club burgee,” Kit said, “And Helen Heister presented the drawing the others liked the best.” The white fouled anchor on a navy blue background with a red triangle is the burgee, or pennant, that has flown from every POYC vessel since.

About a year after the club was organized the women decided to form their own group, patterned after the Bremerton YC Skipperettes and the Queen City of Seattle YC’s Tarettes. The name chosen was Commo-Dears. Ann Hannah was the first president. The Commo-Dears met topside of the Concordia in the passenger cabin and the men met down in the car deck area.

Land for the club was purchased or donated in bits and pieces. According to John Bruckart, second POYC commodore, “The club purchased Oscar Ramsey’s old log dumpsite to the west. Then there was some adjacent land further toward Port Orchard owned by Herman Cohen of Seattle. The club purchased this waterfront and rented out the two existing houses until they could be torn down to make way for more club improvements. Bill Wilkins, who owned an oil delivery business (upland of the waterfront a little further to the west) sold us another 100 feet.”

Then there was a boundary dispute between the club and Gordon Howe who finally wound up donating a chunk of land where the dock and gate is located in exchange for membership in the club. We were also given the land by Howe where some old fuel tanks were situated.”

As space became available for parking, there was talk of building a clubhouse to replace the old ferry boat.
The Concordia was finally retired in 1969. The new owner of the old ferry towed it away from the moorage into Sinclair Inlet while some of the members standing on the dock prayed to heaven the bilge pumps wouldn’t fail until it was out of sight!

After the Concordia left the area, social functions, and at least a few commodore and junior officer events, were held at Parkwood Community Hall or Myhre’s Restaurant meeting rooms. The little shack, another leftover from the Ramsey operation, was a temporary meeting place before it became a storage building. At least one commodore’s breakfast was held in the little building which became general storage for a time and has recently been remodeled to serve as the club’s office and computer room.

Building the new clubhouse was the club’s first encounter with environmental concerns. Members got up close and personal with the Department of Ecology, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other watchdog agencies dedicated to protection of wildlife in and around the yacht club property. After two years of applying for permits and generating reams of paperwork construction began. The clubhouse was finally completed in 1978.

The past commodore’s cocktail party, traditionally held immediately prior to the Commodore’s Ball each year, was begun by Russ and Kit Sweany who hosted the first one at their home. Another tradition was the breakfast hosted by the Commodore after the ball, usually at the home of the Commodore or at a local restaurant. Ed Branes was the first commodore to host his counterparts from the other 13 clubs in the new clubhouse, a tradition that has held to this day.
Since everybody liked the breakfast idea, some of the members decided to hold a breakfast at the club on the first Sunday of the month, a popular event that draws around 75-100 members and guests to this day. The money raised goes to make club improvements, such as the barbecue shelter located west of the clubhouse.

The first POYC yearbook was published in 1968 under the direction of then-commodore, Fred Cohen. Of the 113 members listed that year there were 13 who had been members since 1955.

The CHART, the club’s monthly newsletter, was started sometime in the early days and grew from a one page, one side, typewritten and mimeographed sheet to the computer generated publication it is today.

The work dock, also a part of the old Ramsey logging operation, was rebuilt and used by members who liked to do their own hull scraping and painting. It can no longer be used for those purposes because of environmental regulations, but is still used for non-hazardous projects such as hull inspections. Ongoing work parties by club members to construct new additions and maintain existing building, grounds and moorage are still the status-quo in this hands-on yacht club.

Since the club’s beginning POYC has continued to grow in size and prominence among Puget Sound yacht clubs. Today members can still enjoy cruising to nearby destinations throughout the year a list of which is found in the club’s yearbook. Some of these rendezvous have been in place since the club was formed by a handful of couples bent on having a place to keep their boats.