In a defiant move nine years ago, a group of Edgewood Yacht Club sailors, using a skiff, reached the docks where they kept their Sunfish sailboats and went out racing.
The docks and the boats had been spared from the fire that broke up during a winter storm rending the Victorian-era clubhouse to smoldering rubble on pilings about the waters. That “up from the ashes” frostbite regatta is traditionally held the Sunday following the anniversary of the fire.
The race was set for Sunday followed by a potluck luncheon from the new clubhouse overlooking the Providence River with a clear view of Conimicut Light and Narragansett Bay beyond.
Yet the forecast made it iffy. Temperatures in the 50s and 60s surely would give new meaning to frostbite sailing. Club members were good with that. As for forecast of rain, well, that hardly bothers sailors. It was the wind that had Stuart Malone, principal race officer for the Frozen Few frostbiting fleet, watching closely.
Indeed, sailboats need wind, but with sustained winds of 20 mph and gusts to 30 and more, Sunfish rigging starts to break. With gusts of more than 30 mph being recorded Sunday morning, Malone didn’t fuss around. Tradition was put to the side for the sake of sanity and safety.
So, when it came to the potluck lunch and members sat in rockers on the porch overlooking a relatively tranquil scene with plenty of blue sky and puffy white skies, the question of the club’s new commodore – the 81st since the club was founded in 1889 – was when would they be holding the race.
George Shuster Jr. didn’t hesitate to answer. There wouldn’t be an up from the ashes race this year. There’s only one Sunday immediately following the anniversary of the fire and they had missed it for 2020.
But that’s not to say that tradition doesn’t live on at EYC. Shuster is a testament to club lineage and the fabric of a club that has risen from the ashes and plays a role in the community.
Shuster’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Ed Bouclin, served as commodore in 1966. The connections between generations reach even deeper. The Lanphears lived close by to the Bouclins. They were sailors and club members, too. Clay Lanphear served as Bouclin’s vice commodore. Today, Jeff Lanphear, Clay’s son, who was commodore when the club burned and played an important role in its reconstruction, is a regular frostbite sailor.
Bouclin raced Beetle Cats – a 12’4” sailboat first built 100 years ago – with the Lanphears back in the 1950s and ’60s, and today Shuster and Lanphear race the boats during the summer months. That tradition will be carried a step further when EYC hosts the 99th annual world Leo J. Telesmanick (named for the builder of the boat that was designed and first built by the Beetle family on the Cape) regatta in August. Shuster anticipates 20 to 40 of the boats will be on the starting line.
With so much sailing and racing it’s no wonder, says Shuster, that EYC has earned the reputation as the “sailingest” of the Rhode Island yacht clubs. In addition to its own members, the clubhouse serves as the home for the Brown and Moses Brown sailing teams. Brown, which occupies the third floor of the clubhouse, played a key role in the rebuilding and financing of the new facility.
As the incoming commodore, Shuster is faced with a $60,000 program to rebuild some of the outer docks that take a heavy beating from nor’easters as well as re-decking some of the inner docks. He aims to make some landside improvements that took a backseat during reconstruction of the clubhouse.
He is also looking to strengthen community roots, as the clubhouse has been discovered as a venue for weddings, birthdays, parties and meetings. Last year, the club established a relationship with the culinary arts program at Cranston High School West under the direction of Steven Versocci. The class became active in catering events at the clubhouse, and starting next Sunday they will run periodic Sunday brunches at the clubhouse.
As another regular event on the calendar, the club holds Thursday pub nights. Both the pub nights and brunches are open to non-members interested in learning more about the club.
So, what’s the difference between EYC and the nearby Rhode Island Yacht Club that also shares a history of destruction – in that case it was the destruction of hurricanes?
Shuster points out that there isn’t a year when an EYC member leaves to join RIYC and visa versa. The difference is in the fleets. While EYC has slips and moorings for large boats, many of its members own smaller boats and actively participate in the hundreds of races held annually. RIYC conducts regular weekly races, but for the most part they involve larger boats.
“It’s a totally different operation,” he said. The relationship with the Brown and Moses Brown sailing teams also makes for a relationship where they share space and equipment.
“If you want to go to a club where the bar is open every night and a place to eat, this is not the place to come,” Shuster says.
The club has 150 members. Full membership dues are $1,000 for members who are keeping their boat on a mooring or at a dock slip. Dry storage membership is $450 for those looking to keep a small boat on the dock.
And if you’re looking for a club where even the ravages of fire can’t burn tradition – although high winds could cancel a race –then Shuster is sure to recommend EYC.
Other EYC flag officers for the year are Ken Gilbert (vice commodore), Vin DelloIacono (rear commodore), Chris Lee (fleet captain), Scott Manchuso (secretary), Bob Jones (treasurer), Karen Olson (assistant secretary) and Dan Bentley (assistant treasurer).