Olympia Yacht Club History
The Olympia Yacht Club was organized in 1889 as the Olympia Motor Boat Club and was reactivated in 1908 with 27 boats. By 1910, ninety members renamed the group the Olympia Yacht Club. By 1915, the club had moorings at the city dock and began leasing the boat basin from the Port of Olympia. OYC opened it’s first clubhouse in 1930, remodeled in 1952 and the present facility was built in 1957. The OYC lighthouse tower at the foot of Simmons street at the caretakers house is a remnant of the 1930's structure.
In the Beginning
From 1904 to 1915 Olympia Yacht Club was known as the Boat and Rowing Club of Olympia. During this period the ‘commodore’ was W.J. “Billy” Foster, an eminent local sailor. At the start there were approximately 25 members. Olympia Yacht Club was officially incorporated in 1904, with W.A. Van Epps as the first Commodore and was one of the first 14 Yacht Clubs in the Puget Sound.
Only four members have served two terms as Commodore – R.L. Blankenship, 1923-1924; Walter Draham, 1930-1931; Ernest Mallory, 1932 and 1943; W.W Metter, 1946-1947.
Originally the mainstation clubhouse was a two-story house-boat, known as the Snuss House, moored at the north end of the current entry ramp. Rowboats were stored on the bottom floor and the clubhouse was on the second floor. At this time the monthly meetings were for men only and it is rumored that there were 6 ‘one-armed bandits’ in the clubhouse! The Snuss House eventually left for a moorage in the Eastbay area, around 1940.
The Olympia American Legion Band was formed in 1925 and played their first civil event at the OYC Opening Day in 1925. They have played every Opening Day since that time.
The first Capital to Capital Predicted Log Race, 908 miles from Olympia to Juneau, was held in 1928. The 50th anniversary of the race, renamed the International Cruiser Race, was held in 1978. John Pierce, of OYC, won the 1928 race and Adolph Schmidt, also of OYC and one of the Schmidt family who owned the Olympia Brewery, won his class as well (and his navigator was Charles Chapman, the man who wrote the Chapman Guide to Boating, still considered the bible of boating). Adolph Schmidt won the race overall in 1931 and Dr. Frank Van Guilder won in 1947.
The first permanent mainstation clubhouse was built on pilings in 1932, in the area where we currently store carts. This later became the first caretaker’s cottage, when the first land-based clubhouse was built, in 1938. The lighthouse on this structure was built to house a signal light from the old wooden drawbridge that connected downtown Olympia to the Westside before the first permanent Fourth Avenue bridge was constructed. This building is now the caretaker’s cottage.
In 1954 the initiation fee was $50 and there were fewer than 100 members.
In 1958 the club purchased 21 acres with 750 feet of no-bank beach on Hartstine Island for its first outstation, at Flamingo Cove. The cove was named for member Roy Kimbel’s boat, Flamingo, in honor of his efforts to find, purchase and improve the property. Buoys, floats and upland facilities were established. This was used for 13 years, but its southerly exposure meant that it was very uncomfortable in the winter, severely limiting the outstation’s usefulness.
Originally the mainstation tide grids and a launching ramp were situated at the east end of the parking lot. Many of the older boathouses at the club were built on the ramp and launched with fork lifts.
The current mainstation clubhouse was built in 1962, and paid for with member bonds.
On October 12, 1962 the infamous Columbus Day storm struck Olympia, with winds of up to 70 knots (in some parts of the Pacific Northwest speeds of 170 mph were believed to have occurred, although the wind speed gauges disintegrated at 130 mph)! The 400 dock broke loose and was only saved due to the sinking of a boathouse that acted as an anchor. Gale Wagner in Chipper Boy assisted by running his boat against the dock until it could be secured. Another boathouse broke free from the 100 dock and slammed into the 300 dock, fortunately causing only minimal damage. OYC actually faired well in the storm: the Westbay Marina was completely destroyed, with parts of it being blown out to Squaxin Island.
Boats were smaller, fuel was cheaper and the budget for 1963 was $17,880 with revenues of $20,495. In 1964 there were only 135 members and the Commodore’s Ball cost $6 per couple. And gasoline was only about 30 cents per gallon.
A brief (and possibly apocryphal) history of Foofaraw (from the Olympia Chamber of Commerce’s point of view):
Foofaraw, the club’s annual celebration for the local military, began in the ‘60s and continues to this day, having grown in both participation by club members and enjoyment by the military. The stories behind the beginning of Foofaraw vary but include the late PC Dick Lewis working with the Olympia Chamber of Commerce to find some way to both honor the military and make Olympia more attractive to them at the same time. It has evolved into a day long celebration, sporting event and salmon barbecue that attracts more than 200 military and Chamber participants.
John W. ‘Bill’ Johnson worked for the Thurston county Chamber of Commerce back in the sixties. Some called him the ‘Executive Secretary’, others the ‘Chamber Manager’. Although Bill has since passed away, when his spirit looks down on Olympia each September he must smile with the satisfaction of knowing that Foofaraw, his idea more than fifty years ago, has become one of the Chamber’s most enjoyable annual events and is remembered warmly by military men and women stationed around the world.
Bill’s idea surfaced one morning in the coffee shop at the Olympia Hotel, where so many conversations over coffee were about Chamber matters. Johnson said ‘I have an idea on how the Chamber can make some good contacts with the military at Fort Lewis, Madigan Army Hospital, and McChord Air Force base’. So on a sunny Friday morning in September of 1962, a small fleet of about 15 boats headed north on Budd Inlet.
One dictionary defines Foofaraw as ‘much ado about nothing’ and, at one point in history the official ‘purpose’ of the day, said a ‘Foorarite has earned the right to say ‘Foo’ to all duties and responsibilities for one day each year.’
Foofarites gather at the Olympia Yacht Club the morning of the first Friday after Labor Day each year. Each skipper tells Foofaraw planners how many guests his or her boat can accommodate and they assign a mix of military and Chamber participants to their host’s boats. Each Chamber member pays a hosting fee to attend Foofaraw. Those fees assist in paying for the food and refreshments.
After a period of athletic events, watching those events and much socializing, Foofarites enjoy the traditional barbecued salmon, baked beans, salads and garlic bread. A big favorite are the wonderful cookies provided by the Yacht Club Cookie Ladies. There’s plenty for everyone and even the most diet-conscious Foofarite is tempted to try ‘just a little bit more’.
After some more casual athletics and a lot more socializing, the thoroughly fed and relaxed Foofarites wander back to their boats for the leisurely cruise back to Olympia. Most get back to the Yacht Club about five that afternoon. Everyone seems to linger, not wanting to see such a wonderful day end and not wanting to say goodbye to his or her newly found shipmates and friends.
The Chamber gives each military installation a quota of people they can bring. The quota fills quickly. One military commander said the easiest job he ever had was filling his quota for Foofaraw.
In the late ‘60s interest arose in finding a better outstation site and several properties were examined before one member happened to notice that the island across Pickering Passage from Flamingo Cove was for sale. The house was of no known architectural style and appeared to have several ‘mystery’ rooms and the tiny dock attached to the bridge would go dry at low tide. In 1971 this property, now known as Island Home, was purchased for $10,000 plus the old property on Hartstine Island. At the time the vote was very close and many were convinced that the club had made a poor investment!