The Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club history began one lovely afternoon in August of 1935 when Arthur and Marjorie Johnson took Max Barbour canoeing at Long Pond. The Johnson’s wanted to fully show Max this beautiful sheltered haven with its many arms just 15 miles from St. John’s, and yet without a summer home on it. According to Arthur Johnson, Max’s mind took off like a rocket and he said, “Our maritime people must have a yacht club.”
The following spring on a cold day in April there was a meeting at Noseworthy’s beach, on the south side of Long Pond attended by Dinty Moores, Max Barbour, Gib Parsons, Arthur Monroe and Charlie Bell where they met for the first time young Ned Noseworthy who lived nearby. In a short while money was raised for a club by issuing shares and substantial land was purchased from the Noseworthy’s where a clubhouse 20 x 40 feet was built with washrooms, a kitchen, and a room where members could meet. Thus the Avalon Yacht Club was born.
According to a Daily News article of the time, the official opening of the Avalon Yacht Club took place on July 22, 1936. Dr. Will Roberts the first president of the club in his opening speech mentioned that amongst the activities would be boating and yachting, mackerel fishing and boat races etc. The first boats to join this club were four small speedboats powered with 32 hp. outboard motors. Max Barbour, though, was a sailing enthusiast who soon came up with the idea of a fleet of small racing sailboats. George Giannou remembers that “the following summer due to Max’s efforts about six snipes 15 1/2 ft. long, 5 ft. wide and each weighing about 500 lbs. appeared on the pond. Racing buoys were put down in 4 corners of the pond and whatever the wind conditions, we raced around three of them”. In just a few years these six snipes grew to sixteen with races on Wednesday afternoons, which was a regular half-holiday in those days. Competition was keen and very successful. Later there was also a Deep Sea Trophy for an annual snipe race around Kelly’s Island.
By 1938 the Avalon Yacht Club was operating within a much more impressive building on the same site. This was Oxley’s Pavilion a grand facility built by Harold Oxley, which had a swimming pool, dance floor, a large outside deck, a roof garden, wharf, dining room and a room for members of the Avalon Yacht Club. It soon encountered financial hardship and in 1940 Arthur Johnson took over management of this ‘Yacht Dance Club’. In 1942 it was occupied by the Department of Civil Defense and laid out as an emergency hospital in the event of an air raid on St. John’s. In the early hours of April 8, 1943 a fire broke out near the kitchen area and with fuel stored inside, the building was destroyed within minutes. Soon a group of men put up the money to construct a second Avalon Yacht Club, which was later modified and extended. It is presently the summer home of Art and Nora Cahill. The first Avalon Yacht Club prior to Oxley’s Pavilion had been divided for summer homes with Arthur Johnson taking one half and Dinty Moores the other. Meanwhile in 1950 when St. John’s harbour was getting quite crowded, it was decided by government to turn upper Long Pond into a secondary harbour where a large wharf was built and within a few years talc was shipped out. This created an opportunity for those who wanted to get involved with larger pleasure boats and within a year there were 10 power cruisers in the upper pond. George Giannou remembers, “We couldn’t join the Avalon Yacht Club as we couldn’t get down there.”
It was 1955 when the drawbridge, close to the site of the present Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club was removed to prepare the way for dredging. This act created ill will between the boaters and local residents who had previously had longtime access to the beach for caplin and for recreation. The following year in 1956 the upper harbour was dredged to make it larger and through the efforts of Ches Pippy and Jim McGrath who was the Federal Member, the channel to the lower pond was also dredged. This enabled larger boats to come down to the lower pond and by 1957 this powerboat group decided to establish a headquarters there. There was a small piece of land available on the point in the channel and it was purchased from Ewart Pratt and James Halley who had bought it a few years previously from the Bishop Estate. Shares were sold, other people joined and a building was constructed 20 ft. wide and 30 ft. long. This was the nucleus of the present building and the home of the Newfoundland Yacht Club whose first Commodore Dr. Dinty Moores served from 1957 to 1959. For the next few years two clubs existed on the pond until 1960 when Arthur Johnson of the Avalon Yacht Club proposed that the two clubs merge into the Newfoundland Yacht Club, which they did. In 1961 the swimming pool was built and it was in 1964 through the efforts of Cal Pratt and the offices of Federal Minister Jack Pickersgill that the title of ‘Royal’ was granted to the club. Written by Deanne Peters, April 2002, from a number of sources but primarily from the research of Mr. George Giannou and the late Arthur Johnson.
UPDATE – January 2017
In 2002 Deanne Peters compiled an early history of the club and described the origins and evolution to the point that the clubhouse was established on the present site. This is an update to give the current membership a better idea of the efforts of the previous members and executives to make the club what it is today. Just to give you some idea of the cost of the progress, in the mid 70’s there was an initiation fee of $100 and the yearly fee was $75. This translates to $578 and $434 respectively in 2016 dollars. The initiation fee was increased to $900 in 1991 ($1400 in 2016), and remained in effect until 1993 when it was dropped to encourage an increase in membership.
Clubhouse and Pool
In 1977 the club hosted the Canada Summer Games and many improvements were made for this event. A large renovation was completed in the basement and an addition constructed in the front of the club to accommodate a new ward room, locker room and washrooms which were later upgraded circa 1988. The lockers were then removed and the area now known as the Bell Room was created as well as the washrooms as we have them today. The large parking lot on the west side of the property adjacent to the Campbell property was paved at that time and the present chain link fence and entrance was constructed. Permanent moorings were installed in the pond to accommodate the 12 new identical C&C 24 ft keelboats for the games. Many of these boats remained in the local area for some time. A fleet of new lasers were kept in racks by the channel and launched near the western fence. It should be noted that the current manager’s office was a wardroom and was used for meetings. The manager occupied a small office at the back of the kitchen until the move in 1984. Back in 1977 there were 204 full, 5 senior and 23 junior members.
In 1980 there was a tragic event that resulted in a new chain link fence being erected to encircle the pool. During the Sailpast that year a young girl from the area walked onto the property while boats were on the water for Sailpast. When the boats returned she was found floating in the pool and was not able to be revived. It has been fenced and gated with a lock and supervised ever since. The pool was built in 1961 and there have been continuous repairs and upgrades including a new deck. Initially it was a salt water pool and in 1973 was converted to fresh water. In 1976 a new filter system was installed and in 1983 a new deck was installed. In 1984 there was a solar heating system installed, but subsequently removed at a later date. 2014 a new liner was installed to prolong its life. In 2015 new heating system was installed. The playground equipment is now within the pool area and has also been upgraded continuously. There has been continual maintenance done in the area such as decking and the removal of a diving board and water slide.
Inside the club things have also been progressing. One milestone was the introduction of Chargex in 1978 and in 1996 a minimum charge for kitchen and bar was introduced. In 2000 the club became partially smoke free and in 2002 100% smoke free.
The bar was redesigned by Philip Pratt and in 1985 a major renovation done to the bar area/dining area. A free standing fireplace was constructed to divide the bar from the upper seating area but later removed to provide an easier flow of traffic in the bar area. The copper hood from the original fireplace has been used for the new propane fireplace opposite the bar area. A room which was a former locker room and subsequently a kids’ play area was renovated with partial funds from the Bell family and later in 2010 the seating area in front of the bar was replaced by dining area and it was moved to what was referred to as the Bell Room and subsequently was officially named in honour of one of the founding members, Charles R. Bell in 2012. Flooring and new windows and a major redecorating have also been done to the main dining area as part of the upgrading to the interior as well and renovations to the lower washrooms and adjacent area. In 2012 the kitchen was significantly upgraded to comply with current building and fire safety codes with a fire suppression system and in 2014 with a new floor and grease pit. The ventilation system was previously upgraded to provide some relief for our long serving and dedicated kitchen staff. Downstairs in 1991 a door was placed in the main corridor and in 1996 there was a major upgrade to the washrooms including new showers and another upgrade was completed in 2002.
In 2010 a defibrillator was installed in the section which has access from outside at any time, though sometimes a key must be used. This key can be obtained by any member for a deposit from the manager.
In the 1970’s and 80’s there was a very active ladies committee that organized social events and raised funds by projects such as writing and publishing a cook book. The junior members were also an active group and organized their own social events.
Grounds and Wharves
The south wharf construction began sometime in the late 60’s and in mid 70’s and in 1981 a design was done and tendered for a floating dock system to accommodate a long waiting list for wharves. When the prices came in it was equivalent to a fixed dock which would have much lower life cycle and maintenance costs, so it was redesigned and for tendered again. To finance the project the club set up a program to prepay for a wharf space whereby each member had 3 options to put up the required $3000 needed to build the wharf. A deferred wharf account was set up for each member and was drawn down until the deposit was eliminated and then went on the current yearly fee. This practice was eliminated in 1997 when all users went on an annual fee. The design was to extend the existing south dock by 180 feet and to slightly extend and create several slips on the north wharf. In all, 29 new slips were created.
The first original 100 foot section of the south wharf was replaced with new construction in 2010 and in 2013 the remainder was replaced. Between 1982 and 2013 several major repairs were done including new outside piles and additional catwalks. In 2000 one of these wharf expansion and repair projects required some floating equipment and a pile driver was designed and constructed by the club. The club then leased it to a contractor who maintained it and did the necessary wharf work. This particular project was the addition of catwalks to many of the slips. The pile driver is still in the club’s possession and is in storage on the Perrin’s Road property where the cradles are stored during the summer. The Perrin’s Road property was purchased in 1973 for future haul out area but has subsequently been used for summer storage of cradles.
The north wharf began to grow in the late 70’s with an extension of 225 feet in 1977/78. The last extension to the north wharf was done in 1986. In 1991 additional piles were placed in the channel and 12 additional berths were created just past the current security gate. There have also been several upgrades to the electrical system on the wharves. In some cases members paid for an upgrade to a standard exceeding the club requirements.
The original fuel service dock was at the main section of wharf along the east side of the parking lot and the pumps were mounted on a concrete pedestal and the tanks buried in the lawn adjacent to the present flag officers parking. In 1991 the pumps were moved to the main wharf in the channel to provide two additional wharf spaces and the fuel tanks in the lawn were decommissioned by pumping them, flushing and filling them with sand. New self-contained and environmentally compliant tanks were installed at the west end of the property adjacent to the channel in 1993 and several members completed a new floating fuel dock and designed and constructed the anchoring system as well as the gangway. In 2002 the tanks were further upgraded.
Along the channel the concrete slabs protecting the foreshore were replaced by a crib work in the early 90’s when the Travel Lift was purchased. At that time an integral concrete base was incorporated for a future mast lift crane. Davis Engineering did the design for the marginal wharf in the channel as well as the bay need for the Travel Lift. It is a little known fact that the club received a sum of money from our federal Member of Parliament to purchase the materials needed for the Travel Lift bay. The timber was purchased and stored until the site was ready.
The domestic water supply was provided by a deep well drilled near the main door and a storage tank was erected in 1976 near the fence by the present Sailing School. There was also a playground there with swings and a sandbox. In the 1980’s the Town of Conception Bay South extended the water and sewer lines down towards the club and in 1986 the club was able to fill the storage tank with a hose from a hydrant. In 1989 a permanent connection was made and the club is now serviced by municipal water which eliminated the need for the deep well and the storage tank which was removed.
The club needed more property for boat storage and with the rezoning of the adjacent area which is now our upper lot, there was a high potential of this property becoming building lots. With dedicated work by some members an offer to purchase was negotiated which had to be ratified at a special meeting of the membership. The support from the vast majority of members including some founding ones made the purchase possible and the piece of land adjacent to our driveway from Dr. John Butler was obtained for what was perhaps a slightly less price than may have otherwise been realized. It was landscaped and drainage provided and has since become an integral part of boat storage and overflow parking.
The flagpole that was placed in 1977 for the Summer Games was originally placed much closer to the club and needed to be moved. A new base was built by several members and erected in its present position in 1991. On the club grounds a lot of effort has been put in by a few members to enhance the landscaping and flower gardens. Some members still contribute to the upkeep.
As mentioned above, the upper parking lot was paved n in 1997 as part of the Canada Summer Games and major repaving has been done as part of a maintenance program over the years. Security gates were installed in 2008 on the wharves and another mast rack added on the upper lawn. In 2001 garbage bins were placed adjacent to both docks.
In 1977, after a breach of the breakwater in front of the club, the channel was dredged to a minimum depth of 12 feet by Small Craft Harbours (SCH) who had jurisdiction and responsibility for its maintenance. There was a severe storm in the fall of 1992 which create a breach in several places with the worst one adjacent to the east end of the marginal wharf in front of the club. There was a large power boat berthed there and the debris from the breach very nearly pinned it to the wharf. SCH subsequently had the necessary remedial work done. One side note is that the winter before the breach there were 33 boats that remained in the water. The following year there were less than a dozen. This was not the last time this happened and it occurred again two years later when another storm caused another overtopping and part of the beach ended up in the channel a little to the east of the earlier one. In 2008, 2011, and again two years later several breaches occurred and once again the remedial work was done by SCH. Dredging was done by the club in the channel near the old service wharf in 1990. Over recent years there has been pressure on SCH to divest itself of the responsibility of maintaining the channel and they approached the club at times to take it over. The club considered this option but decided against it. In April of 2016 the Town of CBS became the custodians.
Haulout and Launch
With the ever increasing sizes of boats at the RNYC it was apparent that the continued use of cranes was becoming a significant safety and logistical nightmare. With a few incidents around the province and some damage to boats at the club, it cemented the resolve of the executive to find both a more flexible launching method and one that would reduce the level of risk that increases with the need for larger equipment for the growing fleet.
The club needed more space for boat storage and up until that time the club hired cranes each fall and spring to haulout and launch. The launch was usually the last weekend in April and haulout was usually the last weekend in October. A core group of members with experience around heavy equipment organized the procedure with help from as many members as would participate. The masts were pulled by boom trucks the weekend before haulout and placed the weekend after launch. This was a system where most club members participated and it all happened within the span of a week or two. With the purchase of the Travel Lift this activity was spread out over a longer time, but was inherently safer and more convenient.
The Travel Lift came into being when the Newfoundland Government decided to get out of the Marine Service Center business and put 3 machines on tender. The club submitted a bid for one of them and was successful in obtaining a 17 year old 50 ton machine that was located in Old Perlican. Paddy Miller was contracted to deliver the unit by barge and the machine was landed on our property on July 2, 1991 ready for use. The next year a lifting bay was completed and thus began the lifting of boats on club property with the club’s own machinery. Cranes were used on a part of the property where the Travel Lift was unable to operate until 1995 when a boat moving dolly was constructed by several club members. Initially the club hired a tow truck when needed but subsequently purchased an old farm tractor. In 2000 a loader was rented and later a new one was purchased in 2006. A mast transport device was constructed which eliminated the need to carry the masts by hand. The club has since added a few more of these.
The slipway in the Travel Lift bay was constructed using prefabricated concrete slabs and in 2013 the upper section was replaced by a poured in place reinforced slab. The first few years of operation several club members drove the machine until we hired permanent operators. The current yard crew have become skilled operators and have maintained the machine to ensure safety and operational standards. They also operate the mast lift crane.
The club had a lease for waterfront property to the southeast on the adjacent pond that was set up by Arthur Johnson which was used to haul out larger power boats. This property was supposed to be maintained by the club and there was even a court case at one time where this was in dispute. Once the Travel Lift came into existence and with the purchase of the adjacent Butler Property in 1998, the Johnson Property was no longer needed and was subsequently released to the Johnson family in 2015. In order to accommodate the lifting of masts, a Pitman crane was purchased in 1995 from Capital Crane and mounted on a steel pedestal on the marginal wharf in the channel.
Racing/Cruising/Learn to Sail
The club has hosted several major national regattas and events. In 1983 there was a flotilla that sailed from Ontario to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the colonization of Newfoundland. In 1987 a group of over 40 boats from the Cruising Club of America (CCA) cruised to Newfoundland. The CCA sailed to Newfoundland again in 1999. The club hosted Sail East in 1993, 1997, and again in 2004. In 1993 the club hosted the Canadian Keelboat Championships and in 1997 the club was visited by the Matthew as part of the Cabot 500th Anniversary celebrations. As part of that celebration there were over 70 boats that sailed from Ontario, some of which remained at our club when it was over. In 2015 the club hosted the International Sailbot Competition which was won by our local team from the MUN Engineering school.
Racing has always been an important part of the club and moved from snipes to larger keelboats as they became a part of the fleet in the late 60’s and early 70’s. There were traditional club races such as the Bean Crock which was the last race of the season and the previous winner cooked the beans in the trophy received that year. The Newfoundland Cruising Club sponsored the Discovery Day Race from St. John’s to Long Pond and also the Confederation Cup in September which included a mark off Brigus. Race Week began in 1980 and in 1983 Grand Marnier was secured as a major sponsor. When Grand Marnier gave up the event in 1989, Bill Matthews Autohaus came on board until 2009. Iceberg Rum carried on until 2012 and BMW took it up until 2015 and it is somewhat in limbo and we are working on obtaining another long term sponsor.
Participation was at its peak in the 1980’s when there were 4 full racing divisions and also a white sail division. For a typical race week back then there would be between 20 and 30 and sometimes more boats consistently on the line. However, participation was down to 12 boats in 2016.
In the Discovery Day Race of 1986, the one in the picture in the Bell Room, there were 40 boats including participants from the Holyrood club. There was also a very successful Ladies Series from 1989 to 1996 which had a fleet of boats sailed by ladies only with the exception of one male on board who was not allowed to handle the wheel or any lines but who could coach and act in an emergency.
In 2014 the racers were treated to a visit by the newly crowned America’s Cup skipper, Jimmy Spithill from the Oracle syndicate. Speaking of royalty, Prince Edward visited the club in 1978 and had a day on the bay.
One last bit of racing history is that the marks we conveniently use in the bay were placed as navigation marks by the Coast Guard in 1992.
The power boaters have also been active and have organized annual events such as the Poker Run. Other events have included such things as the Predicted Log Race and a Scavenger Hunt.
The Labour Day Cruise has been a perennial combined event for the sailors and the power boaters with destinations including Middle Arm, Bay Roberts, and Brigus, It is the culmination of the season and includes the Commodore’s Cocktail Party. When the weather is inclement or at the discretion of the Commodore of the day, the event is held at the club.
The club initiated its own junior sailing program in 1978. The Newfoundland and Labrador Sailing Association (NLSA) provided instruction for junior dinghy sailing over the years at various locations and in 1984 gave the club its fleet of sabot prams. In 1994 the NLSA moved the Learn to Sail operation to the club and arranged to have floating docks constructed and placed on Mr. Phil Keeping’s property to the east. Subsequently the club bought the assets in 2001 and the next year operated the program. In 2004 the concept and planning for a dedicated building for junior sailing was initiated with plans drawn up in 2005 and in 2007 the club did a major fund raising project and the club began the construction of a new Junior Sailing Center. Past Commodore Christopher Pratt made significant contributions with the donation of some of his prints to be used for fund raising for this project as well as other events. Mr. Phil Keeping was very generous with donations to the program and made his own property available for boat storage and operations and constructed a dedicated dock for this purpose. The new building was subsequently named after him at a dedication ceremony in 2009. In 2010 a Hinterholler 28 keelboat was added to the sailing school fleet by its donation from Pierre DeRuelle. In 2015 a Grampian 26 was also added. These boats are now used for the very successful adult Learn to Sail program.
In the 1990’s and in early 2000’s the club sponsored several rendezvous in Bonavista Bay and one in Trinity. These were wonderful events and gave the power boaters and the sailors a great chance to get together outside the club environment. The most recent was an event in Terra Nova Park in 2004. It is too bad that this tradition has not been carried on and should be revived at a later date.
RNYC hosted the first Easter Seals Regatta in 1990 which began as a national event organized by yacht clubs across the country as a means to raise funds for the Easter Seals program. This event ran until 2014 and raised well over $500,000 in total.
Another aspect of the club is as a base for the Inshore Rescue Base in Conception Bay for the Canadian Coast Guard. The base was established in 1983 and has been a fixture from May 24 to Labour Day ever since. The CCG frequently uses the club as a training facility for an annual course for their personnel who crew the RIBs during the summer. The RCMP also uses the club from time to time when there is a fleet of grey RIBs. Over the years the club has hosted workshops like Cold Water Boot Camp from Professor Popsicle and many safety courses under the flag of CYA, now Sail Canada. Through the CYA many members have obtained their power boater operator’s certificate (PCOC).
The club came into the age of the Internet and a domain name was selected and registered and the initial site was constructed and went online in 1999. The site has been modified and updated several times since. A weather station was added in 2004 and soon after was linked to the website. The following year came a webcam and in 2009 Wi-Fi was added with access from the wharves. There have been several attempts at a newsletter, initially published in 1980 with the next being the Plimsoll which ran from 1984 until 1996 followed by another newsletter in 2000-2001. After a hiatus came Spindrift in 2010 which ran until 2015. All were an important means of communicating and are missed when not continuous. There was a major facelift of the website in 2014 in association with a local IT company, Triware. The site has since been upgraded to accommodate mobile devices.
The club was formally incorporated in 1976 and the first members’ handbook was published. In 1989 a review was made of all the club minutes available and from it came the revised club handbook now in use. Since then there have been periodic updates as required and as such it has become a living document. In 2004 the handbook and constitution were placed on the club website.
Work on the constitution and bylaws was precipitated in 1988 by the introduction of the Companies Act by the Government of Newfoundland. The constitution was rewritten and formed By-Law 1 under the new Companies Act. Part of a major revision to the constitution done in 1993 included the structure of the Flag Officers and Executive. The original constitution provided for a Fleet Captain, Rear Commodore, Vice Commodore, and Commodore. Each position moved up the ladder to Commodore. This was changed to eliminate the Fleet Captain and allow for 3 Rear Commodores, any one of which could be voted into the position of Vice Commodore, depending on personal circumstances at the time. As membership categories evolve and other fine tuning done on our rules, so does the constitution.
The club got its first female Commodore in 2008 when Janet Organ was elected.
As a club it is important to bring forward the members’ desired visions how the area will be both maintained and evolve to meet the current and future need of the members.
As can be seen, to get the club to the current situation has been a true effort of many hands both seen and unseen. Further efforts with both sail and power vessel training courses, and potentially with other water craft can lead to greater comradery and events for the enjoyment and benefit of all boaters.
The challenge in the future is for all newer members to support the club and help it develop and improve.