AYC's beginnings were in 1886 as an informal canoe club.
A building was constructed two years later on a pile of oyster shells at the foot of Duke of Gloucester Street, which, in 1888, became the clubhouse for the formally organized Severn Boat Club. This oyster pile was rented from St. Mary’s Church and was next to a rickety wooden bridge across Spa Creek.
In 1904, the first records of meetings indicate a membership of 30. In 1910, the first wharves were built, and the first club manager was hired in 1911 at a salary of $15 a month. Members began to acquire small sailboats and organize club regattas. These were uncomplicated affairs held on Memorial Day and Labor Day. Shell and canoe races started up Spa Creek at Old Woman Cove and ended at the Eastport Bridge. There were also swimming races and diving competitions. The club owned several single and double shells, two four-oared shells, and was given an eight-oared shell in 1911 by the US Naval Academy.
A Post-War Renewal
World War I and the depression slowed boating activities until the mid-30s. A hurricane damaged the clubhouse and the wharf was reduced to pilings in 1933, and it was difficult to keep the club’s quota of 100 resident members. By 1936, there seemed to be little interest by members in the club and changes were needed. With renewal in mind, in 1937 the Annapolis Yacht Club was incorporated and the first formal regatta was held that year. The Fall Series' first year was in 1940 with five boats competing. World War II interrupted organized racing, but in 1946 the Spring Series was started with three classes – 30 Square Meters, Stars, and Chesapeake 20s. By 1948, Moths, Comets, and Hamptons were also taking part. The Annapolis to Newport Race started as Newport to Annapolis in 1947, and has been run every two years since. A dining room was added to the club in the late 1940s, and in 1948, the first Smoking Lamp newsletter appeared as a single page mimeographed sheet.
The Junior Fleet
The Junior Fleet started in 1948 with six Dolphin sailboats. In 1953, the first Fleet Trophy was presented to Nancy Scofield, and interest in the Junior Fleet brought hundreds of young sailors onto the water. By the late 1960s, International 420s were replacing the vintage Dolphins, and the Club's record in the early '70s included many Chesapeake Bay championships and North American Junior trophies. Members of AYC's Junior Fleet have gone on to become successful racers.
Wednesday Night Races: An Annapolis Tradition
Wednesday Night Races were the brainchild of P/C Gaither Scott. After seeing the Wednesday Night Races at East Greenwich YC in Rhode Island in 1958, Scott inaugurated midweek racing at AYC in 1959. No race committee, no prizes, no scoring, but there was a picnic supper after sailing. “S” boats, H-23s, 5.5 meters, Bermuda One Design, and Rainbows raced, but interest waned in the mid-60s. To correct this, smaller classes of boats were invited, and in 1965, 35 boats entered the series. By 1967, 112 boats were taking part.
Frostbite racing began in the winter of 1962-1963. Seven Rainbows were the inaugural class with five short races a day, starting and finishing at the club. Gladiators joined Frostbite racing in the fall of 1963, and MORC made the third class in 1964, when the Board of Governors officially recognized the Frostbite Series as an official event. The first Hangover Bowl (New Year’s Day) was on Jan. 1, 1966.
A Need for Growth
By 1959, membership had risen to 1000 and a new club building was badly needed. This was opened in 1963, with the first deck left unfinished due to lack of funds. Frostbite and Wednesday Night Racing soon demanded more club social space, and the Skipjack Lounge was finished in 1969. The land across the Eastport Bridge was purchased in 1969. The Junior Fleet was established there and a new building for them was completed in 1995. In 1989, women were welcomed as members, and the White Rocks Marina property (now the Sailing Center) was added in 1990. The club’s first official one-design fleet, the J/22, was started in 1991 with a crane added to Harborside for launching of the boats. The clubhouse again underwent a major renovation in 1995.
More than a Club...
In December 2015, Annapolis Yacht Club's Main Clubhouse at 2 Compromise Street suffered a fire. A temporary clubhouse was then opened, where operations continued until the reopening of the Main Clubhouse in September 2018. The Sailing Center, which opened in early 2019, is the new home for the many sailing activities that will define AYC sailing for years to come. Next to open in the summer of 2019 was the Activity Center, complete with swimming pool and full outdoor access for families to enjoy recreational activities that cater to members of all ages. These modern properties will be significant as we continue to expand services, programs, and events for our members and participating yacht clubs with the full support of a fabulous staff and volunteer membership.
Today, AYC is at full membership (1600 regular members) with very active social, racing, and cruising programs. Large international events such as the Star Class World Championship, Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship, and many North American championships are hosted every year at AYC. AYC is known worldwide thanks to the members who are prominent in participating in, promoting, and organizing the sport of sailboat racing, as well as those who opt to leisurely cruise the waters of the Chesapeake and beyond.