History of the Houston Yacht Club
In 1897, after a summer filled with boating excursions, sailing parties, and two hotly contested regattas, a group of yachtsmen organized what is today, the oldest yacht club in Texas, the Houston Yacht Club (HYC). Dan E. Kennedy, a former Texas Ranger, was elected the first commodore at a meeting held in the Binz Building, Houston's first skyscraper, on February 2, 1898.
In 1905, the Members reorganized as the Houston Yacht & Power Boat Club. Members continued to hold meetings in downtown Houston and moor their boats at the Club wharf on Buffalo Bayou near Allen's Landing. The purpose of the Club was to promote and encourage the sport of boating, and to maintain a cleaner and healthier bayou. Lumber magnate, John H. Kirby, donated his steamboat, the Lawrence, for Members' use and to promote interest in Houston's fledgling ship channel and Galveston Bay's commercial and recreational potential. After two years the Club reorganized as the Houston Launch Club.
The Launch Club, with its impressive fleet of motor cruisers, continued to meet downtown until 1910, when Members built a clubhouse on Buffalo Bayou in Harrisburg, opposite Brady Island and today's Port of Houston turning basin. In addition to encouraging and organizing sailing, powerboating, and canoeing events, Members also continued to focus on the development of the ship channel and Houston as a deep water port.
After World War I, the sailing Members, ready to compete in regattas with other clubs in the South, began a movement to relocate the Club to Galveston Bay where practicing their sailing skills would be more convenient. The organization had joined with other southern yacht clubs from Florida to Texas to found the Gulf Yachting Association in 1920. In 1923, these HYC Members established a sailing facility in Seabrook known as the "Houston Yacht Club, Launch Club Bayshore Home."
In 1926, a movement began to sell both properties and pool resources to build the present-day Shoreacres Clubhouse. Retaining the Houston Yacht Club name and the burgee of the Houston Launch Club, they moved into their "magnificent and commodious" Spanish building in July of 1927. This impressive stucco building, affectionately referred to as the "Pink Palace," has provided a hospitable and luxurious home on the Bay for Member families for over 90 years.
During World War II, the Clubhouse was occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard, which converted it into a training facility. As in World War I, Members and their boats went to war and powerboats were used to help patrol the Houston Ship Channel, by now a vital oil port.
During ensuing decades, the Club expanded its mission in various ways. The youth sailing program, the Ragnots, was organized in 1957 and annual week-long Ragnot camps were begun in 1977. From learning fundamental boating skills, to fun on the water, to competitive racing, the program has flourished over the years and has produced many young champions including several Sears Cup winners.
In the 1980s, women Members began meeting informally in the summer for sailing lessons. In 1983, they held an overnight sailing camp - Windward Bound. It is believed to be the first event of this type in the nation. Following Windward Bound Camp, the HYC Women’s Sailing Association was established and continues to sponsor and support women’s sailing endeavors including financial assistance for women sailors and annual women’s regattas.
In addition to the original purpose of supporting the sport of boating, over the years HYC has carried on its commitment to public service and charitable organizations, including supporting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Blind Sailing Association, the Elissa Tall Ship, the Sea Scouts, the La Porte High School Sailing Team, and the Special Olympics.
1997 marked the HYC Centennial and was commemorated with a year-long celebration. From a kick-off 1897-style summer picnic to a glamorous culminating ball the following spring, a speaker series, regatta, and themed wares sales were part of the observance. Several permanent legacies of the Centennial were left to the Club. The Centennial Room (a special area created on the second floor) features a handsome donated trophy case to display the Club’s important memorabilia. A Centennial painting was commissioned by renowned marine artist, Al Barnes, to hang over the Centennial Room fireplace. It depicts the Harbor, Clubhouse, and representations of many of the one-design and other cruising and powerboats that have been active at HYC for 100 years. The Texas Historical Commission awarded the organization a state historical marker, now erected at the entrance. And, in 1998, the definitive Club history, From Buffalo Bayou to Galveston Bay, by HYC Fleet Historian Dora (Sam) Akkerman was published. The author followed with a second edition in 2007 on the occasion of the HYC's 110th year.
In 2017, (when the Club was 120 years old, and the Clubhouse, 90) the long-held dream to have an exhibit highlighting HYC’s honors and achievements over a century-plus, was realized. A beautiful display entitled “Houston Yacht Club - Home of Championship Regattas” was installed in the lobby. On it are listed some 150 events including twice winning the prestigious US Sailing St. Petersburg Trophy. Yachting achievements of individual members (nearing some 200 names) include regional, national, and international champions; America’s Cup contenders; and Olympic medalists (these are listed in the history book appendix and on the HYC website).
In 2022 Texas’ oldest yacht club, is looking forward to celebrating its Quasquicentennial - 125 years - of fulfilling its mission to promote the sport of yachting, to give valued community service, and to provide a home on the Bay for its Members.