The place, Black Rock, a historic seaside area of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The time, June 1919. World War I had ended only seven months before. A group of sea-loving buddies had been meeting next to the rock pile at the foot of Seabright Avenue when they decided it was high time to found a yacht club.
After much deliberation, they decided to name the club in honor of Captain Fayerweather, a seafarer, who had been one of the early settlers of Black Rock. The charter members, Dick Terbeck, O. Bloomer, R. True, Paul Lang, John W. Bast and William J. Newton held their meetings by candlelight. When the candle burned down the meeting was over.
An old shed near the rock pile served as the first club house. The rent, $15.00 a month, soon became a burden for so few members. It was decided to reopen the charter and solicit new members at the charter rate to help with finances.
By 1936, the Fayerweather Yacht Club was prospering in a modest way. There were lockers in the shed and a meeting room upstairs. There was a float for tying up skiffs and a sandy beach where an old marine railway still led down to the water. The railway was a handy place for hauling boats. An old apple tree stood nearby affording welcome shade to the men who often gathered under its branches to talk about boats, fishing and events of the day. The old apple tree also served as a “Dead Man” to which tackle could be fastened for hauling boats up the marine railway on a bed of planks and rollers.
In 1936, a crisis occurred. The owners of the club house raised the rent. At that point, the members tried to negotiate a purchase of the site but funds were lacking and the club wasn’t organized enough to undertake a major fund drive. Eventually the property was sold and the club was forced to find another location.
A nearby property was located and purchased for $4,500.00. Farseeing members created the Fayerweather Holding Corporation which controlled and sold the stock that made the purchase possible. The property and building thus acquired fronted directly on the harbor at the end of Brewster Street. The building, a Customs House in colonial times, had been converted into a charming private home but was now in disrepair. No plumbing or heat, only a central fireplace to ward off the cold. In addition, there were many small rooms. Extensive remodeling was needed in order to make it a suitable clubhouse.
The improvements were made with money from fund raisers. By April 1938, an enclosed porch had been added to the south side and a locker room to the north. These changes occurred while Herbert Duncan served as Commodore from 1936 to 1943.
During World War Two, members of Fayerweather supported the war effort by purchasing war bonds, donating to the Servicemen’s Fishing Tackle Fund and sending Christmas boxes overseas. It’s interesting to note that dues were reduced at this time to 75 cents a month. Following the end of the war, $600.00 was appropriated for a welcome home party for local returning veterans.
The club continued to expand after the war and a Club Steward, Paul Voight, was appointed at a salary of $25.00 a week. In addition, he shared in half of the profits from the sale of gasoline and oil. The Club Steward was the modern day equivalent of a Club Manager. Diesel tanks were added and three guest moorings were installed.
In 1947, the club’s first television set was purchased. This was followed by the acquisition of a new tender in 1948. Uniformed tender boys added a nautical touch. By this time there were 430 members and an up and running active racing program. The Bishop Cup race and a regatta in conjunction with the Black Rock Yacht Club were already established traditions.
Capital improvements continued during the 1950’s. Four new floats, built at City Island, were installed in front of the clubhouse. In 1951 the hoist was designed and fabricated by Mr. Paul at a cost of $350.00. Three members, Messrs. Blagys, Secund and Wargo were given credit for the installation. In 1952, planning for a new locker building, to cost $8,785 was underway and the need for an important major improvement, a new sea wall, was under discussion. By this time the membership had increased to 473 members and the dues were $11.25 annually.
In 1954, the Fog Horn, the club newsletter, was founded thanks to the efforts of Charles Lane. And, by 1955 a new tender could be found at the dock.
In 1957, water activities focused on an overnight race held in conjunction with the Barnum Festival and Predicted Log Races were a weekly feature. This was the year the Annual Fayerweather Cruise had the greatest turnout ever. The highlight of 1957 was the founding of the Ladies Auxiliary which is in existence to this day.
The Ladies Auxiliary is an integral part of the club and is instrumental in providing funding for club improvements through their many fund raising endeavors.
By 1958, we find the club roster had grown to 500 members. A weather station, including a barometer donated by Joe Walsh, was installed and an original oil painting was presented to the club by artist Harry Hanson. The restrooms and kitchen were also renovated this year and nautical activities included navigation classes held at the clubhouse.
1961 saw the establishment of the South Yard as well as the paving of the parking area. The hoist was electrified and a major improvement was the construction of the sea wall at a cost of approximately $17,500. Steve Horvath acted as the contractor.
Water activities were plentiful. A club sailaway to the Norwalk Islands was held. Frostbite racing was approved and that year Terry Roach was awarded the Fred Newport Trophy. By 1967, 36 boats were participating in the Frost Bite Races.
The highlight of 1967, during the tenure of Commodore Steve Horvath, was the construction of the lighted outdoor dance floor. How many couples have romanced under the stars since then!
During the 1977 season, the nautical scene continued. To start, a Junior Sailing Program was initiated with over fifty children of club members taking part. Jack Norris conducted a sailing seminar and, a single handed race was held as well as an invitational regatta. All were well attended and the club thrived.
An interesting note for women members. Women were not allowed to drink at the bar during all this time. The club eventually showed some progress when the rule was relaxed to the extent that male members could sign a female member into the bar. Then, in 1980 the ban on women in the bar was finally dropped. You’ve come a long way, Baby! (No … they couldn’t live without us!)
Talking about the bar, let’s pause to acknowledge one of Fayerweather’s best kept secrets. In 1980 the John Nagy Fund was established. When John passed away he left a sum of money to provide for a yearly prayer and “toast” in his memory for his buddies. The tradition continues. Line forms to the right!
1980 was also the year Dr. Ivan Justinius donated the original Black Rock School bell to our club. The 150 pound cast bell now tolls on Opening Day in memory of deceased members.
In 1982, four members of the club were honored for the rescue of a young lady adrift on Long Island Sound. Terry Roach, his son Trevor, Vinnie Sproul and Dick Chantland received letters of commendation from the town of Fairfield for their successful efforts under exceedingly dangerous conditions.
Around this time, the tender and tender shack were outfitted with VHF radios and members who kept their boats on moorings in the harbor found it much easier to call the launch.
A renovation of major importance took place in 1988 when additional rest rooms were provided and a new kitchen was opened. This was followed by the construction of a new bar in the early 90’s which allows us to enjoy the beautiful view we now have of Black Rock Harbor and Long Island Sound.
Sadly, the early part of the decade saw the virtual demise of the Fayerweather Water Bug, the frostbite dinghy, which had served so faithfully. However, its place has been taken by the Laser, a new, vigorous and active class.
As always, in 1991, Fayerweather once again looked to Long Island Sound for fun and recreation on the water. Racing, cruising, fishing and power boating continued at a high level. The Shelter Island Cruise saw 23 boats participating under the guiding spirit of Bob Butler. This was the year Ray Hannon was awarded the Mid Sound Championship. Ray presented the trophy to the Commodore for display at the club. Interest in fishing was indicated by the continued popularity of fishing contests.
At our 75th Anniversary in 1994 the Fayerweather Yacht Club had 700 dues paying members, 235 life members and 10 honorary members. The club property is valued at over a half million dollars and new guest docks are planned.
In the Fall of 1999 the club made a “cool” move. Air conditioning was installed. It probably was the intense heat of the summer which made everyone a bit weary of the heat. The new millennium introduced the work or pay program. The membership agreed that volunteerism is necessary to keep the club in good shape.
Ongoing projects to the club have seen the installation of the new and extended docks starting in summer 2002 and completed in 2003. The inclusion of a pump out station was a part of the continuing club commitment to the respect of the sound.
Currently, there are Championship Races as well as the popular Wednesday Night Races and the Frostbiting sailors are more active than ever. In season, fishermen daily bring their catch to the dock to be prepared for the table. Club fishing contests are run frequently and are extremely popular.
An old and valued tradition continues today at the club as the members and Women’s Auxiliary gather on Good Friday to ready the club for the coming season. A grand by-product of this tradition is the wonderful camaraderie experienced and evident as everyone works together to spruce up the grounds and clubhouse.
Fayerweather Yacht Club is known all along the Sound as a fine example of what a yacht club should be. And to think it all started 86 years ago on a rock pile off Seabright Avenue.
By members Bob Kranyik and Leonard Kunin