AMERICAN BOATER SHARING A LOVE FOR THE WATER BY MICHAEL VATALARO
A BURGEE AND AN IDEA
“Virtual” yacht clubs run the gamut from online forums to successful cruising clubs
REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE A KID and you’d spend the summer scouting secluded locations in your neighborhood to build a secret clubhouse? There, you and the rest of the kids on the block could while away the days making up passwords, arguing about secret handshakes, and excluding your little sisters and brothers. If you were really into it, or had relaxed parents, you might even have secured
a piece of plywood up a tree somewhere as a base of operations.
PHOTOS: MIKE DYSLIN; INSE TS LEFT TO RIGHT: MICHAEL CRAIG, MIKE DYSLIN, ANDREW SCHILLING-PAYNE
Being social creatures, our instinct to belong to and identify with a
group is strong, and often times in society such groups form around
a physical place, like a church, community center, or in colonial
times, likely a tavern. But in this connected era, many of us would
argue that the physical place is optional. Bill Falk is one who probably agrees with that. He’s got a more informed perspective perhaps
than most, given that he’s both a professor of sociology at the
University of Maryland and commodore of the Back Creek Yacht
Club (BCYC), a “virtual” yacht club with members up and down the
“The costs of acquiring a club space on the water with a building or
dock are very hard for a group to afford. Unless a building is folded
into a new development deliberately, it’s hard to see how a new
yacht club with a building and such would come into existence.”
“’Virtual’ for us means it’s not brick and mortar,” says Falk. “We
don’t have a building fund, maintenance, or personnel. We’re virtual
in the sense that we’ve got no costs or administrative headaches asso-
ciated with a building. Instead, the focus becomes 100 percent about
having a good time.” Absent a clubhouse or facility with slips, the
benefits of a virtual yacht club come from the interaction with other
like-minded individuals. “It’s all about the people,” says Falk, who’s
also a member of a traditional yacht club with facilities on the West
River in Maryland. “Virtual clubs are totally driven by the social side.
They create a virtual community linked by a common ethos, created
and sustained by social relationships.”
BCYC members can expect a full social calendar, including an
annual black-tie commodore’s ball, an average of at least two events
a month, including midweek “On The Hook” meet-ups, and a bevy
of club cruises around the bay. The group of around 120 or so boat-
ers is a half-and-half mix of power and sail, and very active around
the region. During the group’s weeklong annual cruises, it’s not
uncommon for 24 or 25 boats to participate. BCYC keeps dues to a
minimum, and the dollars collected go toward activities, which help
keep members engaged.
Given the scarcity of developable waterfront, and the costs associated with purchasing existing properties on the water, Falk sees
any future growth in yacht clubs as coming from the virtual side.
A MEET-UP FOR SAILORS
Trending more toward the truly virtual end of the spectrum is the
Virtual Yacht Club, a roughly New Hampshire-centric collection of
sailors (and their online profiles) who interact using a web-based program called Meetup. Founded in 2009, the group is now shepherded
by Bob Janson, Rachael Schilling-Payne, and her husband Andrew.
During the offseason, members of the group can propose a meet-up, generally a potluck or happy hour, in order to socialize with
other members and get to know one another before boating together.
Then, during the season, boat owners in the group will post sailing
plans to the website on a Monday, announcing needs or availability
for crew spots onboard for that weekend. Membership dues are just
$10 annually to help offset the cost of the website. Around 100
people are registered to the group, but as with many associations, a
core group of 20-25 actively participates.
“You’re putting boat owners together with prospective crew,
people who want to learn the art of sailing,” says Janson. “For me, I
don’t have family around, and to get out on the boat takes one more
person, so this is a way of meeting other sailors in the area.” For
Janson, who splits his season on the boat between Kittery, Maine,
and Scituate, Massachusetts, the varied locations let him sail with
other members from up and down the coast.
“We have members from Maine to Massachusetts,” says
Schilling-Payne. “With the geography of boat owners being in
different harbors, the Meetup group is the best way to communicate. It’s better than having a fixed location in some respects.”