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Comments on the History of the Pentagon Sailing Club for the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the club

Presented in discussion format by three of the club’s early Commodores: Russ Peter, Rich Payne & Larry Dawes at Murphy’s Old Town Alexandria, VA, Oct 16, 2022

1982:  Pentagon Sailing Club existed as an Authorized USAF MWR program through the Pentagon Welfare and Recreation Program, along with ski club, marksmanship, tennis and golf teams.  I became aware of the sailing club shortly after my arrival in Washington on orders to the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in late 1982.  The club 15-20 members met occasionally at lunch time in the Pentagon for discussions and to conduct MWR club business.  Limited access to Flying Scott 19’ boats for instruction was available at the Belhaven Marina.  

1983-1984:  Discussions (lunch time conversations, etc.), with Russ Peter and several others led to a challenge to club members to organize an actual sailing event which generated interest among members who were boat owners, and others anxious to explore the sailing that the Chesapeake offers.   The first on-water, underway event was a Columbus Day Raft-Up, complete with custom “crew shirts”.  Three or four boats rode at anchor in St. Michaels that weekend, and over “grog” and shared food, members spawned the idea of creating a more formalized club structure, with a training plan to encourage and qualify those with interest in sailing.    The club subsequently adopted a typical yacht club officer/committee structure the following season with Russ Peter volunteering to act as Commodore.  Bob Howe was his #2 as Vice Commodore and Larry Dawes agreed to head up the training program.   

1985-1986:  The club operated as a USAF MWR program, with a membership of approximately 80 active duty military and DOD civilians and with a formal training plan structured to the Navy’s standards (U.S. Navy Sailing Association PQS criteria) with an additional certification of “watch-captain in encourage those aspiring to attain Chesapeake ‘Bare Boat’ skipper to train on cruising boats.  However, a change in MWR Policy by USAF Welfare & Rec where fewer dollars were provided to “club” activities provided the impetus for the club to align itself more closely with the Navy Sailing Association with sponsorship by Naval District Washington.  Club leadership met with CDR Dave Loop (Naval District Washington) and an agreement was reached that provided the club with access to the existing Anacostia waterfront boat house and marina for sailing ops and the upper level of an adjacent building with several rooms for conducting classroom training.  The club lent encouragement and support to the Anacostia MWR program director for operation of the marina and with that assurance of support to help maintain boats, six O’Day ’17 boats were moved from the Solomons Island Rec facility to establish the PSC/Anacostia training fleet.   The arrangement enabled the club to hold basic sail training 4 consecutive Saturday mornings each month May through August.  

The members who successfully completed the basic training could use the boats for recreational sailing Weekly afternoon “social sails”, when non-qualified members were matched with those the club had trained provided a couple of hours of fun sailing each week. The training scheme provided a creative way for members to acquire successive levels of qualifications by volunteering their time as on-water, in-boat instructors for the basic program in exchange for access to the more advanced training opportunities.  Club members with leading instructor responsibilities were certified to U.S. Sailing Association standards thanks to partnering with the Annapolis based Navy Sailing Association for instructor training classes.  Some members also joined the U.S. Naval Academy Sailing Squadron (NASS) to attend classes there and ultimately serve as “safety officers’ and coaches of the midshipmen seamanship training program.     

 From the PSC Annual report - “Thus, in 1986 sailing season, members had the opportunity for … basic sailing to senior skipper certification level certifications”.  In addition to on-water instruction, the club conducted safety/seamanship, coastal piloting, marine systems training and celestial navigation classes.    To conduct intermediate level on-water training, the Club added an O’Day 23’ to provide members with qualification to operate a sail boat with auxiliary power and equipment that allowed for night sailing.   Meanwhile the bay sails and raft-ups continued to be a significant draw to club membership.   Over the two-year period the club trained 107 new sailors, added 29 that were certified on equivalent experience, and qualified 36 as basic training instructors (capable of conducting on water training with novice crew.   Over that same two-year period the club qualified 32 bay “crew” and 8 bay “skippers”.  Membership was now approximately 180 members, and monthly meetings at the Anacostia Officers’ Club were well attended. 

1987 - 1990:  New leadership – For Russ, Larry, and many others, in this time frame, changes in duty assignments occurred.  The club continued its vigorous training, social and Chesapeake Bay programs with leadership from Rich Payne, Stu Yuill, Bob Howe, Bob Hawley, Frank Ylinen, Stacy Himes, Scott Cerrone, George Nippell, Don Hupman, Dave Kane, Marica Green, Nat Harrison, Conrad Townes, Elvia Thompson, Janie Allen, Gay Baker, Nelson and Judy Chandler, Mary McGrath, Rick Baker, Pete Peterson, Bill Galbraith and others. These are just some of the names that I remember and I’m sure I missed many.   The club operated out of the Anacostia marina and established relationships with other yacht clubs and sailing organizations in the Washington D.C. area.  It was during this period the club established a number of events and activities that became club traditions: a small boat racing fleet that trained skippers in the “racing rules of sailing” (I understand the racing fleet still exists).  Elvia Thompson among others originated the “Hydrilla Cup” as a challenge event that pitted men and women crews racing against each other for the bragging rights for the following year.  I’m led to believe it still occurs in late fall each year.  

Along with the River programs, the Bay program remained a huge success and bare boat charters with PSC trained skippers and crew became a normal week-end activity.  The club arranged a seasonal charter of an Elite 32’ cruiser, “inherit the wind” that along with other chartered boats made voyages around the DELMARVA Peninsula for offshore/near coastal navigation training.  Night transits through the C & D canal and an offshore leg to Chesapeake Light were qualifying runs for many PSC members.

 I remember one such trip with four (4) would-be Bay Skippers using charts and DR nav tools and techniques to navigate their way through the shoals around Cape May.  A retreating storm stalled over the offshore leg and gale force winds and rain produced rough sailing that eventually meant proceeding with minimal sail area and with waves crashing over the transom to douse the helmsman tethered to the pedestal and struggling to hang on.  Another DELMARVA trip included a period of time becalmed just several miles from Chesapeake Light in heavy fog.  Hearing rather than seeing big ships making their way to the mouth of the Bay was a bit unsettling.  Fortunately, we had good sound signals, a radar reflector and an ADF radio bearing receiver with which to establish our position and remain clear of the shipping lanes under power until the fog lifted.   This was of course pre-GPS nav suites on charter boats.

During this same period, under the direction of Rich Payne, the club established its own unique Club Burgee, and established a “ship store” for the purchase of sailing attire & club logo apparel by club members.  Rich and others on the bridge recognized the volunteerism in the club with drink glasses and coffee mugs sporting the new club burgee.  They also established the tradition of hosting an annual Christmas Party when volunteers and leaders of the various programs are recognized. 

Addressing the need to keep fully qualified, well experienced members involved in support of the training program, a unique category of membership called the “Old Salts” was established.  Its intent was to provide recognition of long-term commitment to the club, keep senior members engaged with club activities and provide a cadre’ of seasoned sailors and advisors to the club’s current bridge officers.  Inspiration for the “Old Salts” resulted from a photograph in the Navy Yard Museum of four “Old Salts” sitting on the fo’c’sle of a 18th century sailing ship.  “Old Salts” are nominated and elected by the club officers typically one each year with the announcement of new “old Salts” made at the annual Christmas Party. 

My memories of PSC and the many events that I participated in include: the many Chesapeake Bay Raft-Up weekends, complete with a stop in Knaps Narrows to pick up a bushel of oysters and crabs to share with the other PSC boats in the raft.  Progressive dinners aboard while anchored in St. Michaels and of course the memorable dinners ashore where members might acquire the Nic-Name “trash man” like Bob Proctor did while at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels.  Ask around to hear the story.

In the mid-90’s when Navy eliminated their support of the Anacostia Marina, the club transitioned to the Boling Air Force Base MWR marina as their host marina.  The club continued however, to utilize Navy Sailing Association materials and U.S. Sailing Association instructor training classes.  Over the next decade, training materials and certification criteria based on those of American Sailing Association (ASA) became the training model.  It was during this same period that the club petitioned for and gained recognition as a 501C-3 organization, and broadened its membership eligibility to everyone. 

I thank you for inviting me and my fellow past Commodores to share some of the history of the creation and early days of the club; and I congratulate the current leadership and members of the Pentagon Sailing Club for continuing to evolve its programs and activities that provide sailing opportunities in the National Capital Region.  Sailing and introducing others to the sport was fun then, sailing is still fun and I wish all of you and the club many more years of safe and fun sailing. 

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