When the first cannon was heard in Marina del Rey at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, the County Fire Department, County Sheriff’s Department and County Lifeguards were ready.

Instead of rushing to arms, officers joined Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club commodores and guests, who applauded and cheered as the Stars and Stripes, officer flags and yacht club burgees hit the top of the mast. The first club was now formally commissioned and the spring boating season was open.

The annual Opening Days celebrations for seven members of the Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs (ASMBYC) took over the Marina this past weekend. Marina del Rey yacht clubs hosted a huge guest list that included local and county dignitaries, club bridge officers invited from the 94 Southern California Yachting Association (SCYA) member clubs and associations from Santa Barbara to San Diego — plus their own members.

After Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club came ceremonies at California Yacht Club, Marina Venice Yacht Club, South Bay Yacht Racing Club, South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club, Pacific Mariner Yacht Club and Del Rey Yacht Club.

TRADITION, RITUAL AND DRESS — The tradition of opening day ceremonies harks back to yacht clubs in more frozen parts of the world, where thawing out people, clubs and boats for spring was definitely cause for celebration.

Though Southern California clubs never close, and we have seen a number of major racing events already this year, the idea is that clubs are officially commissioned every year for the spring racing and cruising season.

This spring rite has a very practical side too. As new club officers travel up and down the coast, they meet their counterparts from the other four harbors — Newport, San Pedro, San Diego and Santa Barbara — and have an opportunity to discuss and trade harbor, club and boating issues.

Also, entertaining visiting officers means sprucing up one’s club to show it off to best advantage. Polishing up for Opening Days includes not only clubs, but people and boats. Around the docks you will see boats festooned with red, blue, yellow and white patterned international code signal flags, pennants and burgees.

The bible of boating, Chapman Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling, defines the proper order for formality-challenged Californians: two letter flags alternate with one numeral pennant starting with “A” at the bow waterline, up to the top of the mast and ending at the stern waterline.

Dignitaries and club members are recognizable by the almost universal classic blue blazers decorated with gold or silver stars, signifying rank, and bullion — badges — embroidered with flags signifying club membership, and white pants and skirts. There is a Southern California Yachting Association protocol book for all this, and it says that whites officially are worn the first week after daylight saving time begins, which just happened to be this past weekend.

There is one more area of ritual. Each club’s ceremony includes the presenting of colors, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, singing the Star Spangled Banner, an invocation, the commodore’s remarks, the introduction of the officers and the introduction of literally everyone who signed in.

MAKING THE ROUNDS — However, once past the formalities, the emphasis this past weekend was celebratory. Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club commodore David Lumian announced the good news that the club had successfully negotiated and initialed a document with the county extending its lease five- year agreement with a three-year option (on the part of the county). He also said he has a commitment from the County Department of Beaches and Harbors that the club will definitely have a building for the foreseeable future.

At Pacific Mariners Yacht Club (PMYC) on Sunday, commodore Ted Woolery confirmed the memo of understanding between Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club and PMYC that the two clubs had a nonbinding agreement to work towards launching a new yacht club. Lumian said they were going to have a contest to select a new name.

At Marina Venice Yacht Club, commodore Gary Green (a South Bay Yacht Racing Club staff commodore and rear commodore of the Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs (ASMBYC) spoke to the diversity and strengths that all the clubs bring to the community. This was pertinent in light of the potential SMWYC/PMYC union. In a conversation at Marina Venice Yacht Club (MVYC) after the ceremony, SMWYC commodore Lumian pointed out that PMYC brings strong fishing and powerboat interests that will complement their sailing, cruising and junior programs.

The South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club (SCCYC) Sunday morning ceremony began with humor. When their cannon refused to ignite in the damp air Sunday morning, the cannoneers hollered, “Boom! Bang!” to much applause.

SCCYC commodore Jerry Magnussen was celebrating the club’s 75th anniversary, in honor of which Supervisor Don Knabe sent a handsome calligraphed certificate of commendation.

Of interest is a brief saga Magnussen related about the original club burgee. The burgee went off to Alaska with Wylie Post and Will Rogers. When they got to Barrows, Alaska, August 15th, 1935, they postmarked it and sent it back to the club before continuing on their ill-fated journey, which ended in their crash in northern Alaska. That burgee is framed and hanging in the clubhouse.

The coincidence of St. Pat-rick’s Day falling on Saturday, the first Opening Day, decidedly added to the merriment. But at California Yacht Club it exceeded all boundaries.

So what are the odds of a true Irishman commissioning his club on St. Patrick’s Day? As born-in-Dublin commodore Frank Glynn put it, with a lilt in his voice, “Years ago, the ol’ staff commodores, realizing opening days would fall on St. Patrick’s day, scoured the roster to find a na‘ve, unsuspecting Irish lad to go up the chairs in time for St. Patrick’s Day.”

His commodore’s remarks were quite entertaining and throughout the festivities all club members mentioned had an “O” in front of their names, if there wasn’t one already.

Loyola Marymount University chancellor Patrick Cahalan, S.J. gave a stirring invocation on men, the sea and ships. He is a veteran of CYC Opening Days.

Staff commodore Tom Leweck interrupted the program (only a trusted few knew about it) to announce they were not going to be able to raise the CYC burgee, which is blue. There was some consternation throughout the audience among those wondering what had happened.

“We had a choice of breaking sacred tradition or of not offending St. Patrick on his day,” Leweck continued, whereupon, with some quick sleight-of-hand, his companions in crime swiftly raised a new CYC burgee — in brilliant emerald green — to fly at the top of the mast. The guests cheered.

For the third year, Marina Venice Yacht Club shared its ceremony with South Bay Yacht Racing Club (SBYRC), which does not have a land facility. In turn SBYRC lends its racing management expertise to MVYC’s new officers and members.

Commodore Green and SBYRC commodore Jerome Sammaracelli simultaneously exchanged salutes as individual guests were named. In a nod to CYC, Commodore Sammaracelli could not resist reporting, “France beat Ireland in the rugby championships.”

AWARDEES — Prominent awardees that were present and recognized over the two days included:

ASMBYC Yachtsman of the Year — Jerry Martin from King Harbor Yacht Club.

Davie Poe Memorial Service Award — Ann Sachs, Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) director, CYC.

SCYA’s Club of the Year was awarded to three clubs: Senior Club, DRYC; Regular club, SMWYC; and Association, Fairwinds Yacht Club. Three clubs from one association is quite an honor.

It is unusual for a boat fleet to receive accolades; in fact I don’t recall it ever happening before. At SMWYC, junior staff commodore Harlan Holmes recognized sailor Jim Durden for bringing home the hardware from two very challenging events: the ASMBYC High Point Championship and the Yacht Racing Union of Southern California (YRUSC) award for the boat with the best score in the most competitive fleet at the PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet) Championships. What was the boat? A Martin 242.

Then CYC gave the M242 fleet its Boat of the Year trophy. Five members all sailed their Martins to separate championship victories.

Marilyn Hoenemeyer received CYC’s Michael F. Braney Sportsmanship Award.

CYC Yachtsmen of the Year were Allie Blecher, Will Petersen and Alan Field. All three have been written up previously in The Argonaut.

A part of most ceremonies was the induction of new Blue Gavel members. The Blue Gavel is an organization of former yacht club commodores who promise to continue their support of their clubs and the yachting community.

It’s officially called the International Order of the Blue Gavel. The order president — and its first female president — Carol Promessi was present, and she, along with District 11 director Wilma Rosenburg, president Jon Robbins, and past director David Phelps, installed most of the outgoing club commodores at the individual ceremonies.

The last stop on the circuit was at Del Rey Yacht Club (DRYC), whose commodore Sid Resnick, hailing from Brooklyn, gave the committee a perfect excuse for a New York Playbill theme, “Haven by the Sea,” including a humorous skit about the purchase and delivery of the Brooklyn Bridge (in a painting).

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent a letter to celebrate the club’s 55 years.

SCYA commodore Jerry Lounsbury, staff commodore Jerry Martin and vice commodore Mark Hansen presented the Senior Yacht Club of the Year Trophy. Lounsbury complimented fleet captain Sherry Barone and junior staff commodore Irv Bied for the most “fantastic write-up ever seen.”

After David Ross’s God Bless America, the program concluded with the musicians paying tribute to each of the armed services with their theme songs.

COUNTY COOPERATION — These festivities would not work without the special role of Los Angeles county departments — the Fire Department, the Sheriff’s Department and the Lifeguard Division of the Fire Department. Moving all the guests from club to club by water is the only solution to the limited parking around the clubs. It simply couldn’t happen without their boats and expertise.

Not only do the water shuttles solve the parking problem, but it’s a great way to show off the harbor and it’s fun.

Strangers that morning, now confided to each other how great it felt to be out on the water, especially Marina del Rey, and to be experiencing that certain quality nobody could quite put into words.

The pilots never fail to wow this hard-to-impress boating crowd with their maneuvering skills getting the boats in and out of the narrow fingers and snuggled up to the docks so that even that last holdouts of ladies-in-heels could step gracefully onto the landing.

From Los Angeles County Fire Department were Engineer Larry Colgan and Firefighter Rudy Leon on Sunday; Saturday they did not participate.

Sheriff’s Deputy John Rochford piloted their boat, with the organization of Sgt. Mike Carilles, Capt. Mary Campbell and Harbormaster Lt. Greg Nelson. Rochford soled on Sunday.

County Life Guard Captain Shelly Butler, OLS (ocean lifeguard specialist) has been shepherding the troops around so long that Opening Days coordinator Lynne Hammett calls him the “Master of Opening Day Harbor Transportation.” His Baywatch team Saturday was Jonas Russell and Sunday, Lauren Dale.

“ASMBYC owes these folks a ton of credit for their participation in the yachting community,” said Hammett.

CHANGING SKYLINE — On last year’s Opening Days we wrote that the changing skyline of the Marina was a major topic heard at all gatherings.

Old timers, new boaters and out-of-towners conjectured about the high-rises, the traffic density and the disappearance of small boat slips, and tried to feel hopeful about the original promise of a marina built for all recreational boaters.

This year, commodores focused on accomplishments, good fellowship, good humor and the good news of SMWYC’s new lease and the potential launching of a new club in conjunction with PMYC.

But after the speeches, the talk privately among insiders, while enjoying the bountiful food and drink around tables and at the bars, was concerned and more pessimistic about Marina development, high prices and the perceived loss of the original dream, but some now seemed resigned to it all.

There is a TV commercial out there from Discoverboating.com that captures some of the ineffable quality of boating and why we do it. It has to do with a family getting ready to go down to the lake. They wave at everybody they pass on the way. Nobody waves back. In fact the non-wavers look anxiously and suspiciously at the family of four. When finally on the water, their waves are returned. It’s true. Perfect strangers smile and wave to one another as they pass in boats. The tag line for the commercial is, “Nothing brings people together like boats.”

And that says it.

THE FINAL VOLLEY — Firing his own 18th C cannon at PMYC with Chris Allebe, PMYC member Jack Monroe, an 11-year veteran of cannoneering, organized and orchestrated the countdown for the cannoneers at all the clubs around the Marina. At 1903 hours (7:03 p.m.) cannon-eers Besim Bilman, SMWYC; Diane Adler, CYC; Jonathan Grell, MVYC; Daniel Grabski SCCYC; and DRYC Andrew Feldman and Peter Arkin synchronized the final sunset volley to conclude the official opening day proceedings.

Let’s go sailing!

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