“Fire in the hole!” With that traditional warning holler, accompanied by an ear-deafening cannon burst, cannoneer Besim Bilman proclaimed the start of the annual Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs two-day Marina del Rey yacht clubs’ Openings Days celebration.

The festivities began at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 15th, at Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club and came to a conclusion with the firing of Del Rey Yacht Club’s cannon across the harbor at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 16th.

In between, came ceremonies for California Yacht Club, Marina Venice Yacht Club, South Bay Yacht Racing Club, South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club and Pacific Mariners Yacht Club.

The guest list itself was a major project. Each club had copies of the 15 page list to make sure all the dignitaries arriving from national, county and city agencies, plus the bridge officers from the Southern California Yachting Association — over 93 clubs strong, representing the five southern California harbors from Santa Barbara to San Diego — were checked in to be properly recognized.

Woe to the tardy whose names weren’t highlighted. Because everyone, and I mean everyone, was announced — at almost all club ceremonies.

Sighted were Harbormaster Lt. Rod Kusch with his two boys Ryan and Taylor and Sgt. Mike Carriles, assistant harbormaster.

What was this really all about? We could string together all the commodore and officer speeches to answer that. Paraphrasing Del Rey Yacht Club commodore Richard Stone, who reminded us that this idea of Opening Days originated in the northeastern United States where in the spring the ice breaks, waters warm, government officials and friends gathered together to celebrate camaraderie at each others’ clubs.

Here in Southern California we don’t haul our boats out before the waters ice over and we don’t close down our clubs for six months. We boat all year. Our Opening Days are symbolic. But we officially choose this spring date to commission our clubs for the boating season.

This spring rite means dressing up: the clubhouse — new coats of paint on everything; the boats —awards for best shipshape and flag etiquette are presented; and the people — break out those white pants, skirts, shoes and the blue blazers, all in preparation to receive their guests and show off our Marina.

There is a very practical side too. As new club officers travel up and down the coast they meet their counterparts from the other four harbors and have an opportunity to discuss harbor, club and boating issues, and network to solve problems.

As the ceremonies continued at each club in sequence, three per day, each was different yet similar. Visitors were greeted warmly and made to feel welcome by the club members and joined in for the hospitality and the festivities.

The similarities were in certain rituals which consisted of the presenting of colors, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, singing The Star-Spangled Banner, an invocation, the commodore’s comments, introduction of the club’s officers and the introduction of practically every guest present.

The commodore talks about the club’s accomplishments and recognizes special achievers. Flags are hoisted, cannons fired and toasts lifted. The style or personality of each club is revealed in the way all this is done — with what pageantry and humor. That’s what makes the proceedings fun.

TRANSPORTING THE CROWD — It is transporting the guests to the next club on time that creates a potential logistical logjam. Over the years, supreme commander-organizer Lynne Hammett, Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs Opening Days chairman, has oiled the process to smooth precision.

Traveling from club to club by crisscrossing the harbor on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department boat, the County of Los Angeles Fire Department Fire Boat 310 and Los Angeles County Lifeguard boat Bay Watch 12 has become one of the highlights of the celebration.

“We rarely get the opportunity to meet the community,” said deputy Pat Clark on his County Sheriff’s boat as he skillfully delivered us against a strong current and unpredictable wind gusts to Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club’s dock. “We look forward to the event.”

It goes both ways. Those of us on board from the Marina shared with the three harbor boat captains and crews a great pride of harbor. Though the days were windy, the sky was blue, buildings were bright, it all appeared swept clean and the harbor showed to advantage. If there was a flaw, it was that the club members waiting ashore to welcome all the guests missed out on the harbor trips.

It goes so smoothly now, hardly anyone remembers when folks tried to drive to each club. Horrors! A daring group of club volunteers used to man private sailboats — using their engines—and powerboats to collect and cart the troops around the harbor. Think of dressed-up guests clambering up and over rails in their whites — ladies in heels and pencil skirts — and precarious landings at docks. Despite best efforts, and though sometimes fun, it was not efficient and was potentially dangerous, especially on windy and/or rainy days. To avoid the water route, South Bay Yacht Racing Club had even chartered a limo to move guests.

On Saturday’s choppy trip from Cal YC to Marina Venice YC, Capt. Shelly Butler, OLS (ocean lifeguard specialist) of the Los Angeles County Fire Department on his Baywatch 12 reminisced and reminded us of the time the late community activist Heather Perkoff from Pioneer Skippers approached him 15 or so years ago and how they had brainstormed how the county departments could iron out the proceedings with their boats and expertise.

The next day, discussing the topic with community leader Willie Hjorth of California Yacht Club and South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club and past maestro of the Holiday Boat Parade, she remembered that Capt. Graham had also been instrumental in developing the idea.

Among the crews were Firefighter Dean Steward, Engineer Jim Navarro of the fire department and Patrick O’Neill on Baywatch 12, who ably showed off their boats and skills.

Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club (SMWYC) — In 2006, commodores’ speeches reflected on the precariousness of the existence of our yacht clubs. Here in the Marina, the fate of medium to small clubs is still in jeopardy with leases running out, property becoming dear and the county enviously eyeing more profitable ventures in their place.

SMWYC has been facing this dilemma for several years. In 2004, the commodore announced that their lease was expiring at the end of the year and that negotiations were proceeding. Suffice to say, at their commissioning ceremony the 2008 commodore, Deena Suffin, reported that they had finally signed a five-year lease with the county.

The tricky provision was that after the five-year period there was a possible option at the end of each year, for three years, to renew the lease. If they make it through the eight years, there would be another negotiation. As we understand it, after that, the county has promised SMWYC an undefined place for a clubhouse somewhere.

For reference, the word “staff” before commodore means a past commodore.

California Yacht Club (CYC) — Last year, St. Patrick’s Day fell on CYC’s Opening Day with true born Irishman — now junior staff commodore — Frank Glynn commissioning the club. Repeat guests wondered how CYC could top last year’s very entertaining celebration. The theme this year was “Passages,” one of which was Glynn’s commodore’s cruise held in Ireland.

Passages was appropriate for retired navy captain commodore Bill Moore. He and Glynn traded funny stories to keep the crowd laughing.

But before the fun, staff commodore Bill Watkins presented the formal invocation, which touched on local and world concerns that all the clubs addressed in some way.

Most commodores this year chose to focus on the good, the fun, the accomplishments and hopes for a positive future.

CYC ended their commissioning with the customary query as to the condition of the harbor i.e., “Is the harbor free of ice and debris? Fleet captain Ann Ach replied, “Yes, it is, thanks to global warming.”

MARINA VENICE YACHT CLUB (MVYC); SOUTH BAY YACHT RACING CLUB (SBYRC) — It was hang on to your hat time over at Marina Venice Yacht Club. Fifty-six day-married commodore Timothy Sheehan and his cohorts welcomed guests out on the terrace in front of the Marina City Club in the midst of the biggest wind gusts of the day—one a whopping 38.2 as measured on the UCLA instruments.

The four Ronald Reagan Sea Cadets could barely hold onto the staffs of their wind whipped flags as they made their color guard presentation.

Sheehan said, “Please retire the colors before we have to reef them.”

MVYC shared ceremonies with South Bay Yacht Racing Club. Throughout the year SBYRC trades race management expertise with the newly commissioned officers and race committee of MVYC, which in turn offers its facilities to SBYRC for post-race trophy ceremonies.

Literally holding on to their hats were SBYRC commodore Jim Cash and staff commodore Gary Green of both MVYC and SBYRC.

Wearing one of his many hats — Green is next year’s ASMBYC commodore — this year, as International Order of the Blue Gavel president inducted last year’s commodore into the fold. A swearing-in is performed at the close of all the clubs’ programs. The Blue Gavel is colloquially known as where commodores go after serving their terms.

SOUTH COAST CORINTHIAN YACHT CLUB (SCCYC) —South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club has two great opening day traditions — first, the hot Irish coffee that greeted the early comers Sunday morning, and the second, a condensed introductions format asking everyone to stand at once and shake hands. By now, everyone pretty much knew everyone else.

In keeping with their grand 76-year celebration, commodore Stu Cole donned an admiral’s tri-corner hat. Most memorable were his witty rhyming couplets, one composed for each officer, as he introduced them. The crowd was enjoying his speech as he wove in sailing quotes from the likes of John Paul Jones and timely references to the challenges the founding fathers faced in 1776 that could parallel our current marina.

PACIFIC MARINERS YACHT CLUB (PMYC) — Over at Pacific Mariners Yacht Club, commodore Irv Osser and club officers and members pulled out the stops to show what a do-it-yourself-club could do.

Osser had big surprises for everyone. At 10:57 the first fly-over arrived — the Sheriff’s Department green helicopter circled overhead. Then, at precisely 11 o’clock the brilliant-orange U.S. Coast Guard helicopter circled.

The Marines arrived in the form of four sharp and handsome color guard from Camp Pendleton. Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl made a speech. Not to be outdone, at 12:15, while the crowd was sampling the spectacular food — such as fresh oyster and shrimp shooters — the three fire department and sheriff’s boats put on a water show in front of the club.

DEL REY YACHT CLUB

— At Del Rey Yacht Club, the closing ceremony of the two-day extravaganza, fleet captain Peter Hirsch, commodore Richard Stone and the officers leavened the pomp and circumstance with much humor.

It is the cannon that really punctuates Opening Days. Hearing cannon blasts around the Marina is not an everyday occurrence. It signals the start and the close not only of the whole two-day event but also each club’s commissioning. As he has for the last ten years, Jack Monroe with Chris Allebe fired his own 18th century cannon from Pacific Mariners Yacht club. Monroe, a veteran of cannoneering, organized and orchestrated cannoneers Besim Bilman of SMWYC; Diane Adler of CYC; Wayne Miller and John Nasby of MVYC; Daniel Grabski — another 12-year veteran — with Gimmy Tranquillo of SCCYC; and Eddie Hollister, Howard and Andrew Feldman of DRYC in synchronizing the final Saturday sunset volley to conclude day one.

DRYC Fleet Captain Peter Hirsch nicely summed up the meaning of Opening Days:

“Boating is fun — boating together is the best. Racing, cruising, fishing — with family and friends — I don’t know what can be better. Over the past several weekends, officers of yacht clubs throughout Southern California have been traveling to one another’s facilities to celebrate this special thing called yachting. They have come together, some from long distances, some by car and some by boat, to celebrate the spirit of this sport. They have become familiar with one another so that the celebration of one club becomes a celebration for all.”

Addendum to answer queries — Where did the call “Fire in the hole” come from? Wikipedia says that “Fire in the hole” is the classic warning, used in many countries in the world, indicating that an explosive detonation in a confined space is imminent. It originated with underground coal miners who needed to warn their fellows that a charge had been set.

The phrase was subsequently adopted by the United States Army and Marines to give notice that an explosion was imminent nearby.

Special effects men (including my dad, a naval buff) use the phrase extensively on film and TV sets whenever setting off effects charges. It serves as a warning to the crew about the coming blast and as a final warning to stop the shot if there are any problems in any department.

More Opening Days

photos on the back page.

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