A large influx of guests, local city and county dignitaries and club officers invited from the 90 Southern California Yachting Association clubs and associations from Santa Barbara to San Diego descended upon Marina del Rey harbor Saturday and Sunday, March 18th and 19th, for the annual Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs (ASMBYC) Opening Day ceremonies.

This is our major spring harbor event.

The first discharge of cannon was heard at 9 a.m. Saturday from Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club at Burton Chace Park.

Cannonry was heard regularly throughout the two days from cannons situated around the harbor at California Yacht Club, Marina Venice Yacht Club, South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club, Pacific Mariners Yacht Club and from Del Rey Yacht Club the last volley at 3 p.m. Sunday, loudly signaled each club’s commissioning.

If the individual cannon explosions didn’t cause attention, the sundown salute Saturday at 6:03 p.m. of all six cannons certainly did.

The person responsible, Jack Monroe, a PMYC and DRYC member, and ten-year veteran of cannoneering, coordinated the countdown over marine band radio. Diane Adler, CYC, was and is the only female cannoneer.

This symbolic gesture meant the clubs were open for the season’s yachting activities. Symbolic, because Southern California clubs never close.

Opening Day commissioning was originally an East Coast tradition for reopening no longer snow- and ice-bound clubs in the spring and putting hauled boats back into the water — a time for celebration.

West Coast clubs adopted the custom as an excuse to spruce up clubs and boats and have an Opening Day party too.

It developed into an opportunity to show off one’s club and to meet one’s officer counterpart in the 66 clubs, five harbor associations and 19 more associations and unions of SCYA.

This also means Santa Monica Bay club officers return the visits.

This spring rite is exhausting or entertaining, depending on how long you’ve been at it, because the openings extend for two months of weekends up and down the coast.

There is a basic pattern for these ceremonies which consists of the presenting of colors, reciting 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.

But not necessarily in that order.

The commodore talks about the club’s accomplishments and recognizes special achievers.

Flags are hoisted, cannons fired and toasts lifted.

It is in the way all this is done, and with what pageantry and humor, that reveals the personality of each club.

And what makes the proceedings fun.

Six ASMBYC clubs have land facilities in Marina del Rey (three in King Harbor — whose event is Sunday, April 9th). However seven clubs actually hosted the crowd because Marina Venice Yacht Club shared its ceremonies with South Bay Yacht Racing Club, which in turn shares its race management expertise with MVYC’s new members and officers throughout the year.

As guest introductions were made, commodore Russell Smith of MVYC and commodore Rick Ruskin of SBYRC, simultaneously exchanged salutes with attendees.

After previous years’ deluges, and this year’s solid forecast of the same, the seven commodores could barely contain their delight at the sight of puffy white clouds cluttering the clear blue sky.

Superlatives of what a marvelous, spectacular and glorious day it was sprinkled each speech.

Although the emphasis was on fun and fellowship and keeping a festive air, commodores also addressed serious issues.

At the invocations we were reminded of our good fortune to be here, in our marina, a not inexhaustible resource.

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 in jeopardy with leases running out, property becoming dear and the county eyeing more profitable ventures in their place.

SMWYC — SCYA regular club of the year — has been facing this dilemma for several years.

Commodore Harlan Holmes revealed he had hoped to announce “we have a deal” regarding negotiations with the Department of Beaches and Harbors for a new parcel.

Instead he said, “Stay tuned for breaking news.”

Do-it-yourself-clubs like SCCYC and PMYC are concerned.

Some clubs have recently renewed leases with concomitant improvement clauses. SCCYC commodore Sandra Bartiromo touched on the changing needs of seniors, baby boomers, and Generation X members and the urgency to raise funds for future improvements.

A face was put on of our continued Iraq war and other world conditions by the appearance of military color guards at each ceremony who presented the US, state and organization flags with precision.

They represented all ages and many conflicts of action around the world.

The youngest, at SCCYC, were the U.S. Navy Sea Cadets from San Pedro, one of whom, Vanessa Tostado now 15, was 13 when she joined. Another, Michael Rodriquez is also 15.

At SMWYC, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 2075 from Hawthorne, had the oldest, with three WWII veterans — Ray Walden, USMC who was at Guam and Iwo Jima; Joe Maldenado, US Army; and Jack Hartman, US Navy.

Commander Bob Ferrell, USMC, led the group which also included Captain Steve Braun, USMC, Vietnam, and Jon Webster, USMC, Gulf War.

Other color guards were from the Los Angeles Air Force Base, US Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the US Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton.

The anxiety and worry about the service men and women was most poignantly addressed when the young and beautiful Jauntianne Laleigh, daughter of DRYC members Karen and Fred Laleigh, presented to DRYC commodore Irving Bied, the U.S. flag she took with her in her helicopter HMM 764 when she flew into Baghdad in July 2004 in Operation Iraq, Freedom II.

She is said to be the only female Marine helicopter pilot to graduate from training at Pensacola, Florida.

For most of us, it was hard to picture her on that mission.

Everyone stood to applaud both at the beginning and the end of her presentation.

This, followed by a moving version of God Bless America, created many a choked throat and misty eye.

Of note were the awarding of three recognition trophies. On Saturday, CYC member Irma Darling received Southern California Yachting Association’s Golden Key award for ham radio communications from commodore Bill Watkins and rear commodore Bill Moore.

CYC also received the St. Petersberg Trophy — a national award for excellence in regatta management.

On Sunday, at DRYC, Paul Artof, junior staff commodore of Pacific Coast Yachting Association, presented the Garrett Horder Memorial Trophy for outstanding junior educational program to DRYC ‘s junior chairman Virginia Howard.

PCYA covers the entire coast from British Columbia to San Diego.

Great arrays of food follow the formal presentations. Food, food and more food, the type depending on the time of day.

PMYC commodore Barrie Harnett hails from New Zealand, which provided the theme for PMYC’s occasion.

By all accounts, their repast of fresh oysters, mussles, and venison kebobs topped the gustatory field.

A critical part of making the operation run smoothly and on schedule was transporting the celebrants from club to club.

Master organizer and chairman of the show Lynne Hammett, VHF radio in hand, could be found at every club dock coordinating the arrivals and departures of the Sheriff’s Department boat, the Los Angeles County Fire Department Fireboat 110 and the County Lifeguard boat, Baywatch.

Hammett has said she “couldn’t make it work without the shuttle from the count harbor department. There is simply no parking. It would be a disaster.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Carvalho and Reserve Deputy Bill Hirsch manned the Sheriff’s Department boat.

Fireboat 110 had Firefighter Specialist Michael St. John and Firefighter Eric Patton.

Captain Shelly Butler, OLS (ocean lifeguard specialist) Eric Astorian and OLS Paul Van Wig were Baywatch’s Saturday team, with Captain Larry Dixon and OLS Brian Kutil on Sunday.

It was a special and rare treat to ride across the harbor on one of these boats.

At the landings, after maneuvering in especially tight quarters, the captains received applause and cheers from this hard to impress boating crowd.

Dressing up is the order of the day, not only for clubs but for boats and people.

Classic Navy blazers embellished with silver or gold stars specifying rank and bullion — badges — identifying one’s club are worn with fresh white pants or skirts.

Outdoor club balconies were swathed in red, white and blue bunting and swags reminiscent of Old West electioneering platforms in movies — ready for campaign oratory.

CYC’s staging peninsula was especially striking, with large flags of the world, that kept flying in the gusting breeze, surrounding the guests.

DRYC won the prize for the most decorated boats — 160.

It was a great sight to see all the boats around the Marina decked out with brightly colored flags.

These are international code signal flags.

Informal Southern Californians are provided with ship dressing protocol in the bible of boating, Chapman Piloting, Seaman- ship and Small Boat Handling, which dictates that 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.

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 orginal promise of a marina built for all recreational boaters.

Each club’s program listed scores of people to recognize for their work in the club and for opening day.

Also in our travels we heard a multitude of anecdotes that would fill a book. That’s for another day.

The last ceremonial duty Sunday: responding to the commodore’s inquiry, “How goes the harbor?”

DRYC port captain Jim Garvey replied, “No icebergs in sight.”

Commodore Bied officially commissioned the club.

The celebrations opening the yachting season continued into the night.