A festive start to Marina del Rey’s ‘yachting season’ showcases an unprecedented number of female commodores helming local clubs

By Julia Michelle Dawson

Left: Cannons punctuate important moments of the festivities
Right: A club’s-eye view of CYC preparations for Opening Day
Photos by Julia Michelle Dawson

Marina del Rey’s traditional Opening Day Weekend festivities, which happened to fall directly after the March 8 observance of International Women’s Day, showcased an unprecedented number of women helming local yacht clubs. Female commodores now lead the California Yacht Club, Del Rey Yacht Club, Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club, South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club and the Marina Yacht Club.

“More than any other opening this truly feels like we have come out of winter. Yesterday being International Women’s Day, I would be remiss in not noticing how many women commodores there are,” Santa Monica Windjammers Commodore Denise George said during the club’s opening ceremonies
on Saturday.

The style of Opening Day festivities varies from club to club. The California Yacht Club, for example, stood formally in the morning to pay regal honors to past and present American military service members. Debbie Feinerman, this year’s commodore, punctuated the greatest difference since CYC was founded in 1922: 80% of its bridge (aka governing board) is female. You can guess what the percentage was 97 years ago!

There were many awards presented over the weekend, but among the most important was the Rescue Award, conferred at CYC. During the Berger-Stein 2 Regatta last year, Helen Brierly was knocked from the helm of Mistrial when the steering failed. The wind was fast, the sea was rough and the water was cold. Duncan Cameron and the crew of Trust Me rescued her. “We’ve won races, but this was the best thing we have ever done,” said Duncan, who accepted the award with crew members Scott Barber, Henry Brawner, Paula Cameron, Maeta Vollman and Roland Vollman.

The Marina Yacht Club, which is no longer housed in its traditional Marina City Club headquarters, held its Opening Day ceremony under a tree nearby, followed by a catered dock party. Vice-Commodore Shari Sellers hopes to promote awareness of the club so they can get back into a physical club space.

The South Coast Corinthian Commodore Jennifer Kitchen led a gloriously succinct ceremony in the courtyard of Fisherman’s Village outside Sapori Italian Restaurant. Attendees viewed architectural renderings of the new clubhouse planned for the Pier 44 development on Bali Way, also the future home of a Trader Joe’s. The SCCYC Ukulele Group entertained on the patio with Kathy St. Amant, SCCYA Yachtsman of the Year, happily cradling her instrument with the sling of her new titanium shoulder.

Much of various clubs’ Opening Day ceremonies are rituals passed down from generation to generation and from yacht club to yacht club. Just before the commodore declares the club to be open for the season, she or he asks the port captain if the harbor is “free of ice.” We all slightly chuckle in California at this nod to the East Coast.

At the Del Rey Yacht Club, where greeters dress in red coats and white gloves, Commodore Laurie E. Romanak replied to her port captain, “That’s all fine but what about sea lions on our members’ boats?” He answered “I shall put on my special sea lion glasses,” donned blacked-out glasses, and proclaimed: “Commodore, I report there are no sea lions.” The tent filled with laughter.

The International Order of the Blue Gavel is given to former commodores of various clubs who continue to serve the yachting community. This year International Order President-Elect Sherry Barone inducted Pacific Mariners Yacht Club past commodore Alan Rock.

Clubs use ceremonial cannons to punctuate important moments of their Opening Day ceremonies. Explosions are preceded by a shout of “fire in the hole,” which translates roughly to “cover your ears quickly.” Cannon operators are often the people having the most fun during Opening Day, and PMYC’s Zach Knighton, who plays Rick in the new “Magnum P.I.” series, had to be the happiest “cannoneer” in the marina.

“Fire in the hole!”

PRO TIP: Enjoying the thrill of yacht racing doesn’t necessarily require boat ownership or yacht club membership. Each boat at the starting line requires a crew of eight, and captains are often looking for new crew members. Visit regattanetwork.com for information about an “Introduction to Yacht Racing” on March 23, the first of several such events in the marina.