100 years, countless memories for the Balboa Yacht Club

The centennial celebration at Balboa Yacht Club included a fireworks display on Saturday night.
(Courtesy of Tom Walker)

The Balboa Yacht Club kicked off its centennial Saturday night during its annual installation of new officers and end-of-year meeting, with 200 members enjoying dinner and fireworks at what Centennial Committee chair Stacie Brandt said would be the first of many upcoming celebrations.

“We have all-year events,” said Brandt. “There’s a lunch in March, a ball in April and a regatta in August.”

According to Brandt, a group of men from the Newport Harbor Yacht Club who wanted to focus more on small-boat sailing in 1922 founded the Southland Sailing Club, which became the Balboa Yacht Club in 1928.

A 1938 small boat regatta on the southeast corner of Little Balboa Island.
A 1938 small boat regatta as seen from BYC’s second club location on the southeast corner of Little Balboa Island.
(Courtesy of Sherman Library)

With its prime location near the entrance to the Newport Harbor on Bayside Drive in Corona del Mar, the club sits directly across the water from the second clubhouse on Little Balboa Island. “They found a beach cottage on the [Balboa] Peninsula, which was their first clubhouse,” said Brandt. “Their second clubhouse, between 1926 and 1941, was on the [southeast] tip of Little Balboa Island until their lease ran out, and they built the current club in 1941.”

Many of the attendees at the event had positive things to say about their club memberships, some of which extend back decades.

Russell Miller, who had worked at Balboa Yacht Club as the food and beverage manager from 2008 until 2014, said he felt lucky to come back as the club’s general manager in 2019.

“It is immensely satisfying to me that I get to celebrate the club’s centennial year with the people who, outside of my family, mean the most to me in my life,” said Miller. “BYC is truly an exceptional club filled with exceptional people.”

Balboa Yacht Club Commodore Paul Blank, left, and Senior Staff Commodore Morrie Kirk.
Balboa Yacht Club Commodore Paul Blank, left, and Senior Staff Commodore Morrie Kirk pose in front of the 1926 club motto (A POUND OF PLUCK IS WORTH A TON OF LUCK) on the fireplace during Saturday’s installation dinner.
(Susan Hoffman)

Morrie Kirk, who has been boating since he was 3 years old and has been an active member of the club since 1969, is the senior staff commodore and oldest staff commodore. He was commodore in 1977.

“The biggest change is in the city and how much it’s grown,” said Kirk. “The club is very much the same, we’re a boating club, friendly, family-oriented club, same location since 1941.”

Kirk explained that the club was originally all sailing, and today there are more powerboats than sailboats. The current membership of 600 has changed over the years due to attrition, but the club still has 50 members who joined the club more than 50 years ago.

On Saturday, Kirk was selected by the incoming commodore, Paul Blank, to be the “installing officer” to relieve the current board of responsibilities and introduce the new commodore.

“I chose him because he’s a great man, a good friend, has contributed greatly to BYC through several decades and has the most seniority among the staff commodores,” Blank said.

Blank, a Corona del Mar resident and the Newport Harbormaster, has been a member of the club for 37 years. “The location is excellent, friendship built from shared passion on the water activities that I have not found at other clubs,” he said. “The camaraderie, support, improved seamanship, adventures near and far, small and large, all trying to make each other better.”

While boating innovation has changed over the last 100 years, the shared passion for water activities among members remains consistent.

The Balboa Yacht Club has been located on Bayside Drive in Corona del Mar since 1941.
(Susan Hoffman)

Blank has seen changes in manufactured-boating styles and opportunities for boating innovation, such as speed and vessel foiling, like hydrofoil sailboats flying out of water. “Boating has changed, style, availability and increased variety,” said Blank. “What has remained consistent is the passion for getting out on the water no matter what the vessel is.”

A burnished wood plaque from 1926 that hangs today over the present club’s dining room fireplace reflects that attitude. The first commodore, Isaac B. Potter, originally donated the plaque, which includes a quote from 20th U.S. President James A. Garfield that calls for gutsiness, courage and determination to meet danger or difficulty: “A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.”

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