Sharing A Love For the Water


A Burgee And An Idea

By Michael Vatalaro
Published: June/July 2012

"Virtual" yacht clubs run the gamut from online forums to successful cruising clubs.

Remember when you were a kid and you'd spend the summer scouting secluded locations in your neighborhood to build a secret clubhouse? There, you and the rest of the kids on the block could while away the days making up passwords, arguing about secret handshakes, and excluding your little sisters and brothers. If you were really into it, or had relaxed parents, you might even have secured a piece of plywood up a tree somewhere as a base of operations.

Photo of San Jose Sailing Club (SJSC) members Armand and Mary Stephens
San Jose Sailing Club (SJSC) members Armand and Mary Stephens on Quest, an Alberg 30.

Being social creatures, our instinct to belong to and identify with a group is strong, and often times in society such groups form around a physical place, like a church, community center, or in colonial times, likely a tavern. But in this connected era, many of us would argue that the physical place is optional. Bill Falk is one who probably agrees with that. He's got a more informed perspective perhaps than most, given that he's both a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and commodore of the Back Creek Yacht Club (BCYC), a "virtual" yacht club with members up and down the Chesapeake Bay.

"'Virtual' for us means it's not brick and mortar," says Falk. "We don't have a building fund, maintenance, or personnel. We're virtual in the sense that we've got no costs or administrative headaches associated with a building. Instead, the focus becomes 100 percent about having a good time." Absent a clubhouse or facility with slips, the benefits of a virtual yacht club come from the interaction with other like-minded individuals. "It's all about the people," says Falk, who's also a member of a traditional yacht club with facilities on the West River in Maryland. "Virtual clubs are totally driven by the social side. They create a virtual community linked by a common ethos, created and sustained by social relationships."

Photo of sharing a meal aboard Dream Catcher during an SJSC weekend cruise
Sharing a meal aboard Dream Catcher during an SJSC weekend cruise (Left to right: Dave McBride, Sara Dyslin, Niki Konstantinides, Marsha Dyslin).

BCYC members can expect a full social calendar, including an annual black-tie commodore's ball, an average of at least two events a month, including midweek "On The Hook" meet-ups, and a bevy of club cruises around the bay. The group of around 120 or so boaters is a half-and-half mix of power and sail, and very active around the region. During the group's weeklong annual cruises, it's not uncommon for 24 or 25 boats to participate. BCYC keeps dues to a minimum, and the dollars collected go toward activities, which help keep members engaged.

Given the scarcity of developable waterfront, and the costs associated with purchasing existing properties on the water, Falk sees any future growth in yacht clubs as coming from the virtual side. "The costs of acquiring a club space on the water with a building or dock are very hard for a group to afford. Unless a building is folded into a new development deliberately, it’s hard to see how a new yacht club with a building and such would come into existence."

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