5 Marin Yacht Clubs That Value Fun Over Fancy
These community gems are as fun to hang out at as they are to sail from.
Ever since Sir Francis Drake famously sailed to the area, Marin has had an association with watercraft. Whether or not you’re lucky enough to own a boat (or have a friend with one), a sizable part of the population here has a relaxed relationship with sailing. Here we take a look at five yacht clubs that don’t require fancy dress or a hefty initiation fee but do offer many ways to have a good time.
SAN RAFAEL YACHT CLUB
EST. 1938, ABOUT 100 MEMBERS,
SAN RAFAEL, 37°58’08.4” N, 122°31’06.8” W
Despite contradicting accounts regarding its origins — some claim it was started by William McNear of the McNear brick company and former San Rafael council member Fred Jensen; others say a group of working-class men were the founders — what’s indisputable is that the 4,000-square-foot clubhouse was built from the ground up by its members, many of them contractors. Located at the west end of the San Rafael Canal, it has a protected harbor offering visiting boats more than 300 feet of dock space and plenty of room to have a good time inside, too. The club’s main goal is to promote proper and safe boating practices and to provide a comfortable atmosphere of member camaraderie — which the cocktail lounge overlooking the harbor next to the expansive deck helps facilitate. Still run by volunteers and featuring events like the New Year’s Eve “hangover” cruise-in, the unstuffy San Rafael Yacht Club has been going strong since 1938. ANSWERS PROVIDED BY J.E.B. PICKETT, COMMODORE
How would you describe your club?
First, you must realize that we are an all-volunteer club. We don’t have any sort of pretentiousness in this club. While we do own and use our boats, have formal meetings, and conduct ourselves according to our bylaws and rules, you will find that everyone at this club is friendly, cheerful, and fairly well behaved on most occasions.
We are very casual most of the time, but we also have formal dinners, theme nights, and other fun events.
The best feature of the club?
We’re close enough that visiting cruise-ins from other yacht clubs can walk downtown from their boat. As for the club itself, we have a great dining and meeting area with a large dance floor that we like to put to use. We’d also like to point out that we are proud to provide room for and assist in the sponsoring of the San Rafael High School sailing program, and we have yearly events and assist the San Rafael Lifehouse Agency with a Christmas party and boat rides and provide the clubhouse so they can prepare for their performance at the Great Chefs event.
Always a yacht club?
Yes, the building was in fact built by its members. The area has not always been a yacht club. In fact, our old deck area consists of the pilings that used to support the oil companies and their lightering barges that used to use the canal commercially.
Describe your typical member.
First of all, she’s Irish — actually, we have no typical member. Many of the members are tradespeople, but we also have professionals and business owners from all walks of life.
Do you have a paid bartender?
We don’t have a paid anybody. We’re an all-volunteer club, so don’t complain if your drink is late.
Are you open to the public on any nights?
Because of California’s ABC laws, we cannot be open to the public without paying for a special license. We are always open to members of reciprocal yacht clubs, and we encourage the public to call and come as our guests some night so that they can decide if they would like to join.
Live music? Yes, please. We try to have bands and live music whenever possible.
Foodservice? Not on a daily basis. We usually have food on Friday evenings and for planned dinners and events. Our club, fortunately, contains members who have some culinary bent, so we do have some great meals.
Membership dues? Very reasonable. Only $350 per year.
Signature cocktail? Not particularly, but the current favorite appears to be what used to be called a Skyy-scraper. Skyy vodka, soda, and cranberry juice.
Reciprocity? We extend the invitation to all members of PICYA-affiliated clubs. We also extend privileges to yacht club members from all over the world on request.
Membership events? Usually at least monthly, and a monthly cruise-out to other clubs throughout much of the year.
Are there yachts? Yes.
PICYA: PACIFIC INTER-CLUB YACHT ASSOCIATION
SAUSALITO CRUISING CLUB
EST. 1949, 500 MEMBERS,
SAUSALITO, 37°51’42.6” N, 122°29’17.0” W
Set in a former munitions barge, the Sausalito Cruising Club was founded in 1949 by service members returning from World War II. Members purchased the barge after the war when the government was selling off wartime surpluses and have extensively remodeled it since the club’s inception. The club, which is a tax-exempt private social organization, has a simple mission: to bring people who share a love of the sea and nautical activities together to socialize. Here the attitude is very much a “whatever floats your boat” kind of affair. No boat? No problem. Boat ownership is not a membership requirement, although roughly a third of members do have one — there are also a number of kayaks and paddleboards for club members to use on Richardson Bay. Landlubbers, fret not: the Sausalito Cruising Club calendar is stacked with shoreside events, including live music Monday through Friday, major holiday fetes, and kids’ days during the summer months. sausalitocruisingclub.org ANSWERS PROVIDED BY JOHN DONOVAN, COMMODORE
How would you describe your club? We are a private boating and social club that serves the needs of Sausalito and surrounding communities by offering inexpensive access to water-related activities as well as music, food, and beverages, with an easygoing and welcoming atmosphere not commonly found in standard yacht clubs.
Dress code? Dress to have fun is the only dress code at the SCC; however, shoes and shirts are required in times of foodservice.
The best feature of the club? There are many great features of the SCC, from the collection of watercraft available for use and the awesome location at the head of Dunphy Park with commanding views of Richardson Bay to our stage, fabulous sound system and magically rustic clubhouse and bar, but the best feature of the SCC is its welcoming and fun-loving membership.
Always a yacht club? No, the Cruising Club clubhouse was a surplus World War II munitions barge.
Describe your typical member. There is no such thing at the SCC. We are a melting pot where millionaires rub shoulders with anchor-outs. Ages range from the high 80s to young 20s, and there are a lot of kids in the mix. The SCC is a very family-friendly club.
Do you have a paid bartender? We do carry a staff. We have five bartenders on staff who rotate through service; we have two kitchen staff, one doorman and two other all-arounders who can fill in where needed. On a typical night, we usually staff with one or two tenders, a server, and one or two in the kitchen.
Are you open to the public on any nights? Our licensing provides us limited ability to open to the public, and we save those for special events, outreach, and community fundraising projects.
Live music? If you like to dance, our bookings feature bands that know how to lay down a dance beat. On Mondays, we have an open mic “Blue Monday” backed by an awesome band. Whether members play guitar, harmonica, keyboards, or sing, they are welcome to get on stage and play with the best.
Foodservice? The Sausalito Cruising Club has a full galley that serves up quality dishes. Most nights, the food is à la carte, ordered from our menu. We have a fully stocked bar, with our friendly staff serving a wide selection of beers, fine wines, and top-shelf spirits.
Membership dues? Our yearly dues are reasonable, currently at just $500, plus $100 initiation that is good for two people.
Signature cocktail? Our skilled bartenders can mix any drink, but a quality margarita always complements a warm afternoon on the water in Sausalito.
Reciprocity? We have reciprocal rights with all PICYA-affiliated yacht clubs on the West Coast, Hawaii, and throughout the world.
Membership events? We hold events most of the major holidays, we do kids’ days once a month in the summer, and we schedule sail-outs so that members who don’t own boats can get out and enjoy the bay.
Are there yachts? The Sausalito Cruising Club maintains a fleet of watercraft for use by its members. We have kayaks, paddleboards, and sailing dinghies, including Lasers, and are re-rigging an Islander Bahama 24. Our clubhouse barge sits on one of the calmest and most beautiful parts of San Francisco Bay: Richardson Bay. It is an ideal location to learn to kayak or paddleboard. For those interested in sailing, Angel Island, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate are an easy sail away.
INVERNESS YACHT CLUB
EST. 1912, 350 MEMBERS,
INVERNESS, 38°06’09.5” N, 122°51’25.1” W
The Inverness Yacht Club was founded to preserve Tomales Bay by fostering boating and yachting and to serve as a base for the community, both on and off the water. Volunteer service includes every aspect of running the club — tending the facility itself and shepherding its social events, involvement in the racing program as well as the adult boating and youth sailing programs and contributing to a monthly newsletter (The Pilot). Activities include sailing, kayaking, canoeing, rowing, fishing, and just messing around in boats. The Inverness Yacht Club is a family-oriented organization. ANSWERS PROVIDED BY DAVE WEST, COMMODORE
How would you describe your club? It is a truly beautiful slice of Bay Area nautical history. Sailors and watermen and -women have been enjoying this unique location on the protected Tomales Bay for over a century, and the energy of their love of place and good times can be felt when you walk through the yard, in the door or out our long pier.
Dress code? No.
The best feature of the club? It is truly a spectacular spot in the world, with what amounts to our own private bay. We have a pier and a historic clubhouse, and the community membership, while very informal and relaxed, is full of very accomplished and incredibly nice people.
Always a yacht club? It was built as a yacht club, and then during the war, it was used as a school. It closed for a while in the Depression/World War II period and was then reopened in the late ’40s.
Describe your typical member. There is no typical member. We have a very active and energetic small boat sailing scene, and we also have lots of social members. Because Inverness is a small town, it’s one of the few ways we can all congregate, so it’s a natural gathering place for non-sailors as well.
Do you have a paid bartender? No, no employees. The bar is open irregularly (social events and often after races), but when it is, it’s as friendly as they come.
Are you open to the public on any nights? Yes, we have an open house on the second Saturday of every month: the bar is open, and we have potluck hors d’oeuvres provided by the members.
Live music? On occasion, but not regularly.
Foodservice? No regular food service. Members put together and host monthly (more or less) dinners for other members and guests.
Membership dues? Currently $108 a quarter, but going up to $129 a quarter in 2018.
Reciprocity? I don’t think we have ever engaged in the formal process of reciprocity, but most yacht clubs will welcome you if you have another yacht club card, and they’ll pour you a drink. IYC is definitely part of that group.
Membership events? Yes, lots of events, including an open house club dinner on the fourth Saturday, a big July 4th celebration, Memorial Day festivities, and sailing events throughout the summer.
Any yachts? No. We have an active sailing fleet, but no marina and no place for a guest dock for visiting yachts.
THE LOCH LOMOND YACHT CLUB
EST. 1961, 121 MEMBERS,
SAN RAFAEL, 37°58’23.6” N, 122°29’01.4” W
In 1961, 21 boat enthusiasts gathered in Fred Manley’s boat repair shop to hold the first Loch Lomond Yacht Club meeting. Fifty-six years later, the social group best described as Cheers with boats remains a lively volunteer-only club with a relaxed attitude and affinity for the water. Boat ownership is not required, but if you are lucky enough to own a vessel, it will be in good company along the other 40-plus boats docked in San Rafael Bay, including crafts named Pineapple Express, Pier Pressure and Bite Me. Events and dinners take place throughout the year in the dining room once named Tidal Wave Room, in memory of the Crescent City earthquake of 1964, which caused a tsunami that emptied the canal and Loch Lomond Marina. It’s also not uncommon to see members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary conducting boat skill courses at the club or joining members for dinner, as LLYC has a close relationship with the group. ANSWERS PROVIDED BY COLLEEN STAUSS, COMMODORE
How would you describe your club? Our club is mostly a social club with people who love being near the water and boating. We are a casual group with a mix of those who own boats and those who don’t. I rarely like to use the term “yacht club” because that conjures up the stereotypical image of older folks in blue blazers. We are here to have fun, socialize, drink and talk — sometimes even about boats.
Dress code? Shoes and shirts. Members “come dressed as they are.”
The best feature of the club? Stunning view off our back deck and “honor bar” club privileges.
Always a yacht club? Yes.
Describe your typical member. It has changed over the years. It used to be an older, social drinking crowd. But now we have many more members who are younger, have children, are local to the neighborhood, and want a safe and fun place to engage with other like-minded folks. The average age of our membership has definitely dropped, which brings a new liveliness to our club.
Do you have a paid bartender? No, we are a 100 percent volunteer yacht club.
Are you open to the public on any nights? Only for a special event that is designated as an open house. We have one twice a year, once in late summer and the other near the holidays.
Live music? Usually once a month.
Foodservice? Yes. Friday night happy hour dinners, plus one or two Saturday night dinners a month.
Membership dues? Our yearly membership is currently $900 per couple or family; $720 for a single membership.
Signature cocktail? A Moscow mule.
Reciprocity? Yes. LLYC is a member of PICYA and welcomes all PICYA members and visiting out-of-state (or country) yacht club members with verification of membership.
Membership events? Once a month, we have a scheduled theme event and a member dinner. We also have a family event every four months and a trivia night every couple of months, along with events supporting our Bay Area sports teams. Besides those, we have a speaker series and cruise-in and cruise-out events scheduled throughout the year.
Any yachts? Yes, our fleet’s smallest vessel is 20 feet, and the largest is 74 feet.
PRESIDIO YACHT CLUB
EST. 1959, 250 MEMBERS,
SAUSALITO, 37°50’05” N, 122°28’25” W
The Presidio Yacht Club’s origins can be traced back to 1850 and the creation of the Lime Point Military Reservation in Sausalito’s Horseshoe Cove. A satellite station of the Presidio of San Francisco, Lime Point became what is now known as Fort Baker. Here, day-to-day operations included laying antisubmarine mines and hosting strategic battery sites, including Battery Yates. Military service personnel began berthing their private boats in the empty slips after the war and founded the Presidio Yacht Club in 1959. Initially, it was only open to the military and their families, but this restriction was lifted in 1994 when the army ceased its operations in the area. Today the Presidio Yacht Club functions mostly as a community of boating enthusiasts as well as armed forces members and veterans. It is closely associated with the Travis Marina and includes the Travis Marina Bar. The bar, sometimes called “Mike’s Place,” is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday and boasts a varnished wood interior, military and yachting decor from around the world and a kitchen that turns out standard pub fare. Being a member has its perks — a dollar off drinks. presidioyachtclub.org ANSWERS PROVIDED BY STEVE HOCKING, COMMODORE
How would you describe your club? The Presidio Yacht Club was originally just for members of the armed services with an emphasis on providing a fun place for Travis Air Force Base and veteran military personnel.
Dress code? None except for special occasions or New Year’s Day. The dinners are usually themed, and some members will dress up accordingly — Hawaiian, Oktoberfest, and so on.
The best feature of the club? The view and the club upstairs.
Always a yacht club? No, it was a boat repair shop and on the historical list.
Describe your typical member. The most active are military veterans and members of the public. The club relies on volunteers for everything from cooking meals, decorations, and providing boat rides to a yearly barbecue on July 4th for Travis Air Force Base personnel and their families and a yearly outing to Angel Island.
Do you have a paid bartender? The upstairs bar does have paid bartenders.
Are you open to the public on any nights? The upstairs Travis Marina bar is open to the public at night.
Live music? Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. Sometimes on Thursday, also.
Foodservice? PYC has monthly dinners for its members and their family and friends only. Travis Bar serves hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs.
Membership dues? Membership is free for active-duty members of the uniformed services; regular initiation is $50 with an annual fee of $280.
Signature cocktail? No.
Reciprocity? Yes, PYC is a member of PICYA, and as such, all Bay Area clubs — except the St. Francis — will honor the PYC membership.
Membership events? Monthly dinners and cleanup day in the marina. There is also a yearly outing for young teens coming from Travis’ families.
Any yachts? Yes.