It was bluebird and breezy in San Francisco for the 100th annual Opening Day boat parade, kicking off the 2017 summer sailing season on the Bay.
Sailing on San Francisco Bay is normally a casual affair, but one day a year that all changes, becoming festively formal. Opening Day on the Bay, which signals the official beginning of the summer sailing season, is celebrated with decorated boats crewed by nautically attired sailors and fun themed decor. This is one day on the Bay no sailor should miss!
This year was special, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Opening Day featuring a blessing, boat parade, and even a tall ship battle!
Opening Day has interesting origins: In 1917, with worries of war on many minds, a Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association member suggested the Bay’s yacht clubs host a parade along the city front, which also coincided with the opening of a new bridge in Belvedere. This bridge allowed large barge homes to move from their winter anchorages to summer locations on the Marin waterfront. Different theories exist on the origins of the Opening Day name—could it refer to the opening of the bridge or just be a nod to the popularity of baseball? In any case, the name stuck.
Per tradition, the day begins with the Corinthian Yacht Club’s Blessing of Pleasure Craft, now in its 54th year. In the Bay Area’s version of the traditional Catholic ceremony, a Catholic priest is joined by a pastor and Jewish cantor.
Nattie Nautical at the St. Francis Yacht Club
St. Francis Yacht Club, which was also marking its 90th anniversary, celebrates Opening Day in traditional yachting attire. It’s a special treat to see yachties of all ages don this classic dress and to see how stylish fashionistas translated it to their very own nautical chic. The families were just too darling for words.
The mood was festive as people arrived in their nautical finery to sounds of Griff Harries’ Dixieland Jazz Band. Blue blazers, white trousers, club scarves, and hats were proudly worn on the way to the docks to participate in the boat parade or into the club for the buffet or a spin in the historical gallery, photos, and artifacts of the club’s 90-year history.
It was a family affair and heartwarming to see so many families with their adorable little sailors. The StFYC had a series of kids activities planned to make the day a real family affair.
It was so fun walking around the club soaking in the history and energy of the day before the start of the main event, “Cruising the Century,” the 100th Opening Day on the Bay Parade! I had just enough time to run up to the race deck for the start.
Up on the race deck, I had a bird’s eye view of the parade where members and guests enjoyed a variety of drinks and Fort Point Beer, a sponsor of the Opening Day at the StFYC.
100th Anniversary Boat Parade!
Majestic is the word to describe the site of more than 100 boats parading along the San Francisco city front with the Golden Gate Bridge as the backdrop. It’s a special treat San Francisco sailors enjoy each year, but the 2017 event was one to remember.
The StFYC fielded 22 entries. Members proudly stood at attention and saluted as they sailed by. They were rewarded with a hearty cheer from the crowd. It was obvious they were having tons of fun. Noted Etchells sailor and general bon vivant Scott Gordon gave us this report:
“Opening Day opened up blustery, and the ebb started ripping early, partially because of all the runoff this year. That set up a chop that all the early Fizzers in the St Francis could see clearly. A few elected to jump ship and watch the parade from the club. But we went out anyway on Bradford Whitaker’s Grand Banks, $quander Buck$, one of the most stable boats in the fleet.
Motoring up and down the Bay that day was a windward-leeward course for powerboats and sailboats under power. You bounced your way upwind with the wind in your hair, and the spray emptied the foredeck. A turn downwind and the wind went down drastically, and everyone moved back to the foredeck to get out from behind the house and into the warm sun.
It never really got cold, but everyone was happy for the uniform of the day: blazers and scarves!”
Prior to the parade, participants enjoyed sailing around the bay, many enjoying adult beverages, mimosas always a popular choice. I was impressed by the fashion on and off the water, the women’s scarves especially. At the StFYC, the scarves have special significance. Some designate women who are primary members, others spousal members, or staff commodore wives, or to commemorate special places or events, such as Tinsley Island or the America’s Cup.
Personalized yachting attire
The nautical fashion that surrounded me was inspiring, especially how the women made this classic look their own, some with special, personal meaning. How touching it was to learn that both Barbara O’Leary and Kellie Taylor replaced the buttons on their blazers with buttons from their father and grandfather respectively to honor them. Kellie went one further, sporting her grandmother’s hat from I. Magnin.
Barabara shared that when she found traditional navy blazers a bit boxy, she got creative and found exactly what she wanted in a more fitted Pikeur riding competition jacket. Her complete look features J. Crew skirt, vintage spectators and of course StFYC scarf!
Creative parade winners
As for the winning looks on the water, there were many winners in many classes. One of my favorites was Island Yacht Club’s Ghost for Sailboat Decorated to the Cruising the Century Theme, which honored PICYA with a lighthouse. A sign read, “the lighthouse, like PICYA, aids sailors.” I also loved the Ezra Lange’s Chelonia from Bay View Boat Club, which took second in the Juniors Decorated to Theme category, and of course, the overall winner, James Purvis’ Sans Souci Roaring 20s for Marin Yacht Club. See all the winners here.
One thing is for sure, on or off the water, the annual Opening Day Parade is not to be missed.
Festive Fun at the Corinthian Yacht Club
The Corinthian Yacht Club has a reputation as a fun club, and that is certainly apparent during their Opening Day celebrations. This year it was especially true for the 100th anniversary.
While the StFYC took a traditional approach to the Cruising the Century Theme, the Corinthian Yacht Club focused on a special time in San Francisco’s history also celebrating a milestone: The Summer of Love turns 50 this year.
CYC makes a weekend of Opening Day, beginning with a member cruise-in and boat decorating and judging on Saturday, followed by their blessing of the fleet on Sunday. The judging on Saturday is always a treat, especially with this year’s Summer of Love theme. It was entertaining to see how creatively CYC members interpreted it.
There was an onboard performance by Sonny and Cher, a Grateful Dead boat, one boat honoring the cultural icons of the 60s, and another was a wonderful gourmet respite. Many crews try to bribe the judges with offerings, and the lucky members tagging along get to partake too. It’s all just too much fun.
No right or wrong way
Some boats kept it nautical, and others embraced the Summer of Love theme. A few even had a unique connection to the theme, like Andrea Owen, who for many years was an accountant for the Grateful Dead. One thing was clear; everyone was having a great time.
“It’s a fabulous weekend at the club; it’s when we look our best,” said Staff Commodore Sharon Marsh-Barr. It’s true, it gives you a peek into the personality of the club, beautiful for sure, but also very fun loving.
The foodie in me always looks forward to what the Thamm’s are offering aboard Mischief. The judges agree; this year they won Best Cocktail.
“We love the Basil Gimlets, they are easy to make for a crowd and are very refreshing, not to mention tasty! We are always looking for new and fun cocktails for opening day. We quite often search for new recipes and then do a taste test at home before we choose one for the judges,” said Rochelle Richelieu Thamm.
“The prosciutto-wrapped asparagus was, again, easy to make for a crowd and we were able to cook the asparagus the day before, so all we needed to do was wrap it with the prosciutto. It’s relatively healthy with the asparagus, and who doesn’t like cured pork product!” she continued.
Jeanne Lacy’s C&C 36 Shearwater was a visual feast and literal one as well. “Sharon concocted some original, authentic Summer of Love treats for our Shearwater visitors. One was her punch of Prosecco, Aperol, and some other things,” said Sandy Stadtfeld.
The other was a classic dessert of Cherry Garcia ice cream doused with Bailey’s Irish Cream. We think people went away happy,” he said. Jeanne and her crew wanted to do something special this year, and they did.
Celebrities on parade
A special year
2017 is a special year for Shearwater owner skipper Jeanne Lacy as she celebrated her 90th birthday! Friends Sandy Stadtfeld, Sharon Meyer, Stephen Spoja (Sharon’s husband) and Deborah Franklin transformed Shearwater into “Long Strange Trip” with wonderful black and white photographs honoring 60s-era musicians and counter-culture icons—Janis Joplin was given the honor of the bow. The collection of images was curated by Stephen—who Sandy said was the creative spark on the project.
The ultimate traditional celebration
Berkeley Yacht Club member Karen Lile took a historical approach to celebrating the 100th Opening Day on the Bay—very historical actually. Representing the Berkeley Yacht Club and International Fellowship of Rotarians Yacht Club San Francisco Fleet she chartered two tall ships for ceremonial battles on the Bay!
Patti Brennan, also of BYC, sub-chartered one of the tall ships for the first battle sail against Karen. They made it more interesting and their personal challenge. Karen, who is a Daughter of the American Revolution, challenged Patti, who is a Native Daughter of the Golden West, to battle with her sisterhood.
There were 55 DAR members from La Puerta De Oro San Francisco Chapter and 25 DAR members from Presidio Chapter on the Lady Washington during the two sails. The Native Daughters accepted the challenge aboard the Hawaiian Chieftain.
Karen then challenged Staff Commodore of South Beach Yacht Club Milt Smith to battle in the afternoon, where he was joined by Rear Commodore John DeSousa of the International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians San Francisco Fleet and members of the Rotary Club of Walnut Creek.
Passengers and spectators on boats thrilled as The Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain showed off, first in Raccoon Straits in the morning and along the San Francisco city front in the afternoon.
There were so many wonderful Opening Day Celebrations for the 100th anniversary—I wish we could feature them all. The group to be commended for organizing the parade, the event in general, and for being an all-around yachting community cheerleader is PICYA. Their bylaws state, “…to constitute an association of yacht clubs and boating organizations, to promote inter-club communications, yachting activities and the social interaction relating thereto, and to organize and conduct programs which enhance the general welfare of the member organizations.”
Well done PICYA, particularly to Rear Commodore Winston Bumpus who chaired the 100th Anniversary Committee.