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A Bit of Bremerton Yacht Club Log Racing History
by P/C Mike Henry

Log racing in the Pacific Northwest started prior to the founding of Bremerton Yacht Club in 1929. Queen City Yacht Club, known as our Big Brother club for assisting our founding members in establishing BYC, was involved in the sport of log racing long before our club came into existence and, undoubtedly, exerted some influence toward our entry into the sport. Although the official club minutes for the first three years could not be located for this article, the general meeting minutes of February 1, 1932 mention our involvement with QCYC and racing. In fact, the plaque hanging in the clubhouse recognizes 1932 as the official start of what we now know as the BYC Heavy Weather Race.

During the early 1930's, QCYC was holding their own club cruise during the winter months which they called their "Heavy Weather Cruise". The minutes show that BYC was invited to join with QCYC in this event, which quickly became a mutually scheduled annual event with the hosting duties alternating between the two clubs. Also during the 1930's, several yacht clubs on Puget Sound played host to Inter-Club Cruises, which were weekend events very similarly resembling our current Heavy Weather Race. Invitations were extended by the host club to area yacht clubs for their members to attend a Saturday race followed by a dinner dance. Through the years, other events were added to the weekend agenda, which included skits.

In the early 1930s, BYC had its own schedule of log races in which other yacht clubs were invited to participate; these included races on Decoration (Memorial) Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. The minutes show that ads were even placed in the Seattle papers announcing BYC's races and encouraging participation. Other clubs racing in the mid-1930s included Everett YC, Olympia YC, Queen City YC, Seattle YC and Tacoma YC. All in all, these events were quite a challenge for a small club with only about $100 in the treasury that didn't, at times, even have a real clubhouse. The social side of these races (dinner and dance) ended up usually being held at rented halls which were located close to small community docks in this area, e.g., Tracyton, Silverdale, Fletcher Bay, etc. In the spirit of being good hosts and with a limited budget, the club formed a band in the 1930's under the leadership of Capt Perl Mauer to provide entertainment for these races and other club functions. As an enticement to attract musicians into BYC, their membership initiation fee of $10.00 was waived.

How did the BYC Heavy Weather Race come to be? It appears that, with an increase in the number of yacht clubs forming in the Puget Sound area and with the strong interest in racing at that time, the participating clubs agreed at some time (probably in the 1930s) that each club would host one major race each year. Queen City elected to host the January race, appropriately named the First of the Season Log Race with BYC opting to host the February race and retaining the name Heavy Weather Log Race (which was already the name of the joint BYC/QCYC cruise in February). Thus, our Heavy Weather Log Race took roots in February 1932 and has been held annually for 68 consecutive years with the exception of the World War II years 1942-45. While the race portion of the weekend was suspended during those war years, the rest of the party continued to be held pretty much in the same way as always.

One race story worth telling occurred during the 1936 Heavy Weather Race when the weather was just that. This race was run from Fletcher Bay to Suquamish and returned. It snowed so hard that everything was frozen up. Plenty rough, too. One vessel lost her dinghy, which was lashed topsides. It was just a little later that BYC Commodore Tucker lost his ship the "Rocking Moon". It seems that the Commodore had a bad fire aboard and the boat was burned down to the water's edge. Saved his engine by salvage, however.

Heavy Weather 1951 (?)
Photo: From the Wall of the BYC Lobby

With the end of the war in 1945, the full blown Heavy Weather event was brought back on track in February 1946. That year BYC played host to every yacht club on Puget Sound for a Heavy Weather Weekend that was an escape that everyone surely needed to forget about the war years. The boys worked day and night on the clubhouse and floats painting, sealing, repairing, cleaning and so forth in anticipation of this event. Their efforts were not in vain. About 40 visiting yachts and 250 visitors came to see the "big doins". These boats were strung out at the end of the floats and "old Phinney Bay" bulged a little, but everybody had a wonderful time at the buffet dinner on Friday night, at the Past Commodores Ball on Saturday night after the Heavy Weather Race and at the free breakfst served by the BYC men and ladies to all who came on Sunday morning. The winner of the race was Dr. E. Guyer of the Queen City Club, who was promptly made an honorary BYC member for that year. An interesting sidelight of our racing history is that in December, 1967, the subject of charging for the Heavy Weather breakfast was discussed and it was finally passed that a charge of $1.00 per plate would be put into effect.

Heavy Weather Race attendance grew to its heyday during the mid-1960s through the mid 70s; race attendance was averaging 120 to 140 entrants with a single high of 159 contestants in the 1970 race. Though race participation has since declined somewhat, our Heavy Weather Weekend activities have expanded and we still continue to host the largest sanctioned annual log race in North America.

The technical side of the race has also changed somewhat over the years. We now have staggered finishes instead of a common finish time for all contestants; apparently, the arrival en masse of over 100 boats together under the Manette bridge had become a concern. Also, scores are now calculated on a percentage basis using control points instead of actual seconds of error at the finish line.

Throughout the 68 years that the BYC Heavy Weather Race has been held, the overall winners have come from a wide cross section of area yacht clubs. While BYC members have garnered many 2nd and 3rd Place Overall and class trophies, 19 of our members have experienced the thrill of winning First Place Overall; Capt Jack Hensley is currently (at least through 2003) the only BYC repeat winner.

Another major log race that BYC became involved with was the The Nanaimo Race (also known as the Capitol to Capitol Race). 1934 was the first year that BYC had an entry and many meetings were devoted to a thorough study of all phases of this race. In the summer of 1938, BYC sponsored the Nanaimo Race for the first time. Things really flew around these diggings for awhile. Radio station KVI of Tacoma broadcast the start of the race and Rear Admiral Fenner acted as official starter aboard a Coast Guard vessel. All BYC boats moored at the club left their respective berths in order to make room for our visitors. Also, a complimentary membership card was presented to every Captain entering the race. Two BYC cruisers entered that race: Jack Kuphal and Dr. Ray Schutt being the skippers. The uniqueness of this race was that it was non-stop with all boats having to finish in Nanaimo at the same time. For most skippers, this meant a starting time off the BYC docks in the wee hours of the morning. Over the years, BYC participation improved to as many as 12 BYC boats entering a race.

Fortunately, Bremerton Yacht Club's founders and early members embraced log racing as an integral part of club activities in the early days. BYC's participation in the sport has enriched the club's history and has helped enhance our reputation as a leading club in the Pacific Northwest. To this day, our Heavy Weather Race ranks as the largest sanctioned log race in North America. This should be considered a tribute to the hard work of BYC members, the supportive interest in BYC by our fellow log racers from other clubs and our hard work toward establishing and maintaining good relations with the other yacht clubs and boating organizations in the Pacific Northwest over the past 75 years.

Submitted by
P/C Mike Henry