Last Updated 12/16/19
There are many stories that make up the history of the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club. Bette Blum, past Commodore and long time club historian, has assembled some of the stories, mainly from the early days of the club, into this first edition of the history of the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club. We invite members, past and present, to add their own stories as we compile this record of events surrounding the founding and growth of our rather unique, challenging and fun organization.
In 1974 there was no Erie Basin Marina or RCR Yachts on the Buffalo waterfront; most sailboats were docked at the Small Boat Harbor. Steve Krzesinski remembers Jerry Malachowski saying that he had done some racing at Wilson (on Lake Ontario) and enjoyed it and maybe they could get something going in Buffalo. Gathering a few others from the Small Boat Harbor, Joe Barnhart, Tom and Russ Johnston, Bob Barnhart and Ron Kainz, they paid Bob Caetano one dollar each to take his motor boat out and start them on Wednesday nights. In 1974, there were no handicaps, no spinnakers, no real race committee - just a group of people who enjoyed sailing and thought racing might be just that much more fun.
More boats joined them in 1975 and they ventured out into the lake. Meetings were held in each other's homes, and this very loose group began forming a sailing organization - one that had a race, rules, data, and committee boat committee. There were 20 members and $1 was collected from each to cover postage, etc.
At the September 23, 1976 meeting, a name was chosen. Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club received 16 votes, Niagara Frontier Sailing Club, two votes and Harbor Sailing Club, two votes. The Portsmouth Handicap rule was also adopted. Notices were posted at Buffalo area marinas inviting sailors to join the Club, and many (including Bill and Art Carey and Peter Rains) reported to the starting line, which was all that was required to become a member in those days. By this time, members took turns serving as Committee Boat for the evening.
The August 1977 newsletter describes a triangle race course with a center start, using navigational marks, as well as ones set by the club. "A" was R2, "B" was the departure buoy, "C" was a club mark 1/2 mile west of the departure buoy and "D" was 1/2 mile west of "C". Dues were $10 and the first Awards Banquet was held at the Buffalo Yacht Club.
In 1978 the club became official; incorporating to qualify for inexpensive USYRU (now USSA) insurance. The minutes show monthly meetings with officers elected (President, Jerry Malachowski: Vice President, Tom Johnston; Secretary, Hank Rydzik; and Treasurer, Steve Krzesinski). People serving on the four committees, committee boat, race, rules and protests, and rating, that year, who are still active in the club in 1996, were Jonathan Anner, Bob Barnhart, Bernie Blum, Art Carey, Bob Daley and Paul Weigel. Although now deceased Bill Carey, Dud Buck, Russ Johnston, and Bill Tranchell were part of that early group. Also in 1978, when it was Bill Carey's turn for Committee Boat, he asked his dock neighbor, Bob Ihrig, if he would take Bill and the committee out on his power boat. (What a lucky moment for our club!) Bob helped out off and on for the next two years and was listed as the official Committee Boat in 1980.
Dues were $25 in 1978, payable in installments, and by July there were two starts and fleet flags were introduced to distinguish the fleets. Sixty-three members were on the roster. New members still active today included Dick Hart, Jack Mathias, Dick Smith, Chris Mierzwa, Peter Rains, Tom White, Jim Franzek, Chuck Chilcott, and Bob Ihrig. Forty-five boats were registered, most in the 22 - 27 foot range. The race course changed so that the "C" and "D" marks were now south and south east of R4 and there was provision for a heavy air start behind the break wall at the middle gap. Members had grown unhappy with the Portsmouth handicap, proving that some things never change, so an end-of-the-season race was scored using both the Portsmouth and PHRF systems for comparison.
The January 1979 newsletter shows that that winter PHRF was adopted overwhelmingly as the handicap system for the Club. During that year the first BHSC regatta was held and the first "Ladies Day Race," precursor of China Light, was held on a Sunday afternoon. The race committee ruled that boats not starting must be 100 feet from the starting line so as not to interfere with the other fleet and there was a weekend race to Port Colbourne. New members included Charlie DeRose, Jim McKinnon, Bob Caetano, Richie Walker, Charlie Obersheimer and Frank Moliterno.
During these early years, perhaps because so many founders were engineers, club procedures emerged from what was practical. For instance, race results were calculated at lunch on Thursdays at Moog and marks were built from stainless steel drums that Moog was discarding. When most of the marks were blown away by a Lake Erie storm, it was obvious that the club would have to use navigational marks and concentrate on just a few sturdily built club marks. Richie Walker, who just built the 1996 "L" mark and has a long association with the present "D" mark, may be the best source of information in this area.
Perhaps because it had nothing to do with sailing, choosing a burgee seems to have been the decision that was most difficult for members to make. Bill Tranchell was to present an idea in 1976. Throughout 1977, different designs were used on the newsletters and in 1980, one that is close to our present one appeared. This one evolved from taking a blue pennant and putting a slash through it to reference a sail plan, indicating that this was a sailing club. "Someone" thought a buffalo would look good and it was included, although that was a problem, too, because the only buffalo image seemed to be the Sabres one with kicking feet. A standing buffalo was finally found and the burgee was adopted in mid-1981.
When considering the factors that have led to the great success of the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club, a large part of the credit must be given to the dedication and consistent service of our race committee, lead for many years by chairman, Chuck Chilcott, and committee boat skipper, Bob Ihrig,. Without the steadiness of this race committee, praised for both its diligence and integrity, it is possible that people may have gone elsewhere for their racing. Not only are these men legends in our club, but they are known on both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario for their intelligence, good work and dedication. Both Chuck and Bob have managed the Erie/Dover for the past three years and are often asked by other clubs to participate in their regattas.
Chuck Chilcott raced sailboats and still has one. He joined the BHSC in 1978 and raced Ruffian for years until he became so interested in the many intricacies and possibilities of race management that this became his full time sailing commitment. As early as 1979 he was given the Commodore's Award for his special services to the club and a 1981 newsletter records that he bought a computer to calculate results.
Early meetings of the Club were held at Armando's and later, Troop I. In 1988 most of the club's meetings and post-race social activities were moved to the CPO Club, located on the waterfront adjacent to the Buffalo Yacht Club. Although alternatives have been considered from time to time (extensively in 1993), the CPO Club seems to remain the present best choice because of its accessible location on the water, parking, availability of meeting rooms and a computer room - and its cost.
In 1980 when the present members of the China Light Yacht Club were pursuing their land and water frontage purchase on the Buffalo River, there was discussion in the Sailing Club about the desirability of a clubhouse. Members decided that one of the great benefits of the club was that it did not own property and was not saddled with mortgage payments, dining room management, tennis courts and all of the things that make for assessments and disagreements. The BHSC opted to forego a clubhouse and focus instead on providing the best racing program that it could for all of its members.
Also in 1980, Doug Hooper, a USYRU senior judge and the Niagara Frontier's foremost expert on the racing rules, gave the first of his many talks to our club members. Doug Hooper's interest in, and generosity to the BHSC contributed greatly to the club's efforts to achieve and maintain a professional approach to race management, both on and off the water.
The 1980s saw the growth of the club's education program with nationally known sailors such as Gary Jobson and Buddy Melges presenting seminars. The sailing program was extended with the addition of the BHSC July regatta in 1980; the Last Chance in 1984 and the Ice Breaker in 1986. Tom White diligently headed the Nominating Committee for many of these years and Carl Stineman guided the development of more consistent protest committee procedures. Pam Obersheimer (with early help from Liz Andhor) developed a committee boat staff whose work was so outstanding and efficient, that handling 125 starters on Wednesday nights became routine. Spinnaker boats were now required to be members of PHRF-LE and there were club measurers in all of the marinas. The first Caribbean night (credit to the Warhogs) was held in 1985. In addition the wall party and ski day were initiated.
By the 10th anniversary year, 1988, the club had 164 boats registered in nine fleets, including two one-design fleets - J-24s and Sharks. An unforgettable celebration took place on an Americana cruise, orchestrated by legendary partiers, Pat Krzsenski, Roseanne Ball and the Tuesday night Shazam crew.
.During the 1990s the Junior Sailing scholarship program was initiated and programs, such as CPR training and the 1992 Safety at Sea seminar, were offered to the public. The club hosted three J-27 Great Lakes and two North American championships; its Wednesday Night racing grew to 11 fleets (5 main and jib and 6 spinnaker fleets), and the capacity to run long and short courses for different fleets, as well as windward/leeward courses was added. In 1993 the BHSC requested and received not-for-profit status as a 501 (c) (3) corporation, reflecting its emphasis on promotion of sailing and education of sailors. In 1991 the BHSC Journal was launched to provide a central source of information about the club and its activities. In 1994 Tom Palamuso upgraded the newsletter, giving it a new more professional appearance. Members can now get race results in a number of ways: by calling the club's Voice Mail the next morning, by fax, e-mail, and on our Club's new web site, which you are now visiting. However many members still prefer to await the results at the CPO club over wings and beer. China Light Women's Racing has taken on a more formal organization in the nineties with a representative of the program now included on the Sailing Club's board of directors, and seminars to encourage women racers held at Obersheimer's during the winter. In 1994, Bette Blum became the first woman to be elected commodore, and in 1996 Paul Johnson became the first son of a former commodore, Bill Johnson, to be elected to that same position.
The 1996 roster shows 313 regular and associate members and 154 boats registered to race. Members dock their boats at marinas and yacht clubs throughout the Buffalo waterfront. The BHSC is strong and it is certainly one of the most democratic clubs. It costs $75 to be a racing member (with the privilege of registering a boat to race); $30 to be a full voting member and $25 to be a non-voting associate. All meetings and programs are open to the public. Great care is taken by the Board of Directors to accommodate the needs of the entire membership. The Club recognizes that sailors new to racing usually join the club through the main and jib fleets. The Club is working to encourage these new racers and to better meet their needs in order to continue to build these fleets.