Don’t Call Us Judge Smails

Last month, I used this space to describe the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board’s work to refresh the 12 Guiding Principles for Harbor Revitalization, a list of priorities for our Harbor’s renovation rooted in a vision set more than 20 years ago. Among these original priorities was a call to “Ensure the future of the two yacht clubs.” Why? Were they endangered? Yes, they were.

The 1961 Dana Point Tidelands Act, which granted this stretch of coast to the County of Orange for the creation of a municipal recreational boat harbor, established protections for affordable coastal access and an obligation to community benefit. When the early visionaries of the Revitalization Plan got underway in 1997 with crafting our Harbor’s future, there was a call to eliminate the private, members-only yacht clubs as incompatible with the rules stipulated in the Tidelands Act. After all, how do a bunch of haughty boaters in their snooty clubhouses benefit our Harbor community or facilitate affordable access to our coast?

This past Saturday was our Harbor’s 66th annual Opening Day, as our two yacht clubs ceremoniously commenced the 2018 yachting season. It’s an occasion heaped with tradition and celebrated each spring in harbors from coast to coast. Boats adorned in flags and bunting parade around our Harbor, champagne flowing generously, and boaters in white slacks and blue blazers (and even a few ascots and skippers’ hats) celebrated the yachting lifestyle. From a distance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking us for Judge Smails from Caddyshack. However, Opening Day is the exception, not the rule.

On no other day will you see us dressed like this. On no other day do we shamelessly congratulate ourselves for this lifestyle. On no other day do we celebrate yachting for yachting’s sake. And even on this day we recognize it all as a charade. It’s a theme party. Most of us are relieved at the end of the day to return our costumes to the closet until next year. Because, truly, this isn’t who we are.

In all my years around Dana Point Yacht Club, never once have I witnessed yacht entitlement; that is, a sense of superiority because we’re members of a yacht club or fortunate enough to own a boat. On the contrary, there is a shared and profound sense of gratitude, even some embarrassment, for this bountiful lifestyle. We recognize the privilege this affords us. Not the privilege to further enrich ourselves, but to use this abundance to benefit others. Truly, no other single endeavor consumes our two clubs’ time more than striving to serve others.

Each year, Dana West Yacht Club (DWYC) and Dana Point Yacht Club (DPYC) raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for various charities and nonprofit organizations. This year, DWYC is directing their charity regatta proceeds to the American Cancer Society, and DPYC to the 5th Marines Regiment Support Group. Both clubs actively support youth sailing programs, including offering scholarships to underprivileged kids. Members often donate time on their boats to veterans, disabled adults and children, and others. The list of charitable causes goes on.

Admittedly, yacht clubs exist primarily to foster the boating lifestyle and to provide a venue for the camaraderie that private clubs afford. These clubs are like families, with all the loyalty, love, conflict, joy and heartache that comes with it. They’re a place where everyone knows your name. They are a place to party, to relax and to seek support in times of need. They are a place to call home. Yet, never a day goes by without a deep appreciation for our role in this harbor community and our duty to serve it. It’s been this way since our clubs were founded.

So, this is why in 1998, when the 12 Guiding Principles were established, our two yacht clubs were offered protection. This is why in 2009, when the California Coastal Commission amended the rules governing our Harbor in anticipation of redevelopment, they were compelled to preserve our clubs into the future.  This is why our clubs will thrive into the future. They offer a source of profound kinship to their members, and a venue for giving back to our communities. This is a powerful and enduring combination.

Indeed, I am a yacht club insider and it’s a fair assertion that I may be biased in defense of our clubs, but believe me, I would remain silent before delivering false testimony. As the revelry of Opening Day played out around me, I was amused by the pageantry of it all, but also struck by the underlying selflessness and compassion of this crowd. As I returned my white slacks and blazer to my closet to hibernate until this time next year, I was proud to be a part of it all.

James Lenthall is a lifelong Dana Point resident and boater, and presently serves as president of the Dana Point Boaters Association, chair of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board, and as a director on the board of Dana Point Yacht Club.

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