The Raritan Yacht Club, one of the oldest in our nation, has a rich and colorful history. In pre and post Civil War years, Perth Amboy became a resort - fine hotels drew visitors for their summer vacations from Newark and New York. The bay full of deep, clear water and its access to the ocean made Perth Amboy a natural site for boating enthusiasts.
In 1865, a group of men formed the Carteret Boat Club using a building on Front Street perched high on pilings. The clubhouse consisted of a single room with an old pot belly stove where club activities were held, and a spacious front porch graced the east end of the building hosting the “Rocking Chair Fleet”. Inside the clubhouse rowing shells and canoes were hung in canvas slings from the room’s beams. There were a few members who owned sailboats, but the first club was mainly a canoe and rowing club. It was not uncommon for the sailors to row to Sheepshead Bay, Long Island to race and row back again.
In 1874 another group of men formed the Perth Amboy Yacht Club. These men owned fast sailboats and wanted organized sailing races. The membership was not large, but most prominent Perth Amboy citizens were members. They used a building located on the shorefront south of the Carteret Boat Club. Eventually both of these clubs became practically bankrupt. Both clubs joined forces and on May 10, 1882, Raritan Yacht Club was organized. Rowing and sailing still being the order of the day, many races were held on Raritan Bay with boats from Newark Bay and Staten Island competing. There were many oyster skiffs harvesting abundant crops from the great beds for which the lighthouse is named. In the early 1900’s , several large manufacturing concerns located in Perth Amboy, bringing men from all parts of the country who were interested in yachting. By 1904, the club had prospered and a larger clubhouse was needed. In 1905, a new two-story clubhouse was erected on the site of the old building. The old building was moved to the street line and became a locker and refreshment room.
The Raritan Yacht Club prospered until the night of December 22, 1915 when a fire totally destroyed the clubhouse, all club records, paintings, boat models, drawings and photographs were gone. The Board of Governors met and it was determined to purchase new property with an existing building and dock. In early 1916 the club purchased the Cooper Estate, the present site of the Raritan Yacht club. Special events boomed. A membership drive was successful and the many new members brought new enthusiasm and fresh ideas. The bi-monthly smokers (stag nights) were popular affairs and big name entertainment was brought in from New York. Ladies guest nights and formal dances came into being.
When the First World War rumbled into the scene, every man and woman took up civicand patriotic duties. The Yacht Club had a Marine Unit and actively took part in home defense work. Soon the members enlisted in every branch of the service. Some served with the Rainbow Division and others with the Navy. The “Eagle 48” (mine sweeper) was stationed at the local Navy Reserve pier until the beginning of the Second World War. Many members were active reservists and to keep in practice the Navy Reserve held life boat races. Twice in the 1920’s RYC entered in the race over a course in the sound.
In May 1916, Raritan Yacht Club made provisions for a Ladies Auxiliary of the Raritan Yacht Club and Vice Commodore Nelson J. Macan presided over the organizational meeting. The ladies rented a room on the third floor. They haven’t paid rent since the 1950’s. The Ladies Auxiliary had benefited the Club by making it a family participation organization, by fund raising, and by pitching in for needed tasks. Within a few years, things looked brighter. In 1919-1920 Raritan Yacht Club saw its way to build an addition which is today called the “Grill Room”.
In March 1922 The Raritan Bay Yacht Racing Association was organized and held its first meeting at Raritan Yacht Club. The participating clubs were Raritan, Sewaren, Rahway, Keyport. Princess Bay, and Monmouth Boat Club. Racing continued to be very competitive, and racers such as the “Indian” owned by Nelson Macan and the “Natirar” (Raritan spelled backward), owned by Buck Compton were among the contenders. Pox Booz and Elwood Johnson started the Comet craze.
RYC soon had one of the largest fleets around and Alton O’Brien won the Comet National sailing his “Aquilla”. The Nationals were held twice at the Club and from that stemmed our present Red Grant Regatta, famous all over th East Coast. Adolph (Red) Grant, Jr, a RYC Comet skipper in whose memory the Regatta was established in 1947, lost his life while serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II. After the War, additional one-designs became popular-Stars, Penguins, Blue Jays, Thistles, Lightnings, and Jets, among others. Handicap racing in cruising auxiliaries was introduced.
The By-Laws of the Club were amended in 1923 to provide for a “Junior Organization” which remains active today. They have Flag Officers, and many of these young people became Continuation members when they reach age 21, and move into Regular Membership.
The late season hurricane in the early 1950’s packing 90 mile per hour winds and seven foot waves, destroyed the entire Raritan Yacht Club gear and locker rooms, and severely damaged the bulkhead and dock. The 1960;s brought Hurricane Donna, and in 1979, Tropical Storm David destroyed 48 boats in our fleet. In August 1978, an early morning fire was discovered and our club house suffered extensive damage. In true RYC spirit, members rallied together to rebuild the floats, docks, lockers and Surf Room and expanded the Galley following these catastrophic events.
Member Jim Pfafflin and a group of RYC members organized the Raritan Anti-Pollution Assn. (RAPA) back in the early 1960’s. They were concerned with the effects of pollutants and sewage in the bay area and frequent oil spills from barges and refineries. They voiced their protest to federal agencies. Today the quality of our water continues to improve due in large part to the efforts of groups such as RAPA.
RYC hosted the tall ship “Danmark” during the country’s Bicentennial Celebration and again in 1982 through the efforts to the late distinguished honorary club member, Captain Kurt Carlson, the courageous captain of the ill-fated “Flying Enterprise”. In 1986, during the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, we entertained the crew of the three-masted bark “Gloria” of Columbia.
In 1998 the Club elected it’s first female Flag Officer; in 2005, a second Flag Officer and in 2007 a third. All 3 have served thru to Commodore and served on the Board, before and after their term on the Flag. In insuring years,female members continue to be elected to the Board of Governors.
In 1993, first as part of the Red Grant Regatta and later as part of the Fall Regatta, each year an auction was held to benefit children with Juvenile Diabetes. To include children in the program, a race , “Children Sailing For Children” is held and they race RYC’s fleet of JY15’s, Opti's and Club 420's and Lasers. Our Red Grant Regatta and Fall Regatta are sailed and run each year sponsoring charities such as NJ Hospice and the Red Cross. Plans are to also sponsor needs from the City of Perth Amboy.
In 1999, RYC formed a liaison with the City and provided sailing lessons for the youth of the City. Also, the Princeton Sailing Team practices and races from RYC.
In September 2002 RYC organized “Sail for America” as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. Raritan Yacht Club invited all boaters to join in sailing past the World Trade Center. There were 50 boats from RYC and totally many more than 1,000 boats.
Thru the efforts of P.C.Vicky Jo Neiner the Board of Governors approved RYC’s hosting the 2004 U.S. Sailing Champion-ship of Champions Regatta. The participants were either U.S. or North American Champions in their own one design class. There were seven family teams, a blind skipper, three teams were engaged, and the youngest competitor ever in this regatta - a 10 year old. The Yacht Club members provided quarters in their homes for the racers and interest by members was very apparent . The City of Perth Amboy hosted a dinner and all regatta participants were introduced. They were in awe of the venue of the Club. It was a great honor for RYC to have qualified to host this prestigious regatta.
In 2006 the sailing vessel “Sinn Fein”, owned and captained by RYC member P.C. Pete Rebovich, Sr. won the 100th Anniversary Newport-Bermuda Race. Nine awards were won: Overall Winner, Best Performance by an Amateur Crew, Best Performance by a “vintage” yacht, I.e. launched before 1970, St David’s Lighthouse winner which beats the next two yachts by largest margin, Best Performance by yacht under 40 feet, Best Performance by a yacht over 15 years old , for navigator of winning Yacht - Peter Rebovich, Sr. , for yacht designer of winning yacht, and for first in class. Peter, Jr. and Mark Rebovich were watch captains. Of the five other crew, four were RYC members. Of course, we all celebrated their victory and had a grand old time doing it. In 2008 P.C. Peter Rebovich won the Newport to Bermuda Race again making that 2 in a row, there are not many boats that have done this. In 2012 P.C. Rebovich and his crew on Sinn Fein will attempt their third win. In over 100 years of racing, only 3 boats that have have managed to win it all 3 times.
We have weathered the depression and war years, devastating hurricanes and fires, and become stronger through it all. Today the Raritan Yacht Club provides activities for the entire family, and a sharing of inter-club activities with member yacht clubs around the bay. Our anchorage extends from the old ferry slip at the front of Smith Street, to the South Amboy railroad bridge and is dotted with over 250 yachts and our yard hold several dozen dry-sailing vessels. We are rich in tradition and are proud of our club and its members and history.
By Barbara J. Booz, and Ginger Stevenson, Historians, with excerpts
from Charles Gunderson, Natalie Baldwin, Rose M. Booz and Margaret “Peg” Nilsson.