Power boats - especially the lovely vintage wooden boats - hold a special place in the history of Lake Tahoe. Read on for their story.
Summer Playground for the Well-Heeled ... As the 1900s grew up into its teens and twenties, many San Francisco families discovered the beauty of Lake Tahoe's sapphire waters and the surrounding pine-covered mountains. The turn of the century saw tourists and summer residents come to Tahoe in increasing numbers.
Naturally, those summering in Tahoe joined together for holiday boating gatherings, and in the midst of these social functions the wooden boat tradition was born. Burnished mahogany hulls appointed with gleaming chrome became the "must-have" status symbol for the social elite, and several boat dealerships including Chris Craft, Gar Wood, and Century established a brisk trade along the shores of Tahoe.
Yacht Club: Established 1925
Predictably, racing became a favorite pastime, and enthusiasm for some sort of organized competition spurred a handful of gentlemen, many of whom were members of the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, to form the Tahoe Power Boat Club (later to become Tahoe Yacht Club) in 1925. It was an illustrious bunch: among the founding members were prominent names including Newhall, Ehrman, Metcalf, Townsend, Dollar, Fleishacker, Scott, Kendrick, Pope, and others.
At the helm was Edwin Letts Oliver, a brilliant San Francisco businessman who was chosen as the club's first Commodore. "At the time, the club's headquarters was a file drawer in Oliver's San Francisco office," says R. Randolph Walker, who has been a "member" of Tahoe Yacht Club since the day he was born in 1933. "The first facility was a picnic area on the Ehrman Family's grounds (now Sugar Pine State Park) and a pier which was only big enough to accommodate two large Gar Woods," remembers Walker.
The first casual contests grew in popularity, and soon the typical summer agenda included several regattas, attracting large crowds of spectators. The Club quickly increased its membership through the years and added new events to its calendar, including water ski carnivals (complete with a reigning Queen), Junior Outboard Regattas, sailing regattas, and, beginning in 1972, the Concours d'Elegance.
TYC continues to celebrate its power boating heritage with many summer events, including the Commodore's Cruise, Over-the-Bottoms, Waterski/Wakeboard Carnival, ACBS Woodie Whoopies, and of course, the world-famous Wooden Boat Week and Concours d'Elegance.
In the late 1800s and throughout the early part of the century, the Steamer Tahoe served the transportation needs of the lake. However, with the development of the highway system around the Lake Tahoe, this beautiful steam-powered boat became obsolete and was eventually scuttled in 1940. August 29, 2000 marked the sixtieth anniversary of William Seth Bliss' order to open the seacocks on the SS Tahoe and begin the process of flooding her bilge. Read more about her history here.
As the days get longer and the sun warms, we all start thinking of summer activities. For many Tahoe Yacht Club members it means putting our boats in the water. We check the battery, ensure our flotation devices are on board, check the running lights and fill the tank. We are ready to go boating.
Do you have a wooden boat? Then you are not necessarily good to go. Most of our wood boats have lift rings that are utilized to launch our boats. It is the owner's responsibility to ensure that the lift rings are in working order. This means that there is no dry rot in the area of their attachment, the wood is in sound shape and all bolts are tight.
When you present your boat for launching you are in fact stating that your wood boat is in the appropriate condition to be launched.
I have witnessed the total destruction of a modern day wooden boat when the stern lift ring pulled out and the boat came crashing to the ground. The fault was squarely on the owner's shoulders. Another boat, a vintage Chris Craft triple cockpit, had its bow lift ring pulled out causing considerable damage. Protect your investment and spend five minutes inspecting the base of your lift rings.
John Utter, Port Captain
For more information on TYC's summer events, see the updated calendar of events or call the clubhouse at (530) 581-4700.