A Light History of South Sound Sailing Society
By Ted Brien and Bill Sheldon
Once upon a time in 1970, six or seven boats met at the Olympia Shoal. Someone called out, “Last one around the reserve fleet is an old oil derrick.” Off they went! One fouled on the anchor of a Liberty Ship; one ran headlong into a baby flat top he said he hadn’t noticed; the Reserve Fleet patrol yelled at them, took their names, and told them never to come back; on the way in, two went aground on the spoils bank, one man went over board. When they were safely tied up at their slips all agreed it had been a great afternoon and that they should do it every weekend. So began South Sound Sailing Society.
After a summer of racing without much organization, someone – usually said to be Dick Moe – suggested a meeting of those interested forming a new sailing club. Apparently Dick also suggested the meeting should take place at Gerry Carlstrom’s house rather than his own. Shortly before Christmas, more than 100 people filled two floors of the Carlstrom’s house in what became our first meeting. Roughly half of those in attendance disappeared immediately after, the rest became our founding members.
First, we would be a Society, not a yacht club. There would be no aspiration to bricks, mortar or docks of our own, no G&T’s at the bar when the sun was over the yardarm. We’d be a beer swilling crowd, like real sailors everywhere.
One thing we would not have was a Commodore. Our executive officer was to be called Skipper, if only briefly; only Dick Moe held the title. Following the lead of other strictly sailing clubs in the Northwest, our Skipper became our Commodore when Dwaine Matchette took office in the second year.
We made one exception to the lack of YC paraphernalia – we wanted a burgee. A contest was held and there were seventeen designs submitted with four S’s lined up, nine with four seahorses in a row, six with four sails, and one with a naked mermaid with a Chesapeake Bay cat boat tattooed on her chest. In the first vote, the mermaid tied with our final selection before it was withdrawn. Today, our burgee can be found hanging in (gasp!) yacht clubs around the world.
It’s important to note that boat ownership was never a requirement for SSSS membership. Many of the early members crewed on boats that raced. One of our senior most members in tenure today was given a membership by his parents when he was 13. Like all of us then and now, he was a full voting member. These days he’s long since a Past Commodore.
In the beginning we raced with rabbit starts and skippers taking their own finish times. Howard Bullpitt, the scorekeeper, collected the times from one of three places around the harbor, took them home and applied what he called a “Modified Portsmouth Handicap” system to obtain corrected finish times. The combination of Portsmouth’s time-on-time system and what Howard called consistently “slow clocks” on self-reporting boats made scoring at least interesting for Howard. It was solved when the Briens offered their services as Committee Boat and we switched to PHRF-NW time-on-distance handicaps.
In the early years, actual meetings were sporadic, held in borrowed board rooms or the old Olympia Community Center. One attempt to meet at the Olympia Golf and Country Club misfired when no one showed to open the building. The following year, Commodore Carlstrom arranged for us use the OYC clubhouse for our meetings and we’ve been there since. Even before that, OYC joined us as a co-sponsor of the Toliva Shoal Race and, later, the Southern Sound Series.
Along the way, we received invitations for reciprocal membership privileges from Corinthian Yacht Club in Seattle and Vancouver Rowing and Yachting Club in Vancouver. At the time we had nothing to offer them, but they didn’t seem to mind and the seed was planted. When Percival Landing was completed in 1980, we arranged with the City of Olympia to use it as our guest moorage. A few years later, B.J. Kycek tackled the project and our list of host clubs exploded. Today, 65-plus clubs in the Northwest offer reciprocal privileges to SSSS members.
These days we are more than 180 families and individuals as members. We meet ten times a year at OYC on the first Tuesday of each month from September through June at 1830. Eight meetings feature speakers on subjects relevant to sailing, the other two are potluck suppers. We sponsor monthly cruises to places south of The Narrows and a year ’round racing schedule for our PHRF, Star and dinghy fleets. Visitors are welcome at our meetings and new members are always encouraged.
Top photo is by Roy Montgomery and was published in the June 1979 issue of the magazine Sailing, vol 13 no. 10. It is used here by permission of Sailing.