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History Of Austin Yacht Club

Dr. William Carter started the Austin Sailing Club in 1951. Commodore Bob Embleton had the club incorporated in 1953. Back then, meetings were usually held at members’ homes. For a while, club meetings were held at the Austin Public Library. Dues were $10 a year.

Boat building was a common bond among the ASC members since almost all the boats were home built with wood. Dr. Carter designed the T-28 and T-24. The “T” standing for Texas and the number, of course, referring to the boat length. Bill Carter’s T -28, Heuristic, was the scratch boat. There were also two T-24’s, a Comet, a Snipe, an International 14, and several double-enders. Sails were made of cotton and lines were linen. Pat Kimbrough remembers the first attempt with a synthetic sail. Orion, which did not quite make the grade, was so brittle it cracked when folded. Dacron did not appear on the scene until around 1956.

Races were run from shore, at the Lake Travis Lodges, using a portable mast as the signal hoist for various starts. Marks were usually inner-tubes with a flag attached. The rules demanded a higher level of conduct and seamanship because, if you fouled someone or touched a mark, you were out of the race! There were no penalty turns in those days.

Cruising was also very popular when ASC first got started. About every two weeks, members gathered for a short overnight sail. Arkansas Bend was a favorite destination. When the lake was full, you could sail right up to shore and tie off with a stern anchor out to keep the boats all pointed toward shore. The Bluebonnet Cruise, to Cow Creek, was held once a year. It was an ideal campground but unfortunately turned out to be private property. The Bluebonnet Cruise is now celebrated as the Turnback Canyon Regatta, with the post-race BBQ and campout held on parkland that is part of the Lago Vista community. Many years the local volunteer fire department hosts the barbeque, attended by hundreds of people in addition to the racers.

In the early ’60s, ASC rented a cabin at Lake Travis Lodges for a clubhouse. It was next to a cafe run by Jesse James, the State Treasurer. He liked sailors and extended a good price on the cabin rental. The cabin had a large room, kitchen, bath, and fireplace. Out front, a large screen porch overlooked the marina. This clubhouse proved popular and enabled the Austin Sailing Club to attract more members. About this time, Raymond Allen, owner of Beacon Lodges offered to sell ASC that property for $110,000. Several ASC members tried to come up with the money, but it was out of reach at the time. Beacon Lodges was then sold to builder/developer Walter Carrington. Later, as club membership grew, a trust fund was established and the current club site was purchased.

Tom Leach designed the current clubhouse. In 1969, it was built under the careful supervision of Bill Griffis. At this time the name was changed to the Austin Yacht Club.

The original fishing camp cabins have been retained and can be rented by club members and guests. The cabins were substantially remodeled after the flood of December 1991 when the level of Lake Travis reached 710.44 feet above sea level. The floors of several cabins were raised to the top of the original stone walls, to lift them above the spillway level of Mansfield Dam.

It was commonly believed that the clubhouse was built just above the level of the spillway but this turned out to be off by several feet, as the clubhouse was under more than a foot of water during the 1991 flood. The clubhouse was remodeled with an emphasis on waterproof materials and easily movable fixtures.

In the mid-1980s the office was built adjacent to the clubhouse, with expanded restroom facilities below. Hap McCollum was in charge of this project, which included a spectacular demolition of an existing structure.

The club has always been driven by a spirit of volunteerism, with members providing the labor for many projects on the docks and around the grounds. The largest such project was the construction of new board boat docks in the South cove. This effort was organized and led by Jon Fitch, and spanned most of 2003 and part of 2004 with volunteers working nights and weekends.

With racing as the central theme of the club, AYC members have done well over the years at the state, regional, national, and even international level. Teams and individuals from AYC have won numerous championships including silver medals in the 1992 Olympics (Doug Kern/Kevin Mahaney/Jim Brady in the Soling class and Paul Foerster/Steve Bourdow in the Flying Dutchman class).

The Turnback Canyon Regatta

Dating back to the early 1950s, Turnback Canyon Regatta (TBC) is full of contrasts in its history. Originally called the Bluebonnet Cruise, six to ten boats participated in the two-day event. The boats sailing in the first event were mostly homemade and ranged from Snipes to T24’s and a T28 where T proudly stood for TEXAS. The boats were wood and the sails were cotton but the sailing strategies were the same then as today. Starting from the vicinity of AYC (which was then known as The Austin Sailing Club), the participants raced to an overnight point, near the current Turnback Canyon cove on Saturday, anchored overnight, and returned to AYC on Sunday. Overnight destination anchorages over the years have included Cow Creek, Briarcliff, Lago Vista Resort, and the current Lago Vista Bar-K Ranch Park. BUT — no matter the start or the destination, the regatta was always focused on the beauty of sailing, and fun.

From the small start of six to ten boats, during the 1970s and ’80s, TBC Regatta became the largest event sponsored by AYC. With participation levels up to 300 boats and as many as 100 multi-hull boats, TBC Regatta spawned another long-standing tradition of great parties, which included drinks, sea stories, BBQ meals, bands, dancing, and lots of fun.

TBC Regatta has been sailed in ideal weather and sometimes — not so ideal weather. Conditions have varied from hot and no wind to — cool and way too much wind, sometimes with or without rain, hail, or flashes of light. TBC Regatta started with a lake level so low (around 620msl) that sand bars and old debris (lurking just beneath the surface) snagged a few boats here and there. But, the TBC regatta has also experienced very full lake conditions up to 699msl in 1957. In recent years, the lake has varied from 645msl to 685msl. For 2009 slightly below normal lake conditions of 672 msl are expected, but no matter the wind, weather, or lake level the regatta was always fun.

In 1984 a special perpetual trophy was commissioned by the AYC Board of Directors in memory of Bill Levens, Sr.,a long time AYC sailor who always supported and never missed a Turnback Canyon Regatta. The Levens Trophy is awarded to the best corrected time keelboat for the race to Turnback. This trophy has been won by notables such as Hap Arnold, Ray Shull, and the Henson/Vaughan team. Quite a variety of boats have won this trophy over the years — Ensigns, Catalina 22’s, J29’s, and Hobie 33’s are just a few.   Here’s a Turnback Regatta handbook from 1987.

The Red Eye Regatta

History recorded by Steve Vaughan as related by Russell Painton, Rod Malone, Trenton Wann, Dennis Awbrey and Pete Reinhart

The Red Eye Regatta was conceived of by Pete Reinhart and fellow partiers at a 1975 News Years Eve party held at Arak Bozyan’s home. There are unsubstantiated rumors liquor was involved, but the “rationale” now remembered for racing on new Year’s Day is an alternative to watching football.

Regardless of the true rationale, the hard evidence is that on January 1st, 1976 the first RED EYE Regatta was held, and was run by Pete from the comfort of his car positioned on the AYC point using his horn as the starting gun. That first race was a long-distance race held in great weather conditions, scored under the MORC handicap rule, and included about 20 boats. The complete participant list has not been found but the trophy evidence clearly shows Dennis Awbrey was the first winner. In addition to thinking it up and running the first race, he also donated the race trophy which included his artful attempt at engraving with a 10 penny nail. This trophy survives to this date and continues to be the smallest award ever made at the Austin Yacht Club (pictured above, yup that’s a ruler, and the cup is ~2″ tall).

Within a few short years following the inaugural race the format was greatly enhanced by Hap McCollum through the addition of Bloody Mary’s (courage extenders) and breakfast. For nearly 30 years Hap was the RED EYE guru, chief bartender, and chef for now traditional Bloody Mary Breakfast. Hap was also always on the starting line for the race regardless of his sobriety or alertness, evidence of this is given by Trenton Wann who relates that during one RED EYE race he looked back at skipper Hap on the helm and found him fast asleep while driving to weather.

The RED EYE regatta has been held every year since 1976 and has been sailed in weather ranging from beautiful spring-like days to freezing rain to dense fog. However, with very few exceptions the weather has not stopped the race. Sailing RED EYE gives skippers and crew the bragging rights that their racing season starts on January 1.

On January 1, 2008, the “McCollum Cup” was introduced in memory of Hap’s passing, awarded to the overall PHRF Spinnaker fleet winner.

Governors Cup History

Read about the AYC Governors Cup Regatta

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