|Vancouver Lake Sailing Club
promoting sailing and racing of one-design centerboard boats since 1967
(As told to Sandy Neuburger by John and MaryKay DeBenedetti in 1986. Additions were made by Paul and Elaine Fischer after a special party held for founding fathers and mothers in 1987.)
As the story is told, the dream of sailing and racing on Vancouver Lake and forming a sailing club here was first discussed by a group of sailboat racers in August 1967 during a small boat regatta on the Columbia River at the Portland Yacht Club. These racers were members of the Oregon Corinthians Sailing Association and other local yacht clubs. There was time to talk of dreams and perfect sailing, as the "whisper of wind" never developed into more than that on either Saturday or Sunday of the two-day event.
Bill Fleet, a Lightning sailor and member of the Vancouver Lake Advisory Board, was the first to talk about his idea of sailing on Vancouver Lake. He knew the lake well and could see it from his house. When the boats were put away that day, Bill Fleet, John DeBenedetti, Paul Fischer, Roger Kern, Bob Smith, Al Morris, Jerry Crane, and "Smoke" Fischer went to Vancouver Lake and decided then and there that the lake was great for sailing and racing, although it was shallow in some areas.
They formed a group to organize sailing on Vancouver Lake and began meeting every week for the rest of the summer and fall. Their intent was to promote the racing of one-design open centerboard small boats on Vancouver Lake. Their original idea was to rent, lease, or buy lake front property and sail during times of high water in the spring and fall. They would keep memberships in their current yacht clubs and use the lake when it was deep enough for racing. The Articles of Incorporation for Vancouver Lake Sailing Club were filed with the State of Washington on December 7, 1967.
The Property: Several pieces of property were considered including beachfront area by the railroad on the northwest
side of the lake. There's one story of how Danny Delano, Bill Fleet, and Paul and Mark Fischer launched their El
Torro and Penguin at the Game Commission Road and sailed up Lake River to see what the lake front property looked
like from the water. It was the end of October, the wind was light, and they found themselves rowing most of the
way. After a few hours the wind came up and both boats capsized. There was nothing to bail with in the non-rescuing
boats and panic was about to set in. Just as it was getting dark, two boys in a small styrofoam kayak came by and
were convinced to tow the capsized boats to safety with their former occupants hanging over the side. The boys
were offered a "lifetime membership to VLSC" but were never seen again. In spite of everything, the expedition
was a success. Two vacant lots were located and considered as possible club sites. In 1969, one of these sites
on the southeast beach was eventually purchased from a couple named Carroll for $20,000. The Carroll's also agreed
to hold the property and old house just south of the Club until VLSC could afford it. They were asking $30,000
but the decision to purchase this place was never made and it was eventually sold to someone else.
In an effort to build membership in the new club, John and MaryKay Debenedetti and Paul and Elaine Fischer sent
out 900 brochures and invitations for a VLSC information meeting to "Interested" people who might benefit
from the club, sailors, business men, members from other clubs, etc. This meeting was scheduled in a meeting room
at the Public Utility District in Vancouver.
Until a clubhouse could be built, VLSC meetings were held at members' homes and later at Jack and Marge O'Rourke's Pizza Palace in Hazel Dell (now called Smokey's).
Funding: Bonds were sold to members and friends to finance the down payment and for building a ramp necessary for boat launching. The Carrolls carried the mortgage and supported VLSC in other ways by attending VLSC's regattas and fundraisers. Hosting a fashion show and several theater parties at the Civic Theater raised money for some projects. One of the parties paid for VLSC's first lawn mower.
Work Parties: Some of the hardest working members in the first years of the club were Associate members who didn't even own a sailboat, including Art Leacock, Danny Delano, and Hans Geerling. Work parties held practically every weekend left little time for sailing.
The Burgee: A contest was held to design a VLSC burgee. Pam Smith won by 100% of the vote.
The Ramp: One of the first projects was building a ramp to launch the boats. Dick Blickle, a member Lightening owner (and in the construction business) "happened" to have a 90 foot boom and dragline bucket. He dug a 15 foot hole (as far as the dragline could reach) off the end of the proposed ramp. The mud from the hole became the base of the new ramp. Don Eudaly, a Cal 20 sailor, brought in his equipment and smoothed and graveled the ramp. FINALLY, VLSC WAS TRULY A CLUB ­ BOATS COULD BE LAUNCHED! Half of the mud washed away the first winter and a retaining wall had to be built on the north side of the ramp. Large rocks were used to support its south side. AT THIS POINT VLSC HAD THE LAND, A RAMP, A LARGE MORTGAGE, AND A BURGEE.
In 1969, the enthusiasm of the VLSC membership increased with the Vancouver Lake Complex Development Plan for the improvement and dredging of Vancouver Lake which was sponsored by the Port of Vancouver Regional Planning Commission.
The Docks: In 1970, a 4 by 6-foot platform made up of oil barrels was built to act as a dock. To launch their boats, members would paddle out to this small dock. Imagine doing this with several other boats and 20 knots of wind. The lake itself proved to be a great place to sail and race during high water. In 1971, the first usable docks and pilings were installed. They were made from donated telephone poles, which were hauled, to the club by Ken and Van Conklin in their semi flat bed truck. These were made into tripod pilings, which were actually set by hand into holes dug by VLSC members during periods of low water. Concrete was poured into the holes and the tops of the pilings were lashed together with cables. Later, Danny Delano found some free 12 inch by 10 foot stainless steel pipe. Concrete was poured inside with rebar to give them strength and they were placed on the south side of the dock. VLSC was "probably the only club in the world with stainless steel piling".
Pacific International Yachting Association (PIYA): In 1972, VLSC joined the Pacific International Yachting Association and held it's first small boat regatta in January. Willamette Sailing Club and Seattle's El Toro Fleet were invited. There was snow on the ground to "chill the beer". Two tents served as the clubhouse and bathrooms ("hers" on one side of the flap and "his" on the other). Jan Rice and Elaine Fischer cooking on a Coleman stove supplied the hot dogs, chips, hot spiced cider, and hot chocolate to participants. The first regatta proved to be a success ­ VLSC turned a profit of $23!
The Clubhouse: The present clubhouse was designed by Rick Rice. Construction began in 1972 and was completed in 1974. Many of the materials used were scrounged by John DeBenedetti and other members. The main beams were donated and the clubhouse was designed around their dimensions. They had been ordered in the wrong size by the dealer and were in storage. The windows were "nearly free". Since all the labor was done by the members, the cost for building the main section of the present clubhouse was much less than anticipated ­ $1,200. Until the restrooms designed by Dave Hickman were added a few years later, porta-potties were a common sight at VLSC.
The Grounds: Sometime in 1972, the grounds and grassy areas were realigned to separate boat and car parking from recreational use areas. Vance Smith designed the play equipment for the "little sailors too short to reach the halyards".
The Red Boat: The "old orange" committee boat, since gone, was built by Hans Beering from Tektronics, another member who didn't own a boat at the time.
The Groundskeeper: Petty vandalism prompted the hiring of a year-round groundskeeper in 1980.
The Dredging Project: In 1983, the Vancouver Lake dredging improvement project gave VLSC year round sailing/racing. Dredging the dock area of the club necessitated the installation of new pilings. This was an expensive venture and new loans had to be procured.
VLSC celebrated its 33rd birthday in 2000, and the major purpose of the club remains unchanged. VLSC continues to promote the sailing and racing of one-design open centerboard small boats. VLSC sponsors a full racing program with an annual PIYA Regatta (1st weekend in June), a Winter "Frostbite" Series, A Spring and Fall Sunday and Tuesday Series, a Summer Tuesday Series, and a Summer Single-handed Series. There are approximately 80 VLSC members who own about 100 sailboats. Many members of VLSC participate in its active racing program while others are day sailors. Several events during the year bring the racers and the day sailors together. Activities like Opening Day, Open House, Pig on a Spit (or in a Pit), the Super Chili Bowl Cookoff, the Annual Banquet, general meetings, potlucks after racing, etc. provide an opportunity to socialize.
Several projects have been initiated at VLSC to improve existing facilities for boat launching and beach access. These include a project to improve beach areas: a system of docks to enclose the water frontage and its walkways; maintenance and improvement of the grassy beach area; resurfacing of the ramp (completed in 1999). Long range plans (dreams) include the construction of a new clubhouse overlooking the lake.
If you have any additions or revisions of VLSC's history, please contact Sandy Neuburger at 503-282-9352.