New York Yacht Club puts Belfast on its map

Club's summer cruise pays first visit to Belfast
By Ethan Andrews | Aug 15, 2015
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Boats from the New York Yacht Club at the city docks in Belfast, Aug. 13. The club made Belfast part of its summer cruise for the first time this year.

Belfast — Thursday was a “lay day,” for the New York Yacht Club, which meant no races. It also meant polo shirts and shorts instead of the traditional coral slacks and blue blazers the club is known for. Yacht fashion is a strange beast, one that probably has parallels in the evolution of animal species on islands. Call it pastel gigantism. In this way, the members — even dressed down — stood out among the usual crowd of seasonal vacationers.

John Mayo-Smith was visiting with some other members at the public landing Thursday when he learned that the sailboat on the other side of the dock had logged 40,000 miles. He asked the owner, “What's your favorite ocean?”

The man laughed. He was old and fit with a tidy cap of white hair and tastefully sunburned face — the result of vigor just outpacing sunscreen, maybe. His boat looked almost new.

“I don't know,” he said climbing up toward the bow. Others on board tended dock lines. In five minutes, he would be motoring the boat away from the dock, but at the moment there was this question that neither friendly laughter nor demurral had managed to shake.

“The islands off the coast of France are nice,” he said.

The New York Yacht Club has held 159 summer cruises, and more of them in Maine than in most other places on the East Coast. By all accounts, this was the first time the Cruise, as it's known, had come to Belfast.

Earlier stops included Rockland, Southwest Harbor and Pretty Marsh Harbor on Mount Desert Island, and Buck's Harbor. After a two-day stay in Belfast, the club went on to Islesboro.

Daily races had to be split into five classes on account of the variety of sailboats. The powerboats had their own thing, as Ian Dunn, a club member from Naples, Fla., explained: Each boat puts in an estimate of the time it will take to get to the next port driving at a fixed engine RPM. Getting there late or early costs points. The “race” was arguably secondary to the congregation.

“It's kind of like a car rally,” he said.

Traffic in Belfast Harbor was more intense than usual during the NYYC visit. Getting the 70-plus boats of the Cruise situated took careful coordination between private dock owners and the city.

Harbormaster Katherine Pickering said the group made reservations, so the harbor wasn't necessarily busier than it might have been otherwise. Still, she'd had to turn away some drop-ins.

She was also answering more questions than usual. Residents called, wanting to know about all of the big boats all of a sudden. Others dropped by her office figuring the yachts must be full of famous people, politicians or both.

“They'd say, 'I bet you know who's on there, you just don't want to tell me,'” she said. She didn't like the questions.

“They've been a great group to work with,” she said.

Julie Kasley, special events director for NYYC for 13 years, first came to Belfast over the winter to scope out locations and picked the largest building at Front Street Shipyard for a summer lobster bake.

“It was full of boats; there was 10 inches of snow on the ground,” she said. “I thought, this'll work.”

On Thursday, there was no snow and the boats had been moved out to make room for dozens of round tables with family-style, red-and-white-checked tablecloths. From the entrance hung a massive NYYC burgee — the club's signature navy blue flag with red cross and white star. At Kasley's request, the shipyard had strung up a giant spinnaker above the ad hoc dining area.

“They're always good to dress up a shed,” she said.

A NYYC couple dropped by and Kasley greeted them by name. The man and woman had both been members of the club for several decades. He wore a coral print shirt, coral baseball cap and coral shorts. She wore a woven straw hat with a silk band and expensive sunglasses. Kasley introduced them to the reporter who had arrived a few minutes earlier.

The woman asked him if he knew about the club. He said the name conjured an image.

“It's basically people who love the sea and are gentlemen,” she said.

After a beat, she added, “And ladies.”

NYYC used to be a men's club, she said. This started a discussion between the man and woman about whether he had joined before or after things went co-ed.

“It's not a social club,” the man said. “It's for boaters.”

Both seemed to be enjoying Belfast. “The food was great,” the woman said. “And five bookstores!”

Shipyard President JB Turner said the city has only recently started to show up on the radar of groups like NYYC.

“It's still new to them,” he said, “which is great. Especially when you have an absolutely perfect day.”

Turner said word would probably spread from the 100 who came this year to 100 more, gradually bringing more visitors to Belfast. He also joked that maybe the city might not need more visitors, especially on a perfect day in the middle of summer.

“Someone came back [from downtown] and said, 'It's just like Bar Harbor,'” he said.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Virgil Fowles Jr | Aug 16, 2015 06:22

AOA (Active older adults) of the Waldo County YMCA were lucky enough to schedule an afternoon sail on the Timberwind on Thursday last.  I must say I was born and brought up in Belfast some 79 years ago and it was the most spectacular day I have ever had sailing in our beautiful bay with all the visiting craft almost clogging up the harbor.  What was even better was the fact that the Timberwind has no motor power so it was a "old fashioned" sail and it was absolutely the best I've ever had..  Thanks Timberwind and crew.

PS:  It you haven't done it, DO it...

Virgil Fowles Jr.

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