Tuscaloosa Sailing Club History

On a cold March night in 1972, eighteen sailors gathered in a small auditorium and voted to form the Tuscaloosa Sailing Club. Each put up a sum of money with the understanding that if suitable property could not be found, all of the money would be refunded. Who could ever imagine that such a meager beginning would result in the sailing club that we know today? Through the efforts of these eighteen members, and many others that have since followed, the Tuscaloosa Sailing Club has developed into an excellent facility for enjoying the sport of sailing. The Sailing Club, as it is more commonly called, is located off U.S. Highway 43, just east of the entrance of Binion Creek and Lake Tuscaloosa. The club is comprised of approximately 6 acres, directly adjacent to the lake. Facilities include clubhouse, loading ramps, docks, wet slips, campgrounds and boat storage. The club was designed and built to accommodate 50 to 60 families. This manual is being provided to acquaint both old and new members with the policies and procedures of the club. The design of the manual is such that it may be updated on a regular basis as information is added, deleted or changed. The Board of Governors of the Tuscaloosa Sailing Club hopes this manual will enhance each member's enjoyment of the club, and provide them with ample knowledge to fully participate in its activities.

The Tuscaloosa Sailing Club was born on a cold March night in 1972. The place was the Alabama Power Company auditorium and eighteen sailors gathered and voted to form the Tuscaloosa Sailing Club. They put up the money with the understanding that if suitable property could not be found, all money would be refunded. Officers were elected and Connie Smitherman headed the fledgling Board of Governors. To understand the need for the Club's founding, one must go back two years when Lake Tuscaloosa was formed. A handful of local sailors soon discovered that the best sailing water was at the north end of the lake and they met informally and accidentally at the public launch ramp on Highway 43. They had virtually nothing in common except a love for sailing. This early nucleus was a hodgepodge of sailing craft. There was one Flying Jr., one Flying Scot, three Windmills, one Y Flyer, one Daysailor and assorted Sunfish types. The conditions were pretty bad. Boats had to trailered from home, rigged at the ramp, launched, and then, with no dock facilities, the sailors would have to stand waist deep in water, attach the rudder, bend the sails, etc. While all this was going on, power boaters were coming and going. Waves and swimmers abounded and confusion reigned. It got pretty difficult trying to come into the area on the run, with high wind, jump out and trying to hold a boat to prevent grounding. As sailors talked at the landing, it soon became a consensus opinion that we needed our own property and dock. This is what led to our March 1972 meeting. A search for suitable land followed. We had noticed an old abandoned farmhouse at the northeast p[art of the Binion Creak area, and Gene Proctor knew the property owner. We met the owner and worked out a lease-purchase agreement with him. The property had an abandoned road into it which we could use (not our present road.) The first order of business was to survey since property lines were not well defined. While this was going on, we started building our small dock at the launch ramp. The owner had poured a ramp before the lake filled. We spent the summer of 1972 working on the dock, improving the road and building an access road across the creek to get into the field. Without this road we could never grow, since the bulk of our flat land was east of the creek. Some discussions were held on using the old farmhouse which was located under the big oak at the entrance, but the old house had seen too many years and had to be bulldozed and burned. Besides the work on the road, dock and land surveys, a great deal of legal work was done. We formed a non-profit corporation in the State of Alabama. Our constitution was modeled after the Birmingham Sailing Club and the Dixie Sailing Club. It was modified to fit the needs of our tiny 18 member club. Our lease called for a payment of $150.00 per acre per year until 1980, with an option to buy at $4000.00 per acre, payable over an eight year period at 6% interest. It was an ideal lease for us as we had so few members and so little money. Work parties in those early years would usually be attended by 60 to 80 percent of the club. We were so glad to get away from that public ramp, all work parties were really a labor of love.

At our business meeting in January 1973, Wayne Townsend was elected our second Commodore. By this time, we had grown to about 23 members, we had property and a dock but that was about all. The Board made a bank loan and we had to have some of the charter members co-sign this bank note, as we had no collateral. What followed was an explosive burst of activity. The most pressing need was for restroom facilities. To provide restroos, we needed a good deep-water well, electricity to power a pump, and some form of sewage disposal. So, the summer of 1973 saw many work parties. Our well is 150 feet deep and while it does not make good coffee, it is pure and has been tested by the Health Department. Our electric lines are all buried to avoid contact with a mast and we did most of the work ourselves. A few people began to use the pine area designed as a camping area. We had no shelters, of course, and wives would come out with deck chairs and sit under the shade of a tree near the shoreline. Children would swim or play while the men sailed. This was the first year that we had organized racing; our marks were put out by sailboats and we usually "started ourselves". An awards banquet was held at the end of the racing season. Our pavilion was finished this summer also. All but the cement floor was done by work parties. These work parties united the club and many enduring friendships began. Membership at the year's end stood at 28.

Year three found our club in debt for the first time, but if anyone thought Comodore Everett Brett was going to spend the year sitting on his hands, they were wrong. With the continued growth of the club, money was found to build our larger dock, which was sorely needed. The launch dock could accommodate only three or four boats so we used our new pavilion as a factory for making additional dock sections. We cut and assembled dock sections under the pavilion, then finished each section down by the lake, floated it out and chained it in p[lace. It was a real assembly line. Ed Rankin had secured plans from a Styrofoam manufacturer. (Ever notice how much Styrofoam is under the dock?) One hot day in July, 1974 we dedicated the dock with a champagne toast to Grounds Chairman Ed Rankin and threw him in the lake...where he lost his automobile keys. Oh well. The price of progress. This was also the year that we purchased the tables, benches and garbage cans. Isn't it ironic that you can gauge a club's success by the quantity of its garbage. By years end we had grown to about double our original membership.

This year, 1975, we elected a new-comer, and a Yankee to boot, to lead us. Bud Griffes soon put his Yankee ingenuity to work and had us busy adding a porch to the pavilion. Also, Bud foresaw the need to upgrade our sailing and racing program. After all, he used to say, "that's what this club is all about." So for the magnificent sum of $300.00 we bought a rusting hulk which became known as the Liki Tiki, our race committee boat. After considerable repair, the Tiki was operable and it served the club well. Well, almost. This was also the year that we retired our bank debt early. On another financial note, we also voted to set aside a sum of money ($2000 per year) to begin buying the land. Many long discussions were undertaken by committees on how we should "bite the bullet". In the en, the Club showed great responsibility and foresight in taking this giant step for future sailors.

So far, the Club had been led by a salesman, a newspaperman, a teacher, and a retired military man. This year, the Club turned to an engineer for leadership. Commodore Austin Lee put his professional training to work and solved some of our drainage and erosion problems. We built a sea-wall and deepened the area between our docks. Our limited camping area had come to resemble a ghetto. It was evident that we had to expand our water and electrical outlets. Camping had become so popular, we had eleven recreational vehicles in an area designed for four or five. New ground was cleared and water and electrical cables were buried. A system of permanent campsites was put into effect. A riding lawn mower had been bought the previous year and it became so popular and our grounds were well maintained this year. By the end of 1976, we had almost reached our maximum membership of fifty and as the year closed, there was a feeling that Tuscaloosa's first and only sailing club was on solid ground, facing the future with confidence. As the song goes, "It was a very good year".

All during 1976 there had been a growing desire on the part of the members for some sort of clubhouse... be it ever so humble. A number of suggestions had been made. Some favored enclosing part of the pavilion. The Board had even purchased a wood burning stove. But as more discussions were held, we began to see the value of building a nicer building... especially in face of a growing inflation rate. Our Commodore for the year was Ted Vallery, a charter member and our resident "Financial Genius". Dr. Vallery appointed a Building Committee composed of Austin Lee, Ed Rankin, Jack Graham and Connie Smitherman to look into the feasibility of building a Clubhouse. This committee reported to the general membership and after some delay to find the proper site, we began our building program. Again, work parties played a prominent part in the construction of the Clubhouse. We did most of the wiring, painting, insulating, etc. and the rest was contracted. Our Clubhouse came in for less than $25,000 and it was largely to a dedicated building committee. One other note of historical interest was our method of financing. Ted Vallery devised a plan which came to be known as the 312.50 Plan. This plan made possible the complete financing of our Clubhouse by the club members. Not one dime of outside money was needed to construct the Clubhouse. Perhaps it would be of interest to future sailors to note which boats were most popular in these days. From the club's inception, the Windmill was a popular boat. But soon people began looking for larger boats and the Buccanneer class began to grow and soon replaced the Windmill as the most popular. Our racing was in open fleets due to the small number of members and fortunately the handicaps on these two boats were close and it made for exciting racing. About 1976, the Flying Scot class began to grow. We had two Scots in the beginning of the club and with this new interest in the Class, we soon had a fleet of ten. Of course, we had many different types of boats that were one of a kind.

As Commodore Lynn Kreuger opened his year of stewardship of T.S.C., we had a clubhouse that was almost, but not quite finished. Much of the final work was left to be done and we all set to work so we could have a spring Grand Opening. This took place on April 1st of that year, 1978. There had been impromptu parties prior to his such as a New Year's Eve party several months earlier, but the Grand Opening with the champagne and speeches made it official. We were all very proud of our new clubhouse. During this year the city fathers announced that the lake would be dropped about ten feet. This was being done for the first time since the lake had been formed (circa 1970). So we began to formulate plans to do repair work on our docks and to do some dredging of the shallow areas, especially around our dock. Many a sailor had grounded while coming in to the dock. Grounds Chairman Otis Clarke could be seen making plans on where to dredge, etc. When the lake did drop, later in the year, after several false starts by the city, we were ready and did some extensive alteration of the lake bottom. Of course, when the lake filled again, these improvements could not be seen, but we are still enjoying the fruits of this labor (at a cost of about $3000.00).

Otis Clarke will be remembered for several reasons. He not only served as our Commodore for this year, but he was a charter member of the club, father of the covered dish supper which he had instigated several years earlier, and he proved to be a good administrator during this year. All the officers functioned well. We had a very active racing program under Pete Nasir. We expanded our docks adding to both the launching dock and extending the wings of our main dock. The Tiki got a new motor this year which was very much needed. One sad note. The Tuscaloosa Sailing Club lost, indeed we all lost a very dear friend this year. Ed Ranking had been most active in club affairs since the beginning. We will all miss him very much.