A Mostly Accurate History of the Groton Long Point Yacht Club
By Frank Murphy Sr. with Shirley Sebastian & Rick Berggren
(Re-published with permission from "Groton Long Point 75 years... and then some" by Lucy Bartlett Crosbie. Originally published by the Groton Long Point Association, Inc. Officers and Directors 1995-1996)
The Groton Long Point Yacht Club was formed in 1934, becoming the successor to the Groton Long Point Club which had existed almost from "the beginning". Its purpose was to broaden the range of the original Club to include, primarily, sailing activities.
Ye Groton Long Pointer
Vol. 2 No.3 Groton Long Point, Friday, June 20, 1934 Price 10 Cents
Groton Long Point Club changes name to "Yacht Club"
Judge Howard S. Dodd is Elected First Commodore
Activities To Be Enlarged, New Committees Added
See Sled Overturns in Sound, 5 Long Pointers Take to Water
Kelsey Dodd Sails "Kittiwake" To Victory in Saturday's Race
Johnson's "Petrel" Wins Again
James Backus Wins Junior Tournament
Judge Howard S. Dodd was elected Commodore of The Groton Long Point Yacht Club on Saturday afternoon when the Groton Long Point Club changed its name to the Groton Long Point Yacht Club, so as to enlarge its activities and sponsor yachting. This change was brought about due to the fact that in the past few years, a great number of the residents of the Point have become yacht owners, and with our fleet enlarged to the extent that we could run our own races, it was deemed advisable to change the name to Yacht Club and apply for membership in the National Yacht whereby we would be recognized nationally. The new Yacht Club is to function as the Club did in file past, but plans to extend its activities, and with this in mind, new committees were added and have started out to increase the pleasures of a summer at the Point.
It was announced that all plans of the Club for the present season would be carried out in full with a dance on Fridays for the Children and a dance on Saturdays for the adults. The Sports program as announced in last weeks issue will also be carried out. It is the wish of those in charge that every resident of the Point become a member of the Yacht Club as the Club not only sponsors Yachting, but all sports and social events held on the Point during the summer.
Judge Howard Dodd served as the Club's first Commodore and his brother, Dr. Raymond Dodd its first Race Chairman. But then, as now, there were Vice Commodores and Rear Commodores and Secretaries and Treasurers and Membership Committees working in support of the program. Clearly it is impossible to identify the smallest fraction of their number. Equally clear is the fact that it doesn't really matter; the service was rendered for the betterment of the Club and the emerging community of Groton Long Point, not for personal acclaim. The Club's keystone was Voluntary service and the founding group established a standard, an ethic. which prevails to this day.
Two other names stand out for their important contribution in the early years, Harold "Jerry" Duryea and Sid Burr. The former succeeded Judge Dodd as commodore around the turn of the decade and served until 1948. Jerry Duryea was a big, garrulous and friendly man in whose presence children were immediately at case. We all knew him, and he seemed to know each of us. "Hello, Mr. Duryea" always brought a friendly response and a pat on the head. Sid Burr, a teacher at Springfield College, was equally friendly and popular.
The activities and events Mr. Duryea and Mr. Burr and their associates created for GLP's kids seemed endless. Model sailboat races were organized, starting at Burr's dock to somewhere across the lagoon, wherever they landed. Sinkings were frequent and it required the wisdom of Solomon, sometimes, to decide upon a winner, but, invariably, everyone went home happy. Rowing races in Babcock's 12', heavy wooden rowboats, borrowed for the occasion, proved to be a monthly highlight. Large crowds turned out to watch the rowers, who were grouped by age, as they struggled to move those behemoths across the Lagoon, again from Burr's dock. (Each rowboat would be steadied in position by a volunteer standing in the water. When Sid blew his whistle, it was hands off and Row! It was always helpful if one's brother was your "steadier" because no one seemed to notice his little shove in the midst of all the commotion.)
One "Field Day" each month was organized including the Sack Race, the Three Legged Race, the Long Jump, the Backward Race, the Four Legged Race, (backward on hands and feet ... falling down allowed), the Softball Throw, the Shot put (for the bigger kids. Little kids couldn't get it beyond their toes), The monthly "Swim Meet" was held, again located at Burr's dock. Proper rope lanes floated parallel to the shore. Taller kids were placed in the outer lanes so they couldn't touch the bottom, while the smaller ones were located nearer the shore. There was always the shouting from crowds of parents and friends. Each event always had volunteer judges and timers (none of which were ever recorded... but it looked impressive). Finally, there were wave after wave of swimmers, demonstrating all the strokes. Who could forget the Doggypaddle race and the Floating contests. The Long Distance race was just that. The swim began from the raft off the Main Beach into the Lagoon finishing at Sellas's dock, drew only the hardy. There was nothing like it. These Friday afternoon traditions continue to be as popular today for the youth of GLPYC. A full afternoon was enjoyed even without T.V.
Ribbons and ribbons and ribbons - red, white and blue. By summer's end virtually every child on Groton Long Point had a few from Field Day or the Swim Meet or the Rowing Races or for being in the right place when the music stopped at the Spot Dance, or, sometimes, for not winning anything and looking dejected.
Monday of course, brought The Kiddie Dances. It meant a collar, tie and jacket for the boys and dresses for the ladies. This Monday night ritual started before W.W.II, and continued throughout, with the Casino's windows covered by heavy black shades, securely taped, so no light escaped to assist the patrolling U-boats which were surely, in the minds of the very young revelers, patrolling somewhere in the lagoon.
Bingo began as an adult evening event in back of the Casino in the 1930's and the stakes were low; Bingo was conducted as a gentleman and ladies social event. But don't let the quips of callers Colgan, Clark, Abbe, Dieckerhoff or Hertzler fool you. Bingo was serious business for many years, until the State of Connecticut closed GLPYC's Tuesday night Bingo game in 1994. Memories of Mrs. Dropo banging her cards on the table in disgust was unnerving. One call imagine the fright of the Bingo caller one night during a blackout game. Four balls were left under the tray, failing to fall into tile hopper to start the game!
Teenage dances started in the late '40's, Expatriates from the Kiddie Dance, still properly attired. danced to the big-band sounds sounds of the Mystic Music Makers, a talented group of Noank and Mystic teenagers brought together by a Mr. Robinson who owned a sports store in Mystic. It was big time stuff for the GLP teenager and great theater for their parents who had every window manned to monitor deportment.
Teen dances on Wednesday and alternating Saturday nights, changed with the times and through the '60's and '70's the coats, ties and dresses were replaced with tie-dyes, tee shirts, bell bottoms and jeans. The Swing gave way to Chubby Checker, the Beatles, rock n'roll and The Twist! The Casino's structural footings were tested to foot stomping and sounds of numerous live bands. For safety reasons, adults were not allowed entry without ear Protection. Interest waned during the late '70's as TV and autos diverted teenagers interests elsewhere. The Teen dances were hence discontinued.
The Friday night Kiddie Movies started in 1946. Al Anders, later Commodore, provided the necessary equipment and a 12 year- old projectionist was paid $1 for his night's services. The first film shown was "Frankenstein Meets the Werewolf'. What was left of the original overflow crowd departed through the doors and open windows of the Casino the second time the Werewolf sprouted his hair, and the projectionist was left to watch the rest in absolute solitude ... with his back to the screen. (Film selection improved immediately thereafter). Kiddle Movies have been shown every summer Friday night since; some 400 films, and only that one time has Frankenstein and his hairy friend appeared.
The regular Saturday Night Dance was for the parents, older teenagers and the college crowd. During the war years, Flo Tibbals' quartet of navy personnel, which included the best trombone player in captivity, played toa packed house. Some years later the very popular Dick Campo Orchestra, 15- 16 talented local musicians, brought swing back to the Casino with such gusto that it was said that the Fisher Island Yacht Club held Saturday night dances using our music. Bring your own refreshments, buy ice and set-ups from Ed Bliven's Point Spa. After the dance, the college crowd repaired to the Red Barn on Duryea Road to continue the frolic until Charlie Yering, GLP's whole police force, decided it was time everyone went home. If any youth was known to have "gone off the point" on Saturday night it was surely for no good purpose and questions were asked. Though no longer a regular event, the Yacht Club continues the tradition three or four times each summer with theme parties and events for the whole family.
The Club's sailing program grew rapidly from its initial days. Practically all the Class A's arrived by the early '40's. Through those years the Snipe class was still active, and the Handicap Class which ranged from Jim Donohue's Star boat, the fastest class of its size in the water, to a few 9' sailing dinghies ... and everything in between, started and grew to a fleet of some 17 boats. Only the wisdom of Dr. Raymond Dodd could bring some sort of order to this floating menagerie. Handicaps were assigned at summer's outset, and that was that. If one felt their handicap was unfair, the fact would be noted and considered ... next year. In the late '40's there were three Keel Zips in the fleet. One was winning almost every race. The following year, the slower two Zips were awarded a two minute per mile advantage, (not inconsiderable in a three mile race). The abused young skipper approached the seemingly austere Dr. Dodd and pointed out the obvious inconsistency. "Aren't you winning enough ?" the doctor inquired. "Well, that's not the point," the now know unnerved young sailor offered. "OK", said the almost smiling Dr. Dodd, "what would you think of three minutes a mile?"
The first Lightning on GLP, Albie VanWagenen's "Flame" started in the Handicap Class. In 1949 with Thure Dahl serving as Commodore, it was decided that Lightnings would become an official fleet. He arid his brother Harold, who followed him as Commodore in 1950, drove to Lake Skaneateles in upstate New York, where the class originated, and returned with an enormous flat bed truck bearing nine or ten Lightnings with all the rigging. A few had been spoken for but the rest were, well, available. Within a day or two, they were all purchased and GLP had its Lightning fleet. Through the '50's it grew to well over twenty boats, the largest in the area, and played host each year to a regatta which attracted fifty or sixty sloops from Watch Hill to Niantic. The Lightnings wrote finis for the Handicap Class, however, as skippers forsook the torture of handicaps and flocked to the one design Lightnings.
The advent of fiberglass started the slow demise of the Lightning fleet. The wooden boats weren't competitive and, although many sailors switched to fiberglass, there were fewer. And fewer. An effort to start a 505 class during the '60's drew more from the Lightning fleet. Although its fleet was active and very competitive until the '80's, the rapidly rising costs of being competitive ordained its eventual demise.
The first paid Yacht Club Director was George "Ty" Tyler, hired during the Dahl administration. A schoolteacher in Groton, Ty was brought in to administer the same, basic program which had existed from the start, but which now, by virtue of the massive building boom of the '50's had more participants than ever with which the kindliest of volunteers could cope. Formal lessons in tennis and swimming were offered in addition to the Club's original activities.
Recreational and tournament tennis play has been chronicled back to the early 1930's. Club House Point was the site of the courts, which also doubled as the early home of the Groton Long Point Club. Children yielded the courts to adults on the weekends. Sunday events commenced after the weeks church services were completed in the Casino. Tennis Courts were also located on Atlantic Avenue adjacent to the current Fire Department building, for local use. During the past forty five years the GLPYC expanded from tile Hugh Greer days of instruction on two courts to lessons on eight courts. Over that time, women's lessons were added and the overall program was updated to include instruction for 6-9 year olds, a Junior program with a traveling team, and new tournament formats for all levels of play.
The age of instruction and a paid staff had arrived. Ed Jones, George Shattuck, Al Anders and Don Congdon, serving in succession as Commodores in the early '50's oversaw the evolution of what is now the Club's current program. The Seashells arrived around 1953 and quickly grew to number over 50. Many boats have been handed down through three generations from the original Lilliputian fleet of the '50's, and are still sailing on the Inner Lagoon waters. Mainly through the efforts of Wilbur Young, an original Class A skipper and later Commodore, the Junior Sailing Program was founded in 1957 and Blue Jays made their appearance at Groton Long Point. A complement to the Seashell program, it offered young sailors an out-of-the-Lagoon experience and brought the Club's sailing program to its current esteem. GLP sailors who started in the Inner Lagoon in Seashells and moved through the program have become members of the America's Cup Crews and, otherwise, have sailed to the very edges of the earth.
And, of course, the Class A fleet. Now in its 74th year and sailing here since 1935, it is arguably the oldest continuous racing fleet on the East Coast and perhaps beyond. During and after WW 11 six of the sloops strayed from GLP to the lakes of New York and Vermont and west along the Connecticut shore to Saybrook, Branford, Fairfield and Greenwich. The fleet reached its nadir in the early '50's when on some Saturdays only three boats appeared at the starting line. The irreducible minimum consisted of the Kite, Duck and Skimmer. In 1954 Hurricane Carol finished the Curlew and the Turnstone, dashing them to pieces oil tile rocks of the East Shore.
Of the original sixteen sloops, the remaining fourteen are all back on GLP. The thirty year search and recovery of the missing sloops is a tale which requires and deserves it own forum. But if the Groton Long Point Yacht Club has a singular continuum, the Class A fleet is it.
Venerable though it is, the GLPYC has never had its own clubhouse. Originally what is now the Martin Rosol property on the South Beach was optioned for the purpose, but those were not prosperous years and the project foundered. In the early '60's another attempt was made when Bob Murphy purchased the last house before the sandspit at the Lagoon entrance, plus additional property, in hopes that it could become the clubhouse, However, sufficient opposition arose from residents nearby and along Atlantic Avenue and that project was also abandoned.
Thus the Yacht Club has always called the Casino "home". Until 1976 the Club paid the GLP Association $1.00 a year for use of the building; recognition of the Club's contribution to the community. In 1976, Commodore Burt Rowley put the Club on sound financial footing for the first time. Patrons were invented and budgets were required. At the same time, in order to assist the association in building the kitchen in the Casino, the Club started paying serious rent. Although perceived at the time by all parties as a temporary measure to achieve a short term goal, the rent, like all levies, levies acquired a life of its own.
As was said earlier, it is impossible to identify all those, other than Commodores, who have served the Club with distinction. However it should be noted that Ann Sweeney served as Treasurer for some thirty years through 1980, and is, without doubt, the longest serving officer our Yacht Club has ever had.
As we described the Clubs very early days and its activities, the reader may have experienced a sense of deja vu. As decades and generations pass by nothing much has really changed. From Judge Raymond Dodd's first year as Commodore right through to Bob Congdon's current term, (himself the son of a three time Commodore), the ethic of voluntarism of "pitching in" to help, titled or not; the dedication of so many people to the original intent of the Club's founders ... for over 60 years ... has been sustained. The inclusiveness, the absence of elitism is the essence of that original keystone and, happily, it still prevails. Voluntarism should serve as an example for those get to take their turn at the wheel. It is an excellent model. To re-work a phrase for future Commodores, Vice Commodores, Rear Commodores, Treasurers. Secretaries and Directors, "it still ain't broke, so it doesn't need fixing. "
The Groton Long Point Yacht Club has, for over sixty years, been the heartbeat of GLP. Without it, and its unique character, GLP would be just another pretty peninsula in Long Island Sound.