A history of Miramar Yacht Club
For New Yorkers, the year 1932 stands out for a number of reasons. A state senator had just won the first of four elections as president and the Brooklyn Dodgers were building a dynasty in Ebbets Field. But it was also the year that an ardent group of young men founded what they called the Miramar Boat & Canoe Club on the north shore of Sheepshead Bay. Not long after that FDR left for Washington, D.C. and later, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. But the Miramar Boat & Canoe Club stayed put, growing and thriving where it started. What follows is a brief history of that club as it approaches its centenary. It is a story of how we became a member managed sailing community, with members from diverse backgrounds focused on benefiting our members and pursuing our common passion – boating.
Despite its modest beginnings in south Brooklyn, the club, whose name is taken from the Spanish words for “sea” and “view,” flourished, and it was soon decided that a formal leadership structure was in order.
Key developments marked those formative years. In 1944 Miramar was incorporated and reorganized as a cooperative yacht club, taking the name Miramar Yacht Club. By then the club had day sailors, cruising boats (Division I), power boats and, of course, canoes.
During the crucial World War II years Miramar made contributions to the Allied cause. Several members served in the military and some members who remained at home placed their boats at the disposal of the Coast Guard.
Miramar’s origins didn’t just stem from a love of boating. In the early 20th century membership of boating clubs in the area, like the membership of many voluntary associations, was relatively homogenous. People of various ethnic and religious groups formed associations for themselves. Miramar’s founders were Jewish and, thus, were excluded from membership in non-Jewish boating clubs. Though that kind of segregation has eased in the years since 1932, Miramar was from the beginning a haven for sailors of every ethnicity and race.
In 1969 Miramar acquired and moved into its current facility. As they had done before, members pitched in to keep costs at a minimum. In the first nine months of that year members completed the bulkhead, filled in some 5,000 square feet of dirt and then poured concrete on top of that, installed a pier and furnished the newly constructed clubhouse. Additions and improvements continued, and in the early 1970s an electric 2 ton boat hoist was installed.
After the war, with interest in boating on the upswing nationally, Miramar's membership swelled with returning as well as new sailing enthusiasts. As of Nov. 1, 1954, the club listed 185 members. By 1978 the club had capped membership at 135, with a waiting list of 15.
Membership wasn’t the only thing that grew in the post-War period. The composition of the Miramar fleet also increased. By 1948, a fleet of Hinckley sloops arrived. In 1950, the number of small sailing boats jumped. From the 1950s onward members sailed Lightnings, Thistles, Snipes, Penguins, Lasers, Flying Scots, Javelins, Tanzers, Rhodes 19s and Wood-Pussies, a 13 1/2 -foot centerboard dinghy designed by Philip Rhodes that was first built in 1943. In addition, there were one-off dinghies and an assortment of larger boats in the 20- and 30-foot range.
It was during the 1980s that the club’s fleet of Ensigns began growing. Pearson Yachts had begun manufacturing the Carl Alberg-designed sloop in 1962. With a length overall of 22 feet and 6 inches, a 7-foot beam, 3-foot draft, the boat proved both a good family boat, with a cockpit big enough for six, and a fine racer.
By the 1980s, Miramar listed 35 Ensigns in its fleet.
It was during the 1950s that Miramar became linked publicly with one of America’s iconic yachts. During this decade Gil Cigal, who later became a commodore in the mid-1970s, and a group of friends at Miramar were looking for a new sailboat in the 40-foot range. The group had already acquired a wooden Hinckley Southwester 34 and a Hinckley Pilot 35. After that Cigal and his friends wanted a boat constructed of fiberglass which at the time was a relatively new material. They liked the recently launched Hinckley Block Island 40 and asked its designer, Bill Tripp Jr. to come up with something similar.
As a result of the efforts of the Miramar crew, the classic Hinckley Bermuda 40 was born. Cigal, an electrical engineer, worked with Tripp on the vessel’s interior design and then with Henry Hinckley on the wiring of the Bermuda 40. Hull No. 1 was launched in 1959. The first 5 or 6 Bermuda 40s were purchased by Miramar members. Over the next 23 years Hinckley built 203 of these vessels.
Racing has always been a major staple of life at Miramar. In the early days, many members owned smaller boats that were dry sailed. These included Snipes, Thistles, Flying Scots and especially Lightnings. While there was indeed a variety of sailboats at the club, members recall the most prevalent racing boats in the 1950s and 1960s were the Lightnings and the Flying Scots.
The Division One fleet was also competitive from Miramar’s early years. Many of the competitors were the Hinckley yachts.
Miramar members didn’t just race locally. On numerous occasions folks trailered Flying Scots and Lightnings to the Midwest and the east coast. Miramar members also competed at the Ensign regionals and nationals. The club has also been a destination for racers: In 1981 Miramar hosted the Region One Ensign Regatta, and in 2021 the club again hosted the Region One Ensign Regatta.
Currently Miramar hosts informal races on Wednesday evenings (for Ensigns) and in summer trophy races on weekend afternoons for both Division 1 and Ensigns.
The club fostered close friendships, and members found ways to spend time together. The strong social atmosphere is partially attributable to the fact that many are long-time members.
Besides frequent post-race dinners, during the summers many members would sail over to Coney Island to watch the fireworks. Members recall frequent cookouts on club grounds, theme parties, lobster dinners, summer dances and wine and cheese socials. During winters some members chartered sailboats in the Caribbean for week-long vacations. Others would take ski trips together.
Owners of larger boats would spend the first two weeks of July cruising together, frequently in Eastern Long Island Sound, Newport and Block Island and Buzzards Bay. Additionally, over the years members have sailed to Florida, Bermuda, across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean.
Though predominantly a club of sailboat owners, there has nearly always been a complement of powerboat owners who were welcome.
It took a while but eventually women at Miramar achieved the same status as male members. In 1952 there were only two women members. Over time their ranks slowly grew. In one case, a woman, who had been a member of a nearby boat club, joined because its policy was to expel wives of deceased members. By opening club offices to women, the number of qualified nominees virtually doubled. Currently women comprise a significant percentage of our club’s active sailors as boat owners, captains, and crew.
In 1992 Miramar elected its first female commodore, and in 2006 its second. Our third female commodore was elected in 2019, and under her able leadership the club weathered the Covid 19 pandemic that severely restricted activities and forced meetings to be conducted virtually.
It has not always been fair winds and following seas. In November 1950 a vicious hurricane destroyed docks and floats and several Miramar boats were destroyed. The following year members made needed repairs and then completed significant improvements. Among them were an improved clubhouse, more serviceable locker facilities, a more efficient dock and float arrangement and a small-boat hauling capability was installed. Further, a five-year lease on the property (where the club was located at the time) was negotiated and the membership doubled.
Then in late October 2012 Hurricane Sandy hammered New York City, especially low-lying areas near the coast. The resulting storm surge sent a massive volume of water over the club’s seawall. Numerous boats in Sheepshead were torn from their moorings and driven into seawalls and docks. The surge smashed Miramar’s ground-floor plate glass windows and flooded the dayroom and locker rooms. Three large construction container loads of storm debris were deposited on our grounds and removed. In addition, several Ensigns that were resting on cradles in the parking lot were damaged. However, under the able leadership of our commodore and bridge, members worked countless hours that winter and by spring 2013 the club was back and operational.
We recently received a letter from visitor who participated in a regatta hosted by Miramar. Our guest wrote:
“I want to share… [my]…experience this past weekend…..We sailed out of the Miramar Yacht Club on Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY. Our sailing venue was off Coney Island and Brighton Beach, and it was beautiful. While the venue was wonderful and the location incredible, what set this venue apart was the host club's members. They were the most diverse mix of humanity I have ever witnessed. They were born here from many origins, immigrants born elsewhere, blue collar, professional, many religions, many colors, many sizes, and many ages, all were sailors…. Most incredible, each and every one made me and all that traveled there feel truly welcome…. This Brooklyn, New York club exuded grace and class and a genuine love for the sport. I hope they will invite me back….”
We are pleased that our guest understood us and that we have continued what our predecessors started, and perhaps refined it a bit in the process. We plan to continue on this road and welcome passionate sailors to visit, and perhaps join us.