The Honorable William’s Wall keel was laid in February 2002.  But it’s genesis started many years before.

In 1996, Manhattan Yacht Club acquired its first clubhouse, the 45-foot pontoon boat which serves as our office and headquarters at the Liberty Harbor docks.  Getting this first clubhouse was a significant step forward in the history of the club.  It helped us begin developing as a social organization in addition to just sailing outlet.  Many members have spent a lot of time in the clubhouse and a few marriages have been created there as well.  This vessel has served us well and we have all benefited as a result.


Photo: Our first clubhouse was the 45-foot pontoon boat which we keep docked at North Cove.  This vessel was acquired by the club in 1996.

When the club acquired this first clubhouse, our membership stood at 200.  By 1999, we had grown to 450 members.  As enjoyable as the existing clubhouse is, we needed a larger facility for the size of our club.  Also, we needed a facility which could be used by multiple events at the same time.

In 2001, something special happened which propelled this idea forward.  In the spring, the club received a commercial mooring permit to put its barge in the cove between Liberty State Park and Ellis Island.  Initially, the purpose was to support a Laser sailing program.  The club also planned to use the barge to start the J/24 sailboat races.  The Laser sailing did not occur because currents around the barge ended up being too strong which would have created risk to dinghy sailors.  But using the barge as a race committee platform did work, significantly better than expected.

first clubhousePhoto: On May 15, 2001, the first Race Committee went to the roof deck of the barge and started the spring series.

The first time we climbed the stairs to the roof deck and looked out over the fleet to start the first race of the season, we had an epiphany.  It was clear this was the future.  The view from the roof deck was incredible.  You could watch the fleet, see the puffs and current – it was spectacular, enjoyable and uplifting.

Throughout the year, many members served on the race committee.  The response from each person as they also climbed the stairs to the roof deck was always the same, “Incredible!”  These members had also seen the future.

Now we needed to make it a reality.  Reality was going to be a USCG-certified barge with a full-roof deck which would allow members, family and guests to come out, see the harbor and our boats and watch the races.  To get USCG certification, we needed a new purpose-built barge.

Our Club was lucky to have the prestigious naval architecture firm of Sparkman & Stephens racing in its programs.  During the summer, their sailors served as Race Committee on one evening.   They had an opportunity to stand on the roof deck and “see the future.”   Afterwards, the vision of the new clubhouse was shared with them and they quickly recognized it’s potential and offered to design this new clubhouse.  Throughout the summer, plans for the new clubhouse began to take shape.

Then came September 11 and everything changed.  The attack closed the club for several weeks.  The fall racing series was postponed, sailing classes were canceled and New York City came to a standstill.

commodore on 911Photo: Commodore Michael Fortenbaugh inspects the fleet of boats on the Monday following the attack on the WTC.  The boats and dock were covered with debris and the area was sealed off by the National Guard as part of the frozen zone.   Luckily, our fleet escaped major damage.

As the dust settled, the reality and the enormity of what happened began to sink in.   At the same time, an equally strong determination and resolve rose up.  We would not be defeated by this act of terrorism.  We would fight back and continue on with more vigor and more energy than ever before.  Although our Club is a recreational organization, we do matter to the enjoyment and quality of life in this city.  We have a vision for New York Harbor as a great recreational resource.   We wanted this vision to come sooner, not later.  And so we drew a line in the sand of where were we on September 11 and said we are not going backwards, we are going forwards.  And we focused our energy on the most significant project our club has ever undertaken, the building of the new clubhouse.

In November, Sparkman & Stephens generously offered their offices for a reception to unveil the new clubhouse plans.  Many members attended and it was an exciting evening.  Out of this enthusiasm came many ideas.   Lukas Kolff had one of the more significant, suggesting that rather than the club absorbing all the risk, to spread the risk among a large number of members.  This way, if the clubhouse is successful, we all benefit.  And if the clubhouse is not successful, it would not mean the end of our core sailing programs.  The Flag Officers agreed that this is a sensible and prudent way to proceed.  From Lukas’ suggestions, we have created the concept of a “Clubhouse Loan.”  And the Flag Officers and Lukas have set a leadership example by subscribing to the first loans.  List of Clubhouse Members.

The Honorable William Wall’s keel was laid in February 2002.  The builder was Buchanan Marina in New London, CT.  In the spring, the Honorable William Wall was delivered to NY Harbor and anchored off Ellis Island.

williewallwithskyline_9431The following winter, the roof canopy was installed on the second deck.  Then the wiring and plumbing was installed. In 2004, the Clubhouse was officially certified and opened for business.  Each subsequent season, more and more of the clubhouse was built out.  The railings were covered with varnished Spanish cedar wood.  The decks were carpeted.  In 2009, the inside of the clubhouse was insulated and the Champagne Bar finished.

In 2012, Manhattan Yacht Club realized the public relations value of the Clubhouse as one of our city’s best ways of introducing more people to the recreational renaissance in the harbor.  The Club made the decision to share this great resource with the public and opened up tickets to the public.  Members still have special access and priority service at the clubhouse but we are happy to share this great resource with more friends.  And we hope you get energized and excited about seeing the sailboats and sign up to learn to sail at www.sailmanhattan.com.


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