How the Arizona Yacht Club Got Started

By Dave Shapiro (Pronounced Shap-eye-ro)
AYC was the child of Ruth Beals, the first sailboat dealer in Arizona. In the summer of 1958 she set up a fenced-in area on the north side of East Indian School Road at about 22nd Street and sold her wares. She was the dealer for W. D. Schock and was instrumental in selling enough Lido 14’s to create the first bona fide one design class. In the process she recorded the names and critical information of those who expressed interest in a new yacht club, as yet unnamed.

AYC Founder Ruth Beals from a newspaper picture spread about sailing published in the Phoenix Gazette in 1958.

There were three meetings of the group she collected during the fall of 1958. In December 1958, the group selected a name and a burgee and officers were elected. The original burgee was designed by Tom Preuss and looked pretty much like it does today—except that it bore the initials “AYC” in addition to the Saguaro cactus. The “AYC” was later removed because, according to Chapman on Seamanship, the design represented poor flag etiquette. Dr. Richard (Dick) Short, a dentist with the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, was selected as the first Commodore of the newly formed Arizona Yacht Club.
There were 17 Charter Members of the Club owning a grand total of three boats: two home-built Bluejays (Bud Hughes and Charles “Chop” Estes) and a home-designed and built catamaran (Dave Shapiro). The ranks filled out rapidly and we had 125 members in just a few years. Many of the additional memberships were signed up at a card table on the shore of Saguaro Lake in those early days. The fee was $1.00.
Because of the lack of sailboats, most of the early on-the-water activities were designed to take non-boat owners for a ride (to prove it could be done in Arizona). When fleets were finally formed, Lido 14’s were the first real one design class and the rest of us raced in a handicap fleet.
The watchword of the day was “Handicap racing is better than no racing at all.” Sam Oldham, then local Director of Red Cross activities, brought out the first Thistle (a beautiful molded plywood job which rapidly delaminated in the desert climate) early in the game. Super Satellites (a 14-footer by Frank Butler of Catalina Yachts) were an early favorite with about 20 boats racing at one point. Later, in 1960 or 1961, there was a six-boat Interlake fleet which grew to about 18 boats in time and lasted into the middle 1980’s as a viable fleet. As early as about 1960-61 we had a Schock 22 MORC (from W. D. Schock) which was raced in the handicap fleet by Dick Short. Lehman 12’s (another W. D. Schock product) were an early one-design class. It was a cat-rigged open dinghy that looked and sailed like a miniature Thistle hull carrying about 70 square fleet in the mainsail. In time we developed an active and competitive M-16 Scow fleet in which the Chapman brothers were active.
In the early and middle 60’s there was controversy revolving about the need for more sailing or more social events. It was eventually resolved without bloodshed by providing both. In all of the years of the club, there was only one contested election, that of 1963. However, there was a fist fight at one protest hearing in the early days; the territorial mindset prevailing over a more civilized approach. (Luckily, no one had a six-gun at the time.) It was a one punch affair and the combatants are long forgotten (at least for this rendition of the facts).
While AYC was formed in 1958, there was no Birthday Regatta that year (in fact, no regatta at all). The 31st Birthday Regatta did not celebrate the 31st birthday of the AYC, but rather, the 31st of those regattas.
In 1963, the club acquired a site from the water district at the east end of the dam at Lake Pleasant. There was storage for about 45 boats on shore and about 20 more boats in the water on a “permanent” mooring line. AYC members built a ramada and “improved” the dirt launching ramp at that site. There will always be some argument as to whether or not the WW II metal aircraft landing mats really represented an improvement. (Woe to the sailor who left a hook dangling from a trailer and attempted to tow one of those things uphill!)
Some of the braver (foolhardy?) members once attempted to bury a power line in the ground on the ramp access “road.” The problem was these “experts” used dynamite to blast into the rocks. When the dust settled, no one was hurt, just bent a little, but there was no appreciable hole, either. The problem was finally resolved with the installation of telephone poles that were high enough to clear most of the masts. Early homemade docks were assembled from a combination of telephone poles and styrofoam blocks installed in a steel framework over which fiberglassed plywood served as a deck. Our first real committee boat was a frame of 2×8 lumber, measuring 8 by 20 fleet, covered with plywood top and bottom (a la the docks). Many 55 gallon oil drums were assembled for twin floats and the old 25-horse Johnson was used for motive power. The flat front on each pontoon did nothing for speed, but the essence of a club-owned Race Committee Boat was there and was useful. It even had a roof, much like the one we use today but very top heavy. The latter characteristic led to the ultimate demise of the craft. Vandals managed to rock the thing at anchor enough to flip it drum over deck (upside down). The Board of Directors went shopping for something that was more manageable and ended up with a pontoon boat (superseded in 2007 by a new pontoon boat).
Much of the construction of the stuff mentioned above was done at Don DeFreze’s welding shop on West Encanto Boulevard. That crazy guy nearly killed your author one day when he was dragging a telephone pole about the work yard (speed: at least 20 mph) with an ancient Chevrolet pickup and tow chain.
Another interesting event at the welding yard was also almost disastrous. We were lifting a steel dock section in an effort to turn it over when the hoisting chain broke. (There were four telephone poles encased in that rig, each weighing about 800 pounds.) Result: it turned over prematurely and missed Frank Bigelow only because it flopped away from him rather than into him. (I wonder if Joe Rowe, our insurance guru, knew about that one.) You see, Frank has given his all to this club—well, almost.
Except for the periods of drought when there was insufficient water in which to launch or sail, and the periods of flood when access was denied because of washed-out roads, the club has sailed at Lake Pleasant ever since 1963. We have temporarily moved to Saguaro Lake, Bartlett Lake, Canyon Lake, and to Lake Havasu from time to time as necessity required. We have even sailed at Lake Roosevelt under the two-lake venue system. But we always come back to Pleasant.
I leave the rest of the story to the youngsters amongst us. Alzheimer’s must be setting in.
And this addition to the history from Honorary Life Member Al Lehman, 2012
When I joined AYC in 1975 there were eight race days for both the Fall and Spring series, generally taking five to seven weekends.  Race days in the fall were not scheduled on days that ASU was playing football at home as it was thought that racers would be going to the game. After a survey of the racers it turned out that there were no racers going to ASU games so the dates were changed to have races on both Sat and Sun so that only four weekends in the fall were taken up with racing. It also made it easier for those with larger boats to launch and get in two days of racing instead of only one day. At that time AYC had a Sat night party and provided a keg of beer. Later the keg was changed to cases of beer to reduce waste and costs, and eventually the beer was dropped altogether. There was some objection by some of the day sailors and others who did not want to spend the night, but generally the club seemed to like the weekend racing format.
More from Honorary Life Member Mike Ferring, 2019
I joined in 2000 and by then both fall and spring Lake Pleasant series had become five weekends each and a new venue had just opened at Tempe Town Lake (TTL). The TTL racing was done on Sunday afternoons, with somewhere between 6-10 Sundays in each series (it varied). Race participation peaked around 2006-2007 when we had 105 entries at the two lakes with just over 200 member families.
TTL was a vibrant addition, a great, central spot for racing small boats. The Buccaneer fleet was the social center, the fun fleet, led by people such as David Rawstrom, Emory Heisler, Pat Blumm, and Tony Chapman. At one point they had 19 boats in the fleet before it began to recede, as most fleets seem to. David also created (and appropriately named) the TTL “Heat Stroke” series that ran over the summer. David made it work by becoming the entire race committee, setting up his lawn chair by the edge of the water and honking starts from a makeshift pop-bottle horn.
Mike Yarnell and some other recruits founded The Arizona Sailing Foundation (ASF) in 2002 and significantly ramped up our sailing education programs. Kathleen and Dan Buckstaff attacked the juniors program, bringing high-level teaching and organization. Later, Natalie Harper took over and ran the program for many years. In 2019, Joel Hurley picked it up. George Tingom tenaciously ran a high school program until Mike Parker took it over in 2018. The adult program was also strong, teaching as few as 8 students and as many as 20 in both fall and spring classes. ASF wrangled 10+ Optis, 10+ Capri 14.2s, 6-8 Lasers and a few odd ducks: 420s and Club FJs. Two pontoon powerboats were the teaching and safety platforms.
In 2007 we upgraded the Lake Pleasant RC boat, spending $50,000 on a 28-foot commercial-level pontoon boat and motor. In 2013 we upgraded the runabout/safety/mark boat to a 23-foot Boston Whaler Outrage and in 2017 re-powered with a new 175hp Evinrude.
Besides supporting racing, the club powered some amazing monthly meeting programs, with name speakers appearing several times each year. The list of Olympic, America’s Cup, world champion sailors and designers who appeared before the Tuesday night gatherings would make a strong sailing Hall of Fame.
By 2019 (when this is written), the club membership had grown to a record 260 families. Finances were strong. But with sailing competing with other pastimes, it was becoming difficult to get boats on the water for the race series. Special events such as the annual Birthday Regatta, Governor’s Cup, and Tall Cactus Regatta were still drawing good entry lists (70+ for Birthday, 40+ for Governor’s and Tall Cactus) and the overall entry number was still a robust 85 or so, but entering skippers were skipping weekends, leaving many fleets with thin numbers on the starting line.

View the 2011 video production: Seven Guys Talk About AYC History with Martin Lorch, Pat Guthrie, Bob Frazier, Al Lehman, Tom Ohlin, Don DeFreze, and Dennis Lynde.