“New Guy’s Guide” to the Arizona Yacht Club

What to expect from this bunch

Mike Ferring
Mike Ferring

By Mike Ferring
Mike has been AYC Commodore three times, but he wrote this in 2000, when he joined the club. He’s kept it up-to-date since then.

Want to know what to expect from AYC? I wrote this as an AYC New Guy, so maybe my experience can help you.

I first ran into some AYC members at a boat show. I picked my way through bass boats and Sleek machines toward the only masts in the place and met Tom Errickson of the Sail Boat Shop. Tom explained that there really was sailing in the desert and he even knew a band of sailing nuts to hang out with. I ran into three of them later, got excited as they talked about the club.

After a half dozen visits to the Sail Boat Shop, I had my boat and began poking around this website to learn more about the club. I dropped in on one of the monthly meetings and joined days later.

Since then, I’ve become deeply involved in AYC and besides enjoying the club events, my wife Maryellen and I have made oodles of good friends who sail. This is truly the greatest benefit of joining AYC: the fun of hanging out with people you like.

Crowd shot! The mob aboard Melissa Kay for the Governor’s Cup. From left: Dave Haggart, Bob Whyte, Ryan Hanks, Becky Houston, Stacey Haggart, and Maryellen Ferring. Photo: Mike Ferring

Monthly Meetings

I think the monthly meetings are the best way to connect. They’re always on the second Tuesday of the month. Check the website for location, which will be moving during 2023.

Arrive by 6:15 or 6:30 pm to check in and grab a beer or something to eat if you like. As you walk into the room, chances are you’ll be greeted by membership directors Will Nowak or Olivia Jackman. They’ll check you in, give you a name tag and some propaganda, and introduce you to some people who will introduce you to more people and you’re on your way.

In theory we have a system to try to make sure every new person is properly greeted and introduced to members. I know it’s hard for me to walk into a room of strangers and try to be comfortable; now we’re working to make it easy for you. (If you have any trouble, please let us know!)

Meeting attendance varies a lot, from about 40 to over 100. You’ll find families with kids. A wide range of ages. More men than women. At 7 pm, somebody will stroll to the microphone and begin a meeting that lasts an hour to an hour and a half. There are reports from various officers and people planning events followed by a program of some kind. It’s a little rowdy, but it’s usually a relaxed good time. We’ve had some amazing speakers, including Peter Isler, Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Stephanie Roble, Photographer Sharon Greene, Olympic Gold Medalist Anna Tunnicliffe, Annie Gardner, America’s Cup Tactician Andrew Campbell, International Race Officer Peter “Luigi” Reggio, yacht designer Gino Morelli, Gary Jobson, J/Boat’s Jeff Johnstone, Sailing Anarchy boss Scot Tempesta, Sailing Hall of Famer Dawn Riley, and 10-time world champion, 30-time national champ, and Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Bill Hardesty.

Zillions of Events

I am continually surprised by how many events there are. There’s something happening all the time. People who have been in the club a while know about all the regular, recurring events, so I’ve found it’s a little hard for a newcomer to know everything that’s going on. They seem to assume you already know the drill. One way to keep up is to sign up for emails from the website. (You don’t have to be an AYC member to receive emails or come to a meeting.)

Scan the calendar and you’ll spot the big “anchor” events. There’s a huge Birthday Regatta the first of the year that has raised about $750,000 for charity. The December Governor’s Cup and April Tall Cactus cruise/races are a lot of fun. The Commodore’s Celebration (aka “The Party”) in May is the year’s social highlight, where you’ll see some of this bunch actually wearing “business casual” clothes. There’s a campout in August. There are two complete schedules of races on Lake Pleasant, one in the fall, the other in the winter and spring. Oodles of races on Tempe Town Lake nearly year around, including informal Wednesday night beer can races in the summer.

Around these main events you’ll find a constant buzz of smaller ones. Fleet parties. Informal races run just for fun, without trophies. “Raft-ups” of members on weekends. If you’d like to branch out, Cruising Captain Joe Motil is running regular cruises to Catalina Island and other exotic destinations. Weekend work sessions to spruce up the Arizona Sailing Foundation boats or the Committee Boat.

The Arizona Sailing Foundation (ASF) is a nonprofit that specializes in teaching sailing to adults and kids. ASF has Beginning Sailing classes a couple times a year and there’s a great Junior program to teach kids how to sail. If you’ve ever considered sailing, this is a great way to learn and discover.


I’d never raced until I joined AYC, but I thought it would be fun and a good way to meet people and a way to learn how to be a better sailor. Instead of taking out my own boat, I hitchhiked on other people’s boats. They didn’t seem to mind too much that I kept asking which way the course went and what we were supposed to do next. Sometimes we sat becalmed, cursing the wind gods and watching a wisp of smoke curl off the end of a stick of incense. Other times we screamed along at wild angles, trying to crank a winch and douse a spinnaker at the same time. In other words, I had a ball. I highly recommend it.

If you want to go racing on someone else’s boat, just register as a “cling-on” and ask around for rides. Don’t wait for them to ask you; you need to ask them. If you’re experienced, they’ll snatch you up. If you’re not, do it anyway. These people love this sport and want to help you enjoy it too.

The races themselves are pretty relaxed, at least on the surface. Some of the sailors are very skilled and some of the boats are tricked out with composite sails and carbon fiber masts, but the bulk of the people are just out there for the fun of it. Protests are minimal. Aside from some trophies, the main prize is being able to talk about it over a beer at the end of the day.

If you’d like to take the helm at races but are a bit rusty at it or have never done it before, there are a couple good options. Now that I’m an old hand at racing, I teach a once-a-year Introduction to Sailboat Racing class for ASF. The other option is an “adopt a boat” program at Tempe Town Lake (TTL for short). You can use an ASF Capri 14.2 or Laser free of charge to race in TTL races. We’re hoping that you’ll also want to keep it well maintained and sparkling. Ask the Racing Captain or one of the Membership Directors about how to play.


Running a club with this many events means relying on gobs of volunteers. Everybody pitches in. The membership people will ask you to take some job or other and offer the club “two or three hours a week.” Try it. It’s a good way to get to know how the club works and to meet people. If you’ve ever tried to run an organization with volunteers, you know what it’s like. If you do the work, you’ll be a prize.

A large number of very capable people put in a lot of hours (exceeding the minimum weekly requirement by a bunch). They work hard and get little recognition but do it because they care about the club. We’re not stopping world hunger here, but I think it’s impressive.