From the Beginning
In the early 1930’s Biddeford Pool was more of a fishing village than it is today. No one still fished or lobstered by sail, but the lobster boats were all powered by converted old automobile engines which often broke down requiring a tow home. The property upon which the current yacht club stands was owned by Malcolm E.T. Brown, who rented out lockers and float space to various sailors and allowed lobstermen to build separate bait houses on Fisherman’s Wharf. There were early races in eight dinghies ordered by William A. Dupee in 1920-21, but no formal attempts at organization were made until 1932.
Fred and Ed Wakelin, and William Dupee discussed the idea of forming a yacht club to stimulate interest and activity in sailing, and went to Mr. Van Horn Ely, a wealthy Philadelphian who summered in what is now the Taft family’s house on St. Martin’s Lane, for financial support. He was very enthusiastic, and over the next year or so the Wakelins, Andy and Peter Lindsay, Fred and Wilby Schaeffer, and Bob and Haas Black met with Ely, Brown, Markham Stackpole, and others to formalize plans for incorporation.
On August 13, 1934, the Biddeford Pool Yacht Club was officially incorporated and the following officers elected: President, Fred Wakelin; Vice President, Edmund P. Wakelin; Clerk, Joseph G. Deering; and Treasurer, Robert L. Black. W.P. Anderson, J.J. Brown, Herbert Cockshaw, VanHorn Ely, George N. Tidd, M.W. Stackpole, and Chandler Robbins, Jr., were elected to the Board of Trustees. Chan Robbins was appointed Rear Commodore and Peter Lindsay Fleet Captain.
Less than two weeks later, the Trustees voted to purchase the present Yacht Club property for $4000, with $1000 in cash and ate balance on note for 5 years at 3.5% interest! At that same meeting, W.A. Dupee was thanked for his gift of his float and boat house which became the Yacht Club building.
Over the next summer, the younger members of the club (including the five pairs of brothers in the photo in the Yacht Club) rebuilt bulkheads and the wharves under the indomitable leadership of the new club Steward Bert Crowley. In between the hard work there were informal sailing and more structured races on Wednesdays and Sundays. Because there was no club launch and few outboard motors, getting to the moorings in the outer harbor required rowing with or against the strong currents in the gut–a formidable task in the best of circumstances!
The Wakelin brothers, at first accompanied by Bert Crowley, and later by themselves, chartered auxiliary schooners and yawls every summer, and many members of the early BPYC learned about coastal navigation and joys of cruising with them. Enthusiasm for “messin’ about in boats” was high, and members went out of their way to welcome visiting yachtsmen, earning mention in Roger Duncan’s “Cruising Guide of the New England Coast” as one of the most hospitable on the eastern seaboard.
In the early years, one of the most popular events each summer was the Yacht Club Clambake, which took place on the slip right next to the Clubhouse. One of the highlights would be the vigorous playing of Painchaud’s Marching Band of the Championship Biddeford Drum and Bugle Corps.
By 1940, many of the racing members were working full-time after college and so spent less time at the Pool. Commodore Peter Lindsay formed a sailing class including several young ladies such as Deb and Susie Bradford, Betty Emmons, Marion Gwaltney, Ginny Wakelin, Carolyn Warner and Barbara Wear, and soon they were enthusiastically racing dinghies around the harbor–in spite of what he termed “occasional untangling operations and involuntary maneuvers that made the racing committee look the other way.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor brought the activities of the BPYC to an abrupt halt. The Coast Guard was granted use of the yacht club for the duration of the war, and when the Club resumed operations in 1947, the property was in severe need of repair. Commodore William G. Anderson negotiated over half of the $4600 needed to restore the buildings and grounds from the government, and was responsible for virtually single-handedly getting the Yacht Club back into full operation. Over the next several years, he found owners for all the dinghies and 19-footers, commissioned the first Club launch “Beeps” and refaced the Fisherman’s Wharf in granite.
Also during 1947, negotiations for dredging the Pool began, and although the City of Biddeford initially pledged the $12,000 needed, most of the money came from the summer people and the Fisherman’s Association and was not completed until 1956.
By 1957 two new classes of boats, Turnabouts and Rhodes 18’s, were chosen to help expand the participation in sailing in general and racing in particular. The T-Wharf on the Gut was also replaced, substantially enlarging water-front activities. The first Turnabouts arrived in 1958 and the Club offered sailing lessons for the first time (?) with Bill Wakelin as instructor. The fleet eventually numbered twenty boats and was a powerful factor in bringing young sailors into the Club. Commodore Harrison Black bought the first Rhodes 18 that year, followed by Andy Lindsay in 1960.
In 1959 Andy Lindsay became Club Manager and Sailing Instructor and although he relinquished his teaching duties in 1961, he remained the backbone of the Club for 19 years. Under his expert management and guidance, numerous building projects were undertaken, including rebuilding of the large float and Gut-side wharf, putting up the flagpole in true “Bristol” fashion; putting up money for the purchasing of the annex from Lester Woodward as well as the sister ship of the launch “Breakaway”; and other indispensable acts too numerous to mention. It would be safe to say that an entire generation of budding sailors acquired a great share of their knowledge of seamanship and sailing from Andy whether he was sailing instructor or not. An amusing testimonial to this fact was the choice of the name “Askandi” for the Yokanas’ Rhodes.
Andy’s return to the Pool coincided with the building of the new Clubhouse in 1960. The Legallee Paint Shop building, which stood at the inboard end of Fisherman’s Wharf for many years, was moved to its present location and joined to the Dupee Boathouse which had served as Clubhouse for the first 26 years. Harold Devitt, who drew up plans for the completion of the interior of the main building, is credited with the inspired idea of turning the Dupee building around 180 degrees and using what had originally been a porch on the Gut side as a hallway connecting the two buildings. At the same time, the outside locker building was refurbished and moved further out on the property.
With a new fleet and clubhouse and scores of eager young sailors, the Yacht Club become the place to be for the youth. Many interclub races were held at home and away, and in 1963 the BPYC hosted the Rhodes 18 National Race Weekend for the first time with thirty boats competing in a five-race series. Subsequently, Biddeford Pool sailors represented the BPYC at Dennis and Barnstable, MA, and Greenwich, CT, and earned an enviable record.. Commodore Clint Marshall eventually became President of the Rhodes 18 National organization.