Private Kemah yacht club is summer haven for generations of families
Standing at the end of a quarter-mile long pier on Galveston Bay, the view is impressive — white Adirondack chairs, flags blowing in the breeze and cabanas surrounded by groves of oaks in what was once a treeless, bald prairie.
It all began in 1937 when three couples got together at Will Voss’s Café in Seabrook to discuss building a new sailing club. A 19-acre waterfront tract of land in Bayview Acres turned out to be the perfect location.
Carolyn and Ernie Fay, Homoiselle and Albert Fay, and Bobbie and Boy Streetman were the initial instigators, eventually enlisting the help of Tina and Dudley Sharp, and Mary and Bill Farish. It would be these five couples who set the wheels in motion to purchase the land.
The acreage was 18 feet above the water level and had 400 feet of bay front. It was indeed the ideal spot, despite its barren appearance. A clubhouse and pier were constructed and the Texas Corinthian Yacht Club officially opened Labor Day weekend, 1938.
Now annexed as a part of Kemah, the club has more than 100 members who prefer to maintain a bit of privacy. Commodore Eric Ellis, however, is quite open when it comes to discussing the club’s mission statement and why it flourishes today.
The original concept was to create a yacht club focused on educating members about sailing, seamanship and water-related arts. That concept still stands today as families spend their summers in an idyllic setting of cabanas, oak trees and an 11,000-square-foot new clubhouse built in 2009. The club maintains fleets of Sonar, Laser, Sunfish and Optimist boats.
“The unique thing about our club is that it has maintained a family spirit throughout its existence,” said Ellis, who grew up in the area. “We are particularly proud of our members who have won sailing championships. We also participate in team racing, which has grown over the years, allowing younger kids and people of different abilities to come together in the same boat while competing and being active.”
Inside the clubhouse, trophy cases are filled with awards and walls are decorated with various plaques. Of note is the club’s red and blue burgee, which was carried by astronauts aboard two Gemini flights in 1965 and 1966 respectively, and again by the crew of Apollo 12 in 1969.
Small replicas of colorful sailing hulls campaigned by some of the club’s original members are prominently displayed.
Aside from racing, the club underwrites and hosts several activities within and outside its membership. For example, last fall, it hosted a group of Wounded Warriors who traveled to Galveston for the U.S. Disabled Sailing Championship.
“They needed some boats to practice on, so we let them use our boats for training,” Ellis said. “We gave them housing and were happy to help. It was one of the first times these guys were involved in this type of event and thanks to club member Gerald Coleman, they got some great coaching.”
Olympic silver medalist and former America’s Cup skipper John Kolius is a club member, as is Etchells World Championship top competitor Shannon Bush. The grandest member of all, however, is Carolyn Fay, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday.