History of White Rock Boat Club

This historical narrative was written by Bill Caldwell, one of the founding members of the White Rock Boat Club, with additional content from Lynn Floyd. Images used by permission from Corinthian Sailing Club’s website: http://www.cscsailing.org/club_history.html

The White Rock Boat Club was the fourth and last club to be established on White Rock Lake. It was formed in 1961 as the brainchild of three members of the Corinthian Sailing Club. CSC was having a problem with tracking davit ownership and the price of davits escalated due to demand since the club had no control over prices. Two of the founders, the Oetkings, had also developed a fine catamaran called the Hellcat (photo) and had gone into production with growing sales, but they couldn’t find davits at CSC. WRBC was constructed not only to supply reasonably priced davits, but to help sell Hellcats. The third founder, a Mr. Pittman, financed the construction of WRBC. He was not a sailor, but after our club was built, he had a powered version of the Hellcat built and it became the club’s first rescue/committee boat.

The club sold davits to help pay for the construction of the club, with the provision that the club could buy the davit back if the owner left the club. The club has exercised this right and now owns and leases most of its davits. The club was constructed with a few differences from its present configuration as can be seen in the 1968 photo above. In order to promote organized class sailing, WRBC at one time limited the type of boats kept at the club to racing classes.

When the club was first built, there was a simple barrier door about where the committee boat/tack room/gas locker is now. The clubhouse was a much smaller structure than the current one, but it occupied the same position. It consisted of two small enclosures, each a two-hole privy, on either side of the walkway. The current kitchen and opposing electrical closet occupy that same space. The walkway continued straight on through a roofed and floored-in area attached to the rest rooms, on out to the tie-up dock. Seating was on the banisters around the edges, no chairs and no telephone. It was all a bit rustic and in the summer when the winds were light, the atmosphere became a bit fetid if the wind was from the north.

The small davits occupied the same space they do now, but there were no pads and there were no committee boat davits. The large davits stopped where the walkways now change direction; the outer ones were added about two years later as the club grew. The wheels for all davits were specially made for uniformity, painted silver and each davit was equipped with an H shaped cradle and wired to allow it to reach the lake bottom 14 feet down.

Each boat owner purchased a davit and was responsible for its maintenance, as well as, the outboard (from the clubhouse) walkway. The owner could only sell the davit back to the Club at its original price, thus eliminating the chaos of the time at the Corinthian Sailing Club. The cradle could be modified to fit his boat, but he was not permitted any further construction changes. He was also required to keep his boat in seaworthy condition. Small davits sold for $250, large ones for $325. Annual dues were $25, which included $5 city tax, the rest for club maintenance.

Over a period of time, it was found that some types of maintenance were beyond the ability of davit owners to perform without hiring outside labor, which was not feasible, so gradually the replacement of pilings and rewiring was performed by small groups gleaned from work parties. Replacement of pilings was a Herculean task because the water was much deeper and the pilings much longer. Imagine standing atop a ten foot step ladder and taking a full swing with a 16 pound sledge hammer at the metal cap of the piling! A club member invented a device called the “iron maiden,” a 2 foot length of thick walled iron pipe with a cap on top that was placed over the end of the piling. It had a circular piece of the heavy pipe welded around the base of the vertical pipe, allowing several stalwart volunteers to lift, then drop this device on the piling many times thus driving it into position. It could not be lifted by one person. After many years, this device was finally replaced by the use of the water jet. The member who started using the water jet, Dave Planka, is also responsible for all the iron mongery of the steel doors and frames plus the gas locker. His early and much lamented death was much felt by all the Club members.

Floods

The Oetkings had designed all the walkways to float up between the pilings which were left the same height as the davits, in the event of high water. In 1961, the spillway had a walkway along the top, and boards could be added to raise the lake level. This worked fairly well until flooding took place and the davit walkways floated up and ended up all over the lake. Towing them all back to the club was only half the problem. Each one should have been numbered to fit its davit because they were not quite interchangeable and they had to be back in place before the water went back down. This happened several times in the middle of the night, raising volunteerism to a new level, and finally resulting in the introduction of the WORK PARTY.

When the city removed the spillway walkway, the lake level was fairly stabilized at its current level and the Club has never had the disastrous flooding of the early years. Most club members never appreciated how quickly the lake level could change with the resultant damage to club and boats and that lack of appreciation has existed throughout the life of the club.

One early flood in particular tried the patience of those volunteers. Water was five feet deep over the walkways and walking in shoulder deep water on a floating walkway as it sank haphazardly beneath your weight became quite a sport. Walking near the clubhouse was particularly unnerving since the electrical wiring insulation left something to be desired. The tingling sensation to immersed body parts produced quite a few bawdy remarks.

As the floods became more manageable, work parties began nailing down the walkways, causing most of the damage as it now exists. As the water rose, the walkways began pulling up the pilings, causing the unevenness seen today. Boat owners have always been encouraged to leave their bailers or transom plugs open so, in the event of a flood, the boat will simply fill and remain in place on the cradle, draining as the water recedes. Some boats have bow fittings that become trapped under the wheel axle if the boat is allowed to float. It’s a weird sight to see Lidos and Flying Scots with their bows under water and the transoms six feet in the air. If the wheel axle on your davit has a kink in the middle, now you know why.

In one of the worst floods of all, the water rose and the volunteers arrived, the boats were floated across Lawther Drive and up the hill. Fortunately the water level stabilized before any of the masts hit the high tension wire still there today. Much later as the water receded, the small work force shoved the boats back across the road. The group was so small that some boats were left high and dry on the hill. It was quite a sight, several days later to see the owner and as many volunteers as he could muster, manhandling a Flying Scot back into the water. One incident was nearly tragic. In the lifting process, one Hellcat’s halyard came in contact with the aforementioned high tension wire. Someone saw it in time to yell and everyone, except the owner, dropped the boat. The owner, a Braniff airline captain, was burned through both biceps clear to the bone and was unable to fly for over a year. Several others were burned about the feet from standing on wet ground or in the drainage ditch bordering the road when the current jumped as much as six feet.

Lights and Late Night Frustrations

The club originally had lights delineating the tie-up dock and it was not unusual to see several boats all rigged up, moored there. Families and bachelors with dates (or looking for them) would picnic in the clubhouse on nice weather evenings. Alcohol was not allowed by the city for several years. One Japanese hibachi caught the dock on fire and with no running water, several members went overboard, splashing enough water to put the fire out without much damage to the club. Hibachis were prohibited thereafter.

Night sailing was quite pleasant and enjoyed by quite a few sailors until one night an inebriated C scow sailor sawed all the light posts down. The cause of his fit of pique remains unknown, but night sailing went to a watery grave. As mentioned, the City of Dallas had stipulated that no intoxicating beverages were to be used on Club premises for fear that hedonistic practices might evolve, so the offender will remain nameless.

Racing

In the very early days, the club inaugurated a short lived Commodore’s Cup, which was supposed to be awarded for a race, or series of races, open to all members and was specifically designed by the Commodore to be fun for all, not to be taken seriously, and take up one afternoon. There were 3 Sunfish in residence, which were promptly pressed into service in rotation.

The first race, a triangle, had the weather mark ten feet on the shore, so the boat had to be dragged around it and back into the water to continue. Protests were not allowed. Feminine participants were allowed an onshore crew.

The second race was all in the lake, a short triangle, and if your derriere touched the deck you were disqualified. The results went overboard with the Commodore, so the Cup was held over until next year at which time it was discovered that the Commodore’s Cup had disappeared, some thought at the hands of the reprobate who had sawed down the dock lights, a natural enough conclusion since the Cup was a handsome beer mug. Next year the new Commodore bought a very ugly new Cup and changed the racing format to exclude non-fleet boats. That ugly cup happily was retired when the Joint Lake Racing Committee came into being and still exists.

The Hellcat

The Hellcat, the catamaran for which the Club owes its beginning, was an excellent boat. The Oetking (the 0 is silent) brothers produced about 40 of them. They were not only faster than their factory competitors, they were also tougher and cheaper. They were 18 feet long and nicely fit the big davits in width. 215 square feet of jib and main made them quite powerful and still remain docile for the new sailors who bought most of them. Each hull had a deep rectangular cross section, built like a model airplane fuselage. This was covered by 1/4 inch marine plywood, then a covering of Formica in all of its drain board patterns and colors… buyer’s choice. Each hull had a retracting centerboard and the rudders tipped up. The bridge deck was mahogany, before the invention of the trampoline. Hellcats were powerful and fast enough to pull a water skier, but not at the exciting pace such skiers wanted.

The Oetkings were all excellent sailors. They had moved here from an area where they had been very successful sailing scows and iceboats. They had built one very large ice boat named Ferdinand that set many records for speed and the boat is still being sailed today. Interested in fast boats, they were involved in the pioneer days of the Little America’s Cup International for 20 foot catamarans with 300 square feet of sail area. They built 3 such boats, one of which is still sailed by Phil Oetking. These boats were quite influential in the adoption of cat rigged boats which, while much perfected are still the norm in this international competition. Their interest in these larger boats came at a price. The production of the standard Hellcat came to a halt, and without new boats, the fleet gradually died. The first Club championship was sailed in Hellcats, and the winner was Phil’s 8 year old son Curt. Now grown, he was the Director of Sailing Operations in the Hawaiian Challenge for the America’s Cup (the big one) in Auckland, New Zealand.

Fleets, Dinner Parties, and Unsung Heroes

In the 60s, the new technology of fiberglass hulls and Dacron sails brought about an outpouring of new one-design boats, many of which began showing up with new members. Several new fleets formed making orphans of a number of single examples of some new designs, left out of the racing scene. This prompted the Club to require of new members that their boats be of the same class as those with racing fleets on the lake, however racing has never been required of Club members. This rule helps to stabilize fleet boat value but, sadly, reduces the value of orphan boats.

Fleets come and go. The Hellcat fleet had produced most of the Club’s officers, but as it died, the C scows began their rise to eventual dominance.

One happy coincidence occurred that really exploded the growth of the scow fleet. The 1st Black Tie Regatta was somewhat laughingly put together in June, 1963,and 7 boats showed up for the 2 day affair and a black tie party was held at the Fleet Captain’s home. One skipper showed up in a beautiful tuxedo complete with black dyed Topsider sneakers. The wives and girlfriends, who usually acted as crew, outdid themselves as the transformation from crew scruffiness to evening wear was eye opening. In subsequent years, they formed an auxiliary called the “Pucker stringers” (a string on the sail that the crew regulated to change the sail shape) adopted a rather skimpy costume and met each boat after each race with refreshments for skipper and crew.

Buddy Melges, a manufacturer of scows, heard of the fun to be had with this upstart fleet far from the center of scow country, and discovered that due to Wisconsin tax laws, if you took delivery of a new C scow in Texas, a new owner could defray the cost of the trip down here tune his new boat in the Black Tie Regatta, and steal a March on his Wisconsin competitors before their lakes thawed out. Melges and a competitor, the Johnson Boat Works, delivered many new boats at successive Black Ties and the regatta achieved national fame so rapidly that White Rock Lake became too small and had to be moved first to the Fort Worth Boat Club and finally to its present home at the Rush Creek Yacht Club. The local C scow fleet split when the RCYC was formed and the two separate fleets competed for many years. In the year 2000, the 37th annual Black Tie Regatta enjoyed over 100 scows ranging in size from the 16 foot MC class to the magnificent 38 foot A class.

The Hellcat deserves one final note. Mr. Pittman had his fitted out as a party boat with a stand up bridge deck, seats and a re-moveable umbrella canopy (which was promptly stolen) until the boat was so heavy that the 10 horsepower engine allowed by the City would barely move it. Some unknown hero petitioned the City for more power and under the promise that the boat would be useful as a rescue craft, was allowed a 50 horsepower engine. Before this, the Dallas Fire Department had to be called in the event of a capsize. It took them nearly an hour to launch their barge, and all they were allowed to do was offer those in peril a ride back to the dock. Pittman’s boat was used to destruction and performed many tasks as committee boat and rescue craft. Kept in a davit next to the center walkway where the clubhouse Butterfly pad now exists, it had one quality that endeared it to several race committee personnel. Instead of baking in the summer heat, they could start the race, then go overboard under the bridge deck, with feet against one hull and head against the other, and enjoy comfort unavailable in later committee boats.

Pittman became restless about the slow progress of the payoff the Club owed him, and for some still obscure reason, our Commodore, Mr. Ralph Hartman, trial lawyer of note, managed to get the Club’s debt to Mr. Pittman forgiven. Our Club has had many such unsung heroes.

Droughts

The Club has had many memorable floods and it has had two forgettable droughts, one only a few years ago, just before the last dredging. The other one in the late 60s, or early 70s, was much worse. The lake dried to the point that there was about a one acre puddle near the dam, and another between the CSC and the west shore. Some owners with trailers were smart enough to pull their boats out in time, while others found to their dismay that if you tried to walk on the dried, cracked surface, it was only six inches thick with White Rock muck just below. The grasses that grew in the recent drought acted as reinforcement and would support your weight, but they never grew in the early drought. The lake (?) was a wide expanse of gray relieved only by the boat clubs and the forlorn sight of your boat sitting high and dry in the davit six or eight feet up with no way to remove it.

Race-day Mayhem

Sunday afternoon was racing time, and since each club had its own program, it was not unusual to see a committee boat from each of the three clubs setting out their own buoys. Many times the courses overlapped and lots of new swear words were born until new sailors learned the rules of the road.

There was a fleet of Y Flyers, made of wood, built by their skippers in Doc Miller’s barn at the end of Fisher Road, and these skippers, who were to a man, Dallas Cowboy fans, began racing on Saturdays. Races at that time were usually 3 legged ‘affairs, finishing on a run. The wise Ys began throwing in a 4th leg, finishing at the weather mark. This became very popular with everyone except the race committee, who now had to move the committee boat from the starting line to the weather mark.

**Anecdotal note from member emeritus Don Woodworth:  I and my brother, Bud, helped Dr. Miller build 15 of those Y-flyers in his barn while listening to his son Steve Miller( would become the Steve Miller Band) play the guitar.  Dr. Miller was a machinist during WWII and would mill out rudders and centerboards of aluminum for the boats. They were built like a aircraft wing on a jig using marine plywood with fiberglass seams. 

Sold the boats for $500 a piece.

Thanks to Dr. Miller, my brother and I went to the Y- Flyer nationals at the Savannah YC in 1963 raced against the local hot shot Ted Turner and we placed 3rd.

Many great memories of sailing on that lake and went on to a life time of sailing, best of luck to the club and its members.

 

The 90’s Through Current-day

About 1990, sailing went into a decline all over the world, and in that time, 7 fleets either died or went into hibernation on White Rock. The Butterfly fleet was all there was left at WRBC and they did the best they could maintaining the Club, but since they had no use for the davits or the front tie up dock, this fell into the disarray.

The Butterfly pads evolved from the abandoning by the Oetkings of their efforts in the Little America’s Cup Challenge. They had built 2 very large davits on the west end of the small davits to house their catamarans and when their efforts subsided, they donated this space to the Club and the pads were quickly built.

The Oetkings were made honorary lifetime members for their service to the Club. Phil lives now at Lake Ray Hubbard, summering somewhere in Iowa where he sails the last of the big catamarans. Sadly, Peter Oetking died several years ago.

About the same time the west pads were built, the clubhouse previous to the one we have now, was designed by Bill Hibbard and built along with the committee boat davits, gas locker, etc., and finally the east Butterfly pad was built. The current clubhouse was designed by Lynn Floyd and built in 2008. The club launched the current rescue boat in July 2009. It is the same Boston Whaler that is constructed for police and fire rescue. The first 100 of the finger piers on the south end of the clubhouse were rebuilt in 2009, and the remaining finger piers were built out to the ends in 2010.