Semiahmoo Yacht Club closes in on 25th anniversary
In the fall of 1981 Brian Bignell worked his way along the floats at the brand new and nearly empty Semiahmoo Marina, knocking on cabin tops and leaving flyers, announcing an organizational meeting of a new yacht club.
“He was the one who got us together originally,” said Steve Thomas, 54, a charter and lifetime member of the group, now known as the Semiahmoo Yacht Club. Next year the group will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
“About 25 to 30 of us met in the chandlery, the boating supply store that served the 40 or so boats in the new marina plus the commercial vessel haul-out yard east of it,” said Thomas, in those days living in the new marina aboard his 39-foot ferro-cement cutter-rigged sailboat Natoma Bay.
The yacht club now has well over 300 members, not all of whom own boats. “We’re primarily a social club,” said Candi Johnson, last year’s member of the year and the wife of Jimmy Johnson, this year’s new commodore, “and anyone can join. No boat? No problem.”
“That’s right,” chimed in Commodore Johnson, “it’s a great bunch of folks who are interested in boats but beyond that it’s like the welcome wagon for the community. We really hope anyone with interest in being on the water will join us.”
In a nice bit of historical continuity, Thomas worked for a few months at the old cannery that was still running on the site now occupied by Semiahmoo Resort. “The old APA was long gone,” Thomas said, “but the buildings had been leased to Portion Pack, a company that processed and froze hake.” He only worked there for a few months but can still literally point to the marks he made in the business, a few holes he drilled in the old factory’s beams that can still be seen in the row of historical photos near what is now Packer’s Restaurant.
A San Diego native, Thomas named Natoma Bay for a feature on a favorite southern California lake. He built her himself, laying the keel in 1975. “I sailed to Mexico and then to Hawaii,” he smiled, “and then here, and I haven’t left yet.” He’s now in the process of a major re-fit after sailing and living on the boat for 30 years, which is why he’s moved to the Blaine Marina.
“They’ll let me live and work on the boat while it’s still in the water over here,” he said, “whereas Semiahmoo likes you to haul out.” The haul out yard presently in use by the chandlery’s current owners, Bob and Susan Brooks, still has the marine railway tracks in place that served the old yard.
Bignell now lives at Harrison Hot Springs, but was the club’s founding commodore. Thomas was rear commodore for seven years, then commodore for three, spending a total of about 15 years on the executive committee. “There were more sailboats than power boats then,” he said, “and that seems to be coming back.”
Dr. Larry Larson, a powerboat member, agreed. “Our next group cruise is this weekend to Sucia, where for the first time in a long time we’ll have a sailing race around the Sucia group as a part of the weekend,” said Larson. He and his wife Bonnie operate the Krogen 39 Maggie B, along Blaine city council member Mike Myer’s MikCa one of two in the harbor.
Jimmy and Candi Johnson run a boat dedicated to the pursuit of the wily Pacific salmon, a Parker 25 named Houston after the city they’re from. They’ve brought a measure of irrepressibly persistent Texas enthusiasm with them and look forward to helping initiate a sail training program on Drayton Harbor in collaboration with Drayton Harbor Maritime, one of whose board members, Ron Snyder, will shortly be bringing a fleet of wooden dinghies to Blaine.
“We’ve taken Jim Jorgenson’s ‘Salmon-ar’ (seminar) on how to catch salmon,” Candi said, “so now the fish need to know that we’re ready. Anytime. Come on in,” she laughed.