Sailing began at Brown in February 1894 with the organization of a Yacht Club composed of students who owned or leased yachts and other interested students. The commodore was Albert G. Utley 1897, owner of the cutter Sharon. The vice-commodore was William T. Dorrance 1894, owner of the yacht Cingeria, and the secretary-treasurer was John W. Angell 1895, owner of the yacht Nadir. The 1895 Liber Brunensis listed 31 yacht owners and thirty associate members in the club. C. Sherman Hoyt ’01 wrote in his published Sherman Hoyt’s Memoirs about the Yacht Club of his day:
“It was not strange that those of us who were interested in yachting ... should have formed quite active yacht clubs at Harvard, Yale, and Brown.... While racing was negligible we were pretty well organized for outings and celebrations, and at Providence in particular the main objective was a squadron cruise to New London for the Yale-Harvard boat races. Sometimes before the boat race, and usually afterwards, members of the three clubs joined in informal cruises to Shelter or Block Island and the stragglers generally disbanded at Newport. We usually managed to assemble quite respectable if heterogeneous fleets. Some prosperous fellows had their own craft, while others chartered or borrowed from trusting parents. They ranged in size from small cats and knockabouts to quite smart, sizeable sloops, yawls and schooners. No attempts were made to hold formal races on port-to-port runs, but there was plenty of informal betting and a reasonable amount of competitive spirit.”The Brown Yacht Club of 1903 had seventy members. Its fleet sailed from Newport to New London to New Haven for Yale’s Commencement and then back to New London for the Harvard-Yale race. Colgate Hoyt, Jr. ’05 was Commodore from 1903 to 1905.
The revival of the Brown Yacht Club began with a meeting of thirty students on May 14, 1931. A yacht club with twenty members was represented in the 1932 Liber Brunensis, identified as “An organization whose aim is to stimulate interest in yachting and boating, and to promote further intercollegiate competition in races and regattas.” Students sailed informally in their own dinghies for a few years. In 1934-35 the Club took part in an early winter intercollegiate “frost-bite’ dinghy race with M.I.T. and Yale. In 1936 a few students under Commodore Deane K. Fox ’37 and faculty advisor Zenas R. Bliss ’18, twice navigator of America’s Cup defenders, reorganized the club, bought dinghies, and raced informally with the Narragansett Boat Club, which had also provided headquarters for the new Brown Club. The club’s initial victory in an intercollegiate regatta sponsored by Brown and held in Bristol in May 1936 attracted alumni contributions of $2,400 for the purchase of eight Dyer dinghies to bring the fleet up to sixteen. The club lost no time in getting into competition. In two fall regattas on the Charles River, Brown came in third of four in the first, which was won by Harvard, and third of fourteen in the second, won by Cornell. On December 5, 1936 Brown hosted a regatta on the Seekonk and won over M.I.T., Harvard, Dartmouth, and Williams. The next spring the Brown club was sixth in a regatta hosted and won by M.I.T. and third after M.I.T. and Cornell on the Seekonk. This Brown-sponsored meet had the distinction of being the first in which Annapolis midshipmen had competed away from home. In the spring of 1937 interclass competition open to all students began, with the purpose of selecting the best sailors to compete for Brown. In May 1937 the Brown Yacht Club finished first of fourteen entries on the Charles. In the fall season of 1937 the Brown club lost to M.I.T. and the Brown Alumni, before winning against Dartmouth in a dual regatta in which Brown took first and second places in all three races.
In 1937 Brown was able to acquire the boat house of the Narragansett Boat Club on the Seekonk River. The remodelled boat house was dedicated on May 7, 1938 at an Intercollegiate Dinghy Racing Association Regatta. Brown’s spring invitational regatta became an annual Spring Weekend event. Leonard Romagna ’42 won the Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association’s dinghy championship in 1940 and 1941 (both years Brown finished third) and in 1942 in fourteen races he scored eight firsts, two seconds, a third, a fourth, and two fifths for 181 out of Brown’s winning total of 313 points. The number of dinghy fleets grew quickly before and especially after World War II, and brought about another reorganization of the ICYRA, which became the Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association of North America with four regional associations.
Brown won national championships in 1942 and 1948 and was runner-up in 1938, 1949, and 1956. Brown’s chance at coming in first in the Nationals in 1956 was lost when Brown’s boat hit a marker and was beaten by Navy. In 1946 Brown, led by skippers Charlie Ill ’49 and Rick Wilson ’48, was second in competition for the Schell trophy, and the next year won the Danmark and Schell trophies. In the fall of 1948 Brown did not succeed in defending its trophies because Ill and Wilson elected to withdraw in order to give the less experienced Brown sailors a chance to compete. The Brown club won the Macmillan Trophy in 1950, and in 1954 won the Jack Wood trophy for the first time in 22 years of competition with M.I.T., Harvard, Dartmouth and Coast Guard. In the spring of 1955 the Yacht Club replaced its fleet of wooden boats with fifteen fiberglass racing dinghies. In the fall of 1955 the team won the New England championships and captured the Angsten Trophy at the mid-western championships. In 1956 the dinghy team won eleven of thirteen regattas in the fall, the New England Fall Championships, the Jeff Davis, Jack Wood, and Sherman Hoyt trophies and, with Tom Hazlehurst ’56 and John C. Quinn ’57 as skippers and Tom Breslin ’53 and Bob Goff ’57 as crew, successfully defended the the Angsten Trophy.
Women sailors were invited to take part in an intercollegiate regatta on the Seekonk River on May 3, 1941. Women crews attended from Pembroke, Radcliffe, Connecticut College for Women, and Sarah Lawrence College. The women were to compete against the men from Brown, Rhode Island College, M.I.T. (and a Harvard crew, which did not show up). But the women’s crews did not have a chance to challenge men, as a northeast wind made the water choppy, and it was decided that each dinghy (except that of Sarah Lawrence) should have one man in it for weight. Thus it was that mixed crews came about, and the winning boat which won for M.I.T. was skippered by M.I.T. student Frank Kolk, with Celeste Griffin ’41 of Pembroke as crew. Two weeks later four Pembroke women sailed in a women’s intercollegiate regatta on the Charles River, hosted by M.I.T.
The first all-woman regatta at Brown in May 1947 was won by Connecticut College. The other competitors were Pembroke, Bradford Junior College, Vassar, Wheaton, and Mount Holyoke. The only regattas for women were sponsored by the men’s sailing teams at Brown and Tufts. In the late 1950s Dartmouth and the University of Rhode Island also hosted women’s regattas. In October 1956 Pembroke held for the first time a small fall regatta in addition to the annual spring invitational. In the spring of 1957 a constitution for a women’s intercollegiate sailing association was drawn up at Brown and presented to Wheaton College and Connecticut College for Women. Although the intercollegiate association did not materialize at this stage, the Pembroke Sailing Club was formed under Jessie Godfrey, who was replaced in 1958 by Janet Lutz. The Brown Sailing Club would have liked to become coed at this time in order to have Caroline King ’60 on the team, but did not gain the support of Bessie Rudd, the women’s physical education director. The Pembroke Sailing Club participated in women’s regattas in New England, and about 1962 Mary Paget of Radcliffe and Janet Lutz of Brown were able with input from the NEISA men to help the loosely organized women’s colleges to form the New England Women’s Intercollegiate Sailing Association.
Brown won Ivy titles in 1964 with skippers Chuck Paine ’66 and Earl Harrington ’66, and again in 1973 with skippers Ed Holt ’74 and Willie DeCamp ’73. Since 1974, when the boat house presented by the Class of 1907 in 1937 was destroyed by fire, the club has sailed out of the Edgewood Yacht Club on Narragansett Bay. In 1978 the team won its third Ivy League title after finishing second in the Boston Dinghy Championships and in the Owen Trophy competition, with skippers Martha Starkweather and Nat Philbrick in the A Division and Reed Baer and Helen Ciriello in the B Division. That year Nat Philbrick was Brown’s first All-American sailor. From 1980 to 1990 Brad Dellenbaugh ’76 coached sailing, and Brown turned out a series of All-Americans, Douglas Smith in 1984, James Cummiskey ’85 in 1985, Paul Grimes ’86 in 1985 and 1986, David Ullrich ’87 in 1986 and 1987, Molly Starkweather ’86 in 1986, Kevin Hall ’91 in 1988, 1990, and 1991, Kris Farrar ’91 in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and Mike Zani ’92 in 1990 and 1991.
In 1983 Brown won the New England fall championships for the first time since 1957, when Ted Turner ’60 sailed for Brown. Brown won another Ivy League championship in 1985. Brown won the intercollegiate women’s sailing championship in 1985, 1988, and 1989, and came in second in in 1986, 1987, and 1990. Zack Leonard, former Yale All-American, succeeded Dellenbaugh as coach. In 1991 the Brown sailing team won, for the first time and by one point over Navy, the Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association’s prestigious Fowle trophy, which includes men’s, women’s, single-handed, team, and sloop championships.