The historic Portland Yacht Club has a rich history. It’s been through a lot since its inception in 1908, but it’s long been a beloved and very important part of Portland’s boating community, as well as an important part of North Portland. Read more about how the Portland Yacht Club has changed over time to become what it is today.
The History of the Portland Yacht Club
In 1908, fifteen people who really loved motor boat racing formed a new club. They called it the Willamette Motor Boat Club. They bought a small float house for $125, and they put it at the foot of S. E. Ellsworth Street, on the Willamette River’s shoreline. George J. Kelly was the first commodore and founder of the club.
The club won many races, and as time went on, the boats were more streamlined and went faster than ever before. In fact, Captain Milton Smith’s son, Wilbur, drove the Oregon Kid at fifty-eight miles an hour. This was actually the first time a boat had ever gone over fifty miles an hour.
But it wasn’t all about racing. The members of the new club pioneered the run down the Columbia to Astoria. Member George Kendall even set a record of three hours and fifty-one minutes on a run from Portland to Astoria. Even today, this is considered a great time.
The club and its members achieved national recognition. However, not all of the club’s members were motor boat racers. Some just wanted to cruise on the river. The club’s women’s auxiliary was formed in 1913, and this set a tone for the club as it became less focused on motor boat racing.
As time went on, the club did much more than motor racing. The club traveled to Ilwaco, Washington, in 1931, with both men and ladies aboard. Two of the club’s members also promoted river navigation by taking cruisers up the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
In 1910, the club changed names to the Portland Motor Boat Club. The name changed again in 1925, when it was officially known as the Portland Yacht Club. It was also around this time that the club moved to its current location on the Columbia (in 1926).
This move to the Columbia changed the club’s mission. Many racers remained on the calmer waters of the Willamette, and motor boat racing slowly declined and then vanished altogether. However, the racing tradition is still alive at the Portland Yacht Club today, thanks to its avid sailboat racers.
The clubhouse was on a float of logs until 1931, when it was moved to the bank. In 1948, a flood caused significant structural damage to the building.
A new clubhouse was built in 1953. It had a ballroom, restrooms, a small galley, and a porch. It was a popular place to have dances and dinners. The clubhouse even had slot machines and prize fighting.
The clubhouse has been remodeled several times since the 1950s. The clubhouse became too small, so an addition was approved in 1967. The clubhouse has undergone a complete overhaul since its centennial year in 2008.
The George Kelly Bar (named after the club’s founder) is large and comfortable, with a great view of the river and both Hayden and Tomahawk Islands. The ballroom hosts parties, special events, and meetings. The dining room has a kitchen and a barbeque. It also opens up to a patio that overlooks the moorage (which is in the process of being upgraded itself).
The Portland Yacht Club Today
The club’s sailboats and powerboats regularly travel to Canadian waters. The club also sponsors cruises to places like Astoria, Beacon Rock, and its own Willow Bar Outstation.
Sailboat racing, which began in 1931, is still one of the club’s focuses. The Portland Yacht Club had a large fleet of racing boats through the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Today, many sailors race on the river and in other races. The club also sponsors the Mauni Elliott race each year.
The clubhouse hosts family-friendly events throughout the year. These events include an Easter egg hunt, a visit from Santa Clause, a Christmas open house, a New Year’s Eve gala, and a Valentine’s Day dinner. The club also hosts a popular crab feed each March.
Members of the club have unlimited access to all the club offers, including cruises, sailboat races, parties, dinners, holiday gatherings, and cookouts. Club members can even rent the club’s facilities for private events.
So if you’re in the area, go check out the gorgeous area around the Portland Yacht Club. And maybe you’ll even decide to give it a try sometime. And check out their website here.