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BOATING (RECREATIONAL)

BOATING (RECREATIONAL)

BOATING (RECREATIONAL). Recreational boating, more specifically yachting, became an organized sport in Cleveland in 1878 when GEO. GARDNER founded the Cleveland Yachting Assn., subsequently known as the CLEVELAND YACHT CLUB. Gardner, later elected mayor of Cleveland, is often referred to as the "Father of Yachting"' in Cleveland. In the summer of 1884, Gardner and other members of the Cleveland Yacht Club, at the invitation of Henry Gerlach, sailed to Put-in-Bay aboard Gerlach's sloop, Lulu. There were other yacht clubs on Lake Erie, and it was Gardner's idea that Put-in-Bay would be a perfect site for a major regatta involving the other clubs on the lake. On 17 Jan. 1885, he called a meeting in Cleveland to form an association of clubs, and from this meeting the Inter-Lake Yachting Assn. was born. The purpose of I-LYA was to foster camaraderie among Great Lakes yachtsmen and to adopt rules of measurement and handicaps to allow a variety of boats to compete in the regattas. The first official regatta was in Aug. 1894, at Put-in-Bay. It became the major regatta of I-LYA, and in the 1990s, known as "Bay Week," it extended through the first week of August.

Sailing yachts were not the only vessels used in the early days of racing competition. Naphtha-powered launches and steam-powered yachts competed in 1896. As more clubs, more types of boats, and 3 Great Lakes became involved, as well as some Canadian clubs, the creation of a continental governing body became necessary. Ernest W. Radder of the Cleveland Yacht Club chaired a committee that initially represented 109 yacht clubs and established the North American Racing Union, which evolved into the U.S. Yacht Racing Union. The complexity of current yachting rules springs from this early association. The Cleveland Yacht Club initiated a major race in 1901, named for its founder, Geo. Gardner. The Gardner Bowl was run on the 4th of July. In 1904 the first powerboat races were held on Lake Erie, and in 1908 the world record for speed on water was established at 28 mph. News of this event was relayed by carrier pigeons to eagerly awaiting enthusiasts in Cleveland, Sandusky, and Toledo. In 1914 another prominent Clevelander, ALEXANDER WINTON, had his name attached to the Winton Cup race. The longest race established by the CYC was the F. W. Roberts Memorial Trophy, a 180 mi. roundtrip between Rocky River and Port Stanley, Ontario. The most popular Cleveland-area regatta has been the Mentor Harbor Yacht Club's Falcon Cup, a 34 mi. race from Rocky River to Mentor. Established in 1938 by Richard Bostwick, it is run in cooperation with the Cleveland Yacht Club.

Two types of boaters emerged in the post-World War II era: powerboaters and sailors. With the development of the outboard motor and mass-production technology, powerboats became the foundation of the boating industry by a margin of 10:1. Those new to boating chose power over sail for a variety of reasons. The powerboat appeared to be an extension of the automobile, and the perception of simplicity of operation, as well as speed, versatility, and lower cost, combined to make the powerboat attractive to a wide variety of consumers. Sailing, on the other hand, had an elitist image and was perceived as complex, expensive, and restrictive. An important adjunct to recreational boating is sport fishing, which flourished in the postwar period. Sport fishing was organized by the Lake Erie Sport Fishermen, who in the early 1970s stopped the commercial harvest of walleye pike, and banned gill nets from Ohio waters. Sport fishing in the central basin of Lake Erie dramatically improved from its bleak days of the 1950s, when many had proclaimed the lake "dead." Through the efforts of the Ohio Sea Grant program, operating as a cooperative extension service of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, based at Ohio State Univ., the first artificial reefs were constructed offshore from Lakewood and Edgewater parks (see also FISHING INDUSTRY).

With the introduction of mass-market boating, legal, political, and insurance-related issues began to surface. In 1946 the Greater Cleveland Boating Assn. was established by Commodore W. Weir of the Forest City Yacht Club to "pressure city, state, and federal governments" to advance water recreation. Safe operation of boats is the major goal of the association, and it also serves as an effective lobby for its 30 affiliated clubs and 50,000 individual boat owners. In this context, the GCBA was instrumental in repealing the state property tax on boats and further achieved the inclusion of a .005% gasoline tax to be channeled to the state's Waterway & Safety Fund, for the construction and maintenance of boating facilities. Since the majority of boaters in the Cleveland area trailer their craft, launch ramps and parking lots have been a major concern of the organization. In 1952 40,000 signatures were gathered and presented to Mayor Anthony Celebrezze seeking small-boat launching facilities for the Cleveland area. The mayor created the Dept. of Port Control, naming Wm. Rogers as the first director. The city established 5 public access ramp areas at Wildwood Park, GORDON PARK, E. 55th St., EDGEWATER PARK, and Donald Gray Gardens, of which the first 4 remained in existence in 1993. In 1956 the Lake Erie Marine Trades Assn. was established in Cleveland. The public role of this association has been the organization of various boat shows. However, its 100 members have also been involved in legal, political, promotional, and lobbying activities that affect the boating public.

As more consumers became involved in boating, financial institutions sought registration and titling of boats. In 1960, through the combined efforts of the banking community and LEMTA, the State of Ohio responded by requiring the registration of all watercraft and the establishment of a waterway safety fund. In 1986 there were over 30,000 boats registered in Cuyahoga County. The appearance of private marinas and yacht clubs catered to a segment of the boating public that could afford such facilities. Historically, the yacht club has been associated with old-line monied elites. Social, economic, and vocational stratification were still factors in some of the clubs in the 1990s. The entrance requirements for the Cleveland Yacht Club are illustrative. A prospective member of the CYC must be proposed by a senior member, sponsored by another senior member, and have references from 3 other members. This selection process, plus the payment of a $4,800 initiation fee and monthly dues of $142, qualifies one for membership. Dock space requires additional fees. In 1993 there was a 1-year waiting period for dockage. Until 1986 none of the yacht clubs or their affiliate, the I-LYA, had a woman or black man as a commodore; in that year Mrs. Davida Steinbrink was elected commodore of the Edgewater Yacht Club.

As the number of recreational boaters grew, safe operation became a major issue. The Coast Guard assumed the role of monitoring and responding to boaters in distress. The Boating Safety Div. of the 9th Coast Guard Dist. in Cleveland maintained stations at Cleveland, Marblehead, Ashtabula, Fairport, and Lorain; over 1,200 people were assisted every year by just the Cleveland station. Boating safety regulations grew in response to changing conditions in the industry and attitudes of the public. The USCG is assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary--a civilian volunteer, nonmilitary organization. The auxiliary conducts courtesy marine examinations and safe-boating courses and supports the Coast Guard in rescue and assistance missions. In the 1980s, Cleveland-area boaters were aided by a major renovation of the lakefront and the growth of recreational activity in the FLATS. The "Parade of Lights," organized by LEMTA for the annual Flats Fest, attracts the participation of 60 vessels. Cleveland Race Week, co-hosted in July by the Edgewater and Lakeside Yacht Clubs, bills itself as the largest freshwater sail regatta in the U.S., with 300 sail. The ongoing efforts of Cleveland-area yacht clubs to improve facilities, the revitalization of Lake Erie, and the establishment of the CLEVELAND AIR SHOW and the BUDWEISER CLEVELAND 500 on the lakefront have served to make the "North Coast" into a major water recreational area with broad benefits for area boaters.

James Banks

Cuyahoga Community College