Redondo Beach Yacht Club closes after 62 years
by Garth Meyer
“And then there were 10, as they say,” said Bob Trombetta, a member of the Redondo Beach Yacht Club from 1994 to the end, on Monday.
The club operated at the northeast corner of King Harbor for the past 31 years. Before that it was in a trailer. It began as the “Palos Verdes Yacht Club,” inside the Princess Louise, a former harbor attraction.
Last week, the club’s final 10 members converged for the last rounds of clearing out their space.
The clubhouse – behind the S.E.A. Lab building – with open views of the marina, included a kitchen, a full bar, a main seating area and a patio overlooking the docks.
The calendar on the club’s website is now empty – is it because it hasn’t been updated, or is it really finished?
“I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this, I’m sad it’s closing under my watch,” said Commodore Kieran Harrington. “But the board members did the best they possibly could.”
Trombetta noted rent increases since the King Harbor lease was taken over in 2020 by Allen Ginsberg’s Majestic KHM.
“A perfect storm,” Trombetta said. “The pandemic gave us a pretty good shellacking. We just kind of got priced out of business.”
Since the yacht club was a non-profit with no employees, it did not meet the requirements for government aid during the pandemic.
“We checked every box possible for not getting relief,” Trombetta said, a Hermosa Beach resident who joined the Redondo Beach Yacht Club (RBYC) after buying a 32-foot sailboat in the Channel Islands and bringing it to the South Bay.
“The guy next to me on the dock was the commodore and talked me into membership.”
The group, pre-pandemic, hovered at about 60 members.
One club member from an earlier era was Frank Guernsey, a South Bay insurance salesman who sailed solo from Redondo to Japan, Hawaii and Tahiti and around Cape Horn on a 24-foot boat. He was lost at sea during a later solo voyage to South Africa on a 21-foot sailboat.
He chronicled his first Cape Horn trip in a book titled “Racing the Ice to Cape Horn” (1999).
The RBYC later named a race after Guernsey. In February, as the yacht club prepared to shut down, it presented the race’s perpetual trophy to his widow Mary.
Also, during the packing up of the club quarters, Vietnam Veterans of America spent three days coming and going in trucks to collect the tables and chairs.
“We couldn’t generate any revenue during the (pandemic shut down), and members didn’t want to pay for memberships during the pandemic,” said Commodore Harrington, who is also the general manager of Fox & Farrow restaurant in Hermosa Beach.
The RBYC worked out a deal with the marina to cover its debt – after paying partial rent during the pandemic shutdowns.
“Mike (Aaker, marina general manager) and the Ginsbergs definitely worked with us, as much as they could,” said Harrington.
Before 2020, conditions were better.
“We were touch and go. We always paid our bills,” Harrington said. “Always paid our rent. I don’t think as many people are buying boats as much as they used to.”
At the end, rent was close to $6,000 per month.
“I know some restaurants on Hermosa Avenue who don’t pay that much,” Harrington said.
He cites the competition too, with three yacht clubs in the relatively small marina. Port Royal Yacht Club is the lower end of affordable, Redondo Beach Yacht Club was in the middle and King Harbor Yacht Club is at the top.
“For sustaining three yacht clubs, it’s a small space,” said the commodore, who was an eight-year RBYC member and owner of a power boat he uses mainly for fishing.
RBYC held two yard sales in February leading up to the closing.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what goes into the space. It’s a great space,” Harrington said.
In the fall of 2021, club members were asked to pay another $75 per month for October, November and December.
“I was out of the country, I came back to find out I was no longer a member, even though my dues were paid,” said Vickie Callahan, who joined in the early ‘90s.
Five years ago her dues were $475 per year. They recently increased to $1,100.
“This was one of those many-factored things,” she said of the club’s demise.
Callahan refers to the clubhouse’s small space, the rent increases and not being able to host fundraisers during the pandemic.
“It wasn’t just the rent,” she said. “The writing was on the wall three years ago.”
Previously, club activities included themed dinners, renting a bus to go to Laughlin, Nevada, and trips to Twin Harbors on Catalina Island for barbecues and more.
It rented out its space for wedding receptions, memorials and groups such as the Marlin Club — an assembly of deep sea fishermen.
“There’s not a thing you can think of that we didn’t rent it for,” Trombetta said.
“We had a Jimmy Buffett night that was a hoot,” said Callahan.
They had a black and white night, with black tie and black and white food.
“Trying to get sailors to (dress up) was a hoot and a holler in itself,” Callahan said.
Her husband is a longtime member of King Harbor Yacht Club. Each would attend the other’s events as guests.
“I think it’s a terrible loss to the yachting community,” she said. “It was a beginner’s yacht club. The place you go to try it out, to see if you want to buy a boat, a place for a potluck and barbecue on Sunday afternoon.”
The original Palos Verdes Yacht Club was disrupted when a 1980 storm damaged the Princess Louise.
Eleven years later, after the club’s time in a marina parking lot trailer, the re-named Redondo Beach Yacht Club moved to its last location.
The capacity was 50 to 100 people, depending on how the furniture was arranged.
Former members Jerry and Norie Martin were married in the trailer, but left the club in the early ‘90s for King Harbor Yacht Club, because it had a junior sailing program for their young son.
“(RBYC) had a lot of nice people who had the same mutual interest, which was boating and racing,” said Jerry Martin. “It was a good little club.”
Each of the yacht clubs in King Harbor has a different personality, Callahan said. The Redondo Beach Yacht Club was “self-serve, no employees, no bathrooms – you had to go over to the marina – no guest docks.”
The RBYC’s summer Tuesday night sailboat racing program ran through 2022.
Its “June Cup: Women at the Helm,” required a female skipper and at least one female crew member. Other events included the Frank Guernsey Single-Hand Race, and the Queen Mary Race – from King Harbor to Long Beach.
Vice Commodore Bennett Talsky ran the sailboat races last summer, using his 21-foot Sea Pro as the committee boat.
“Everybody took a step back and I was standing there on my phone and became the vice commodore,” he said.
Talsky joined three years ago, at a $700 annual rate. He named another factor of the club’s struggle as; since it had no employees, it had no bartender.
“You had to wait on yourself, you can do that at home. Sometimes you want to be waited on,” said Talsky. “We needed 70 members to (remain) sustainable. As soon as we went from $700 to $1,100 it was crickets.”
Membership dues for local yacht clubs also cover fees to the Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs, U.S. Sailing, and Southern California Yachting Association.
On Monday afternoon, March 13, Harrington, Trombetta and Talsky were among eight of the last 10 members on hand for the final meeting.
First, they took down the sign over the front door, to be given to the Pitcher House Upper Deck, a bar on the second floor of the shopping center on Pacific Coast Highway near Whole Foods (an extension of the Pitcher House, which used to be where St. Rocke is now, and displays local memorabilia on its walls).
After the sign came down, Chuck Gant, junior staff commodore, presented Harrington with a plaque and a bell, commemorating the last commodore of Redondo Beach Yacht Club.
Harrington rang it three times to symbolize a change of watch, or end of watch.
“From there, RBYC moves off into history,” Trombetta said. ER