Panoramic views of the coastline unfold for miles and miles from the outdoor decks at the Yacht Club of Sea Isle City.
Lagoons, marshlands and wildlife abound in this serene setting. Follow the coast and you’ll see the towns of Avalon and Stone Harbor in the distance. On a clear day, even the water towers of Wildwood about 20 miles away are visible.
But one thing you won’t see here are yachts. Sure, there are plenty of boats snugly tied up in their slips, but not what you would consider glamorous yachts. You know, those huge, palatial pleasure craft crowding the swank playgrounds of the super-rich, like Saint-Tropez and Monaco.
“In the modern sense of yacht, we’re yachtless. I sometimes say we’re a drinking club without a yacht problem,” joked Jim Collins, general manager of the Yacht Club of Sea Isle City.
But, as Collins also noted, “If you look at the definition of a yacht, it is any boat that is for pleasure and not for business.”
So by that standard, the YCSIC has plenty of yachts. The average size of the club’s 32 boat slips is 24 to 26 feet long. The biggest one is 36 feet.
The centerpiece of the YCSIC is the stylish, gray clubhouse that was built in 2013 at a cost of $3.2 million. The two-story building contains 10,400 square feet of space and is anchored by a formal dining room that can host weddings and other special events. Amenities also include a casual bar and restaurant.
The clubhouse overlooks the bayside tip of Venicean Road. Its wraparound outdoor decks allow members to enjoy expansive views of the shoreline and quaint waterways.
“The sunsets are amazing,” Collins said.
The new building replaced the former clubhouse, dating to 1940, that fell victim to old age and structural problems. The crumbling landmark was demolished in 2012 to make room for construction of its much-larger successor.
Collins explained that the new clubhouse has boosted the YCSIC’s popularity. There is a waiting list of about 300 people for membership in the private club. Would-be members can potentially wait for seven or eight years before they are admitted, compared to one or two years when the old clubhouse still existed. Membership is capped at 525 to avoid overcrowding.
When asked to describe the typical reaction of aspiring members to the long waiting list, Collins said, “The most common response is, ‘I’ll be dead then.’ But I tell them to eat right and exercise and we’ll see you then.”
The club has established offseason membership for 75 people. It gives them access to the facilities from October to late May and is considered a foot in the door to full membership. The wait time for offseason membership is one to two years, Collins said.
Founded in 1940, the Yacht Club of Sea Isle City is not to be confused with the now-defunct Sea Isle City Yacht Club. The old Sea Isle City Yacht Club, located at 60th Street and the bay, reserved legal rights to that name as part of its formal charter, Collins said.
“That yacht club disbanded,” he said. “Its building burned down. The club collapsed around the Great Depression.”
In 1940, a group of businessmen wanted to attract more visitors to Sea Isle, so the Yacht Club of Sea Isle City was born. Early on, it offered sailing lessons, powerboat racing and an array of social functions. The social activities were based in Philadelphia during the winter and shifted to Sea Isle in the summer, Collins said.
The yacht club still offers sailing lessons, even to nonmembers.
“We get a lot of families from other towns for our sailing lessons,” Collins said.
John Halfpenny, a full-time Sea Isle resident and retired businessman, has been a club member for more than 10 years. He keeps his boat in storage and is looking to sell it, so for him the club’s social activities are the main attraction.
“It’s a nice family atmosphere. It’s pretty much the place to be in Sea Isle,” he said.
Halfpenny and his wife, Pat, enjoy bringing their children and grandchildren to the club, especially for the family-friendly theme parties. Last Sunday, they were joined by four of their grandchildren for a “Coney Island Night” party in the dining area.
Boaters like the club’s location on Venicean Road. The surrounding lagoons give them easy access to the Intracoastal Waterway, a gateway to the ocean.
“For me, it’s a convenient place to maintain my boat,” said Fred Walker, a 10-year club member who has a summer home in Sea Isle and lives in Collegeville, Pa.
Walker and his longtime friends Stan Kowalczyk and Charlie App spent Friday morning together fishing and crabbing. They brought back one flounder.
Walker, Kowalczyk and App, all retired, have been neighbors for 30 years in Collegeville. Their families have done quite a bit of traveling together, including trips to the Caribbean.
On Friday, it was a fishing trip out on Walker’s 22-foot boat that brought the three friends together again. They launched from the Yacht Club of Sea Isle City. And they didn’t need a yacht to have a good time.