Duluth Yacht Club History
A few good men. That's all that was needed back in February 1969 to start the present day Duluth Yacht Club. A group of men, who informally raced each other across Lake Superior under the auspices of the Cruising Club, decided to come together formally and solidify sport sailing in the Duluth-Superior area.
The Cruising Club, including longtime sailors Jack Soetieber, Jack Arnold, Dave Poulin, Jim Robinson and Dale Sola, in the early days would begin their races off Park Point. The group called itself the Cruising Club because they wanted to differentiate themselves and their sailboats from a scow club that raced in the bay.
Because of the success of the Cruising Club, some members felt the Club should be more formal and promoted as an area-wide sailing club. The Apostle Island Yacht Club, which had already been in existence for thirteen years, was established with the help of Jack Soetebier and Dr. John Pierpont - two founding members of the Duluth club. Duluth hadn't seen a formal yacht club since the 1920s and 30s when Park Point had an elaborate establishment which operated under the name Duluth Yacht Club
The Cruising Club drew up a constitution, established by-laws, changed its name to the Duluth Keel Club (DKC) and named Bill Soetebier its first Commodore. The Duluth Keel Club's purpose was "to act in the best interest of sailing; to create, foster and encourage a comradery amongst all sailors in the Duluth-Superior area; to support that which is in the best interest of sailing and boating as a sport and recreation". Membership was granted to males 21 years of age or older and dues were set at ten dollars. By April 1969, the Duluth Keel Club had 26 paid members.
The early races were more informal than racing today. Ten races were scheduled for the year with a Spring Series and Fall Series. The DKC scheduled their races around the Apostle Island Yacht Club season which started around the Fourth of July. Because many sailors participated in both clubs, the Spring Invitational Series held May 31 and June 1, 1969, were DKC's first formal races. Boats ranged from a Cal 20 to a Rhodes 41 with a no spinnaker or family rules adopted for Saturday's race and anything goes on Sunday.
Jack Soetebier remembers the early races as being much more laid back than they are now. There were more cruising races - racing up to Knife River on Saturday, anchoring for the night and racing back to Duluth on Sunday. Jack remembers many boats included wives and children which fostered a social atmosphere. Soetebier also recalls the early days on the starting line. All boats anchored and when the starting horn blew they would pull up anchor and begin the race.
The Duluth Keel Club initially adopted a high-point scoring system. The first six places were given points starting at six points for first down to one point for sixth. The boat with the most points at the end of the season won. In 1977, the DKC adopted a low-point scoring system. The first boat received half a point, second boat scored two points and so on down. So the boat with the lowest number of points at the end of the season wins. Sailboats also received a large number of points for not starting, not finishing, being disqualified, or for finishing last. Also in 1977, the DKC changed its rating system. Before 1977, sailboats were rated based on a modified version of the International Offshore Rules (IOR) developed by Stu Sivertson. Now the DKC uses the Performance Handicapped Racing Formula (PHRF).
Duluth can boast the beginning of one of the most prominent Lake Superior sailboat races, the Trans-Superior. The Trans-Superior was a race thought out between Duluth sailor Jack Soetebier and Dr. John Pierpont, from White Pine, Michigan. The two men set up the race more as a challenge to each other and other Lake Superior sailors. It was organized before the 1969 conception of the Duluth Keel Club. The race is a 326 nautical mile race from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to Duluth. It is held every odd year and is sponsored by the Lake Superior Yachting Association in conjunction with the Duluth Keel Club and the Algoma Sailing Club in Sault Ste. Marie. The course was reversed in 1983, but due to finish line logistics, it was changed back to the traditional Sault to Duluth direction.
The Richardson Cup race is another sailing event the Club has been active in over the years. The Richardson Cup is a series of match races where boats pair up and race one on one. The event is the Great Lake's championship of match racing and is held in a different location every year. In 1980, the Duluth Keel Club hosted the Richardson Cup and Club members have represented Duluth in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1990, and 2001. The Richardson Cup event returned to Duluth in September of 1997 and 2002. In 2002, a team of DKC sailors representing Lake Superior Yachting Association won the coveted Richardson Cup.
In 1990, the beginning of a new decade ushered in a new name for the club. It changed from the Duluth Keel Club to the Duluth Yacht Club. Along with a new name came a new clubhouse and docks centered at the heart of waterfront activity. With the elimination of family rules prohibiting spinnakers on Wednesday nights, the Duluth Yacht Club expanded the Club's sailing expertise.
Another major event, which Duluth had the pleasure of co-hosting in 1990, is the Midget Ocean Racing Club International Regatta. Boats from all over the United States and Canada came to Duluth to compete on an unpredictable Lake Superior. The event was co-hosted by the Duluth Yacht Club and Wayzata Yacht Club. MORC sailboats and ratings are built around a measurement system. Before the boats touched water, each had to be measured and weighed to determine the rating allotment and were assigned to their respective classes. Duluth boats fared very well earning top places in the Production and Classic Divisions.
In 1992 renewed interest in one-design racing brought the San Juan 24 North American Championship to Duluth. Eleven Duluth Yacht Club crews participated in the 20 boat event which brought competitors from the West Coast, Thunder Bay, Sheboygan, and Minneapolis. Duluth was well represented with the top three places going to local boats. As the host site in 1996, the DYC had fourteen crews compete in the 23 boat fleet. Hosting again in 2000, DYC teams took the top three spots. Duluth hosted three additional years, most recently in 2006.
2008 was an exciting year with new achievements for club members. Former Commodore Eric Thomas completed the Solo TransPacific finishing 1st in his class and 2nd overall. And placing sixth in the U.S. Sailing Women's National Championship was Susan Mattis Turnham and crew Connie Bloom, Amy Carlson and Kari Jacobson Hedin.
Today the club continues to use the assumed name Duluth Yacht Club. The original, legal name of the Minnesota non-profit corporation, i.e., the Duluth Keel Club, remains unchanged. The Duluth Yacht Club currently offers family, individual, social, and student memberships. The membership is comprised of male, female and youth sailors. The Duluth Yacht Club continues to look towards the future.
2020 Note: We are sad to report the passing this spring of two of our founding members and past Commodores, John “Jack” Soetebier and John “Jack” Arnold.