History of the Royal Marsh Harbour Yacht Club
Written by: the late Robert Wilson, a resident of Atlanta, GA and former
Commodore of the Royal Marsh Harbour Yacht Club. He was a Cruising Editor
for The Waterway Guide – Bahamas Edition and contributed regularly to the
Abaconian while he and his wife Carolyn were in the Abacos aboard M/V Sea Island Girl.
How it all began......
The waterfront along Marsh Harbour was somewhat different thirty years ago. The Abacos had become a stopping place for cruisers, some wanting to escape the wintry weather back home, and for some, it became their permanent home. Most of them were sailors that would spend endless days completing a never ending list of boat projects and for some, all work and no play soon became a mundane way of life.
Things began to change when Wally Smith, a former Canadian resident, opened the Conch Crawl bar, adjacent to his Conch Inn marina and restaurant. He and his daughter Maureen would encouraged everyone, but especially the boaters in and around Marsh Harbour to stop by to unwind, enjoy a beverage or two and watch the evening sun go down.
Before long, the Crawl became the favorite watering hole where everyone gathered in the afternoons to relate tales of their latest high seas adventure, or pass along some local gossip while winding down from a hard days work. The drinks flowed freely, and as their imaginations grew, the group of salty merry-makers decided to formally band together. That was the beginnings of the Royal Marsh Harbour Yacht Club.
Just exactly where the yacht club derived its name remains a mystery even to this day. An original member of the group recalls a conversation he had in 1981, saying “Charlie Murphy, who became the founding Commodore of the club, was ‘bubbling’ when he told me he had received a letter from the Queen, indicating that his request to ratify the club’s Royal designation had been granted. To my knowledge no one else had seen the letter, but as Charlie had served in the British military as a navigator, it seemed logical to assume that if anyone could have secured the designation, Charlie could have. So, we have continued with the name all these years.”
A past Commodore, Jim Fenn, confirmed the club’s original charter document has Darrell Royal, a noted Texas football coach, appearing as the club Secretary. Fenn, and others, suggest that someone may have altered the original document as a practical joke, and further indicated that a letter from the Queen was not found among the club’s archives.
During its formative years, the RMHYC gatherings attracted some interesting characters, among them Penny Turtle, Wally Smith and his daughter Maureen,, Bo and Ian Roberts, Joe Maggio and Pete Johnson. Subsequent members, many of whom have remained in Abaco, included Bob and Pattie Toler,George King, Jack Olson, Brad Gunn, Linda Schief, Keith Roberts and Troy Cornea.
It was commonplace for members to meet at the Crawl for drinks and an afternoon game of ‘Wally Ball’ in the pool, but often times Charlie Murphy would teach celestial navigation, as GPS was not yet available. When returning from foreign ports, the members would relay stories of their adventure or pass the time sketching out makeshift charts for others to follow.The Pub Crawl Race was always a favorite pastime, especially during the holidays. Twenty or more sailboats would race from the Conch Inn down to Little Harbour and the distance gave everyone a justifiable excuse to turn the race into a three or four day festivity in Little Harbour.
“We were the thirteenth members when we decided to assess dues and make it a ‘real yacht club’,” recalls Tom Casey and Doris Taylor, who are still in the area aboard their boat Exit Strategy. “The club continued to attract new members, and we were beginning to need more space. Wally Smith sold his place in the early 90’s and that is when we decided to move over to The Bilge, which is now the Marsh Harbour Marina across the way.”
By the mid-1990’s, Abaco had become the number two tourist destination in the Bahamas,and a popular winter destination for boaters. As more arrived, the larger cruising boats began to require larger slips, so, in order accommodate their needs and find a more suitable location for the social events, the club arranged dockage at Boat Harbour Marina, and RMHYC began holding its monthly events in the Marquis Tent at Abaco Beach Resort.
Over the years, the character of the Royal Marsh Harbour Yacht Club has changed. What was once a small group of sailors, had evolved into the social outlet for many of the off-season cruisers and second-homeowners.
RMHYC now boasts of having over eight hundred members. The club has continued to base its membership count on the number of boats, so in reality that equates to over sixteen hundred individual member and our roster includes members hailing from virtually every state or province in the U.S. and Canada, and some from as far away as the U.K. and Switzerland.”
The club’s organized social activities occur during the months from November through April. “It is the off-season for us,” says Chris Higgs,former Boat Harbour Harbor Master, “and the yacht club brings in a lot of boats that stay for an average of three to four months. The members bring us new customers every year, and Abaco Beach Resort is doing all it can to provide a home away from home atmosphere so they can enjoy our facilities and to bring their friends to share in their Bahamian experience.”
Club members are representative of the cross-section of the population. According to Dave Bluto, a former Commodore, “there are a few doctors and lawyers, some had their own business and a few continue to run a business from the boat. It is important to understand, we are not a group of professional mariners traveling aboard a corporate yacht with a staff and crew,and we welcome anyone that enjoys the lifestyle. Some of our members travel from as far away as Canada,but most maintain a summer time port along the eastern seaboard. A third of our members live full-time aboard their vessel, while others continue to maintain a home and consider Abaco a fun place to visit and bring their friends.”
While many first came to the Abacos because of its close proximity to the mainland, they have come to consider their return as a‘welcome home’ experience.
During their stay in the Abacos, the Royal Marsh Harbor members are engaged. Lyn Major, Founder of Every Child Counts explains, saying “We are truly blessed to have several RMHYC members, who were former teachers,volunteer their time to work with our school.” Another local business owner suggests, “They truly enjoy visiting the area. Many of them are actively involved in the community during their stay, and their financial contributions are both recognized and appreciated.”
Individual members continue to support the Abaco Cruisers Net, the Library, and other community projects, and the club erected navigational buoys to the entrance of Marsh Harbour and has supported area boating by erecting and maintaining a public dinghy dock in the harbor.
Much can change in thirty years, but there are some things that never change. Before his death in 2008, Charlie Murphy made a final wish. He may have been recalling those sleepless nights when he and Joe Maggio were delivering a boat up the coast of the U.S., or when he was remembering a few of the good times and how it all got started. Either way, and as he requested, Charlie’s ashes were scattered over the waters of Abaco from the deck of the William H. Albury, and in celebration of his life, his family and friends tossed over a cold can of baked beans and poured a bottle of his favorite beer over the site in honor of all of his contributions.
Thanks Charlie, you were the guiding light.