Life + Outdoors » Field Notes

The Island Yacht Club



Following the "shocking and revolting," in Bret Harte's words, massacre at the Wiyot village on the former Indian Island, now Tuluwat, in February of 1860, the few survivors were removed to, or sought refuge at, Fort Humboldt. They were subsequently relocated to the Smith River and Klamath reservations, while German immigrant Robert Gunther, then 29, spent the next 40 years developing what was, in white eyes, his property. With difficulty ("... after more than 10 years, I got a dyke to stand ..."), he drained the northeastern part of the island to create grazing land for his herd of Frisian dairy cattle. He soon sold off two parcels to timber companies, which built the Jones and the Cousins mills on the Eureka-facing shore opposite F Street. Another decade saw a shingle mill, shipyard, dry dock and 400-foot long "marine railroad" on the little island. Gunther died in 1924.

Recreation followed industry. In 1904, the Sequoia Yacht and Boating Club raised money for the construction of an expansive clubhouse facing Eureka, adjacent to the parcel on which, 60 years later, Bob Imperiale (of Imperiale Square on Second Street) built his iconic round-windowed home. Today, virtually nothing remains of the clubhouse save a few rotting pilings ready to snag unwary kayakers and the boiler that once heated an indoor swimming pool. Back in the day, however, day-trippers enjoyed facilities that included a gym and a tennis-cum-handball court. Not forgetting boating — many yachts were stored there, starting the tradition of Wednesday evening sailing on the bay that persists to this day.

The swimming pool (which is probably still there, filled with sand from subsequent dredging) was built "in ship fashion" from redwood planks with oakum (tarred fiber) in the seams. Its depth ran from 3 feet to 9 feet, with two diving platforms. According to a letter published 40 years ago in the Humboldt Historian magazine from old-timer Neil Price, "There were those with bravado who dove from the rafters when the caretaker was not present ... The swimming suits were of dull, grey cotton which extended from neck to knee." The pool was heated from a boiler that ran on oil transported from the mainland on one of Walter Coggeshall's barges.

Maintenance led to a fire on Feb. 5, 1913. The pool had been drained for re-caulking, leaving a heating stove unattended. The fire was soon extinguished and damage to the adjacent buildings was mostly repaired within a few months. In the early '20s, the facility was still intact except for the tennis court, but it all subsequently fell into disuse and disrepair. Finally, a violent storm in February of 1940 caused what was left of the clubhouse to tumble into the bay. Today, a huge Monterey pine occupies the space where Eurekans came for R&R 100 years ago.

Barry Evans (he/him, [email protected]) is one of many kayakers who has snagged on the old pilings.

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