BRIEF HISTORY OF
LIBERTY SAILING CLUB
In the winter of 1989, two entrepreneurs had an idea for a yacht club to be located in center city Philadelphia. It was to be modeled after a Club in New York City and was incorporated as Liberty Yacht Club. Space was rented on the first floor of Pier 19, along the Delaware River, close to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Pier 19 was not a parking lot then, there was no Dave & Buster's and the floor was tiled. A power boat dealership was also located there. The entrepreneurs convinced eight of their racing buddies to each buy a J/27 boat and then lease them to the club. A clubhouse was built toward the back of the pier with the eight J/27’s just outside on Y dock. They were to be paid $300 per month for the lease and were given a free membership. The J27 was selected because at the time it was a very new boat, easily sailable by people of varying capabilities and required a crew of 5 or 6 sailors.
The original plan called for 15 boats, one named for each of the original thirteen colonies and one named Independence and one named Liberty. Only eight were brought into the fleet. Two left with their owners in the early 1990’s and now Independence has been repurchased to satisfy the increasing membership. None of the original charter members are still active with the club.
Steve Markowitz (aka Skip) raced GP 14’s on the Cooper River and moved to Liberty Yacht Club after getting backwinded and putting the crew in the water. The crew mutinied and Skip joined the club in September 1989.
Annie O’Riordan joined very shortly afterward. In November 1989, one of the original members, and a colleague of Annie’s, talked her into joining the club for Frostbite. Annie and her son Michael came for Frostbite and they were hooked. Annie joined the club in December 1989. Annie and Skip subsequently became shareholders in the early Club along with several other members and Annie purchased Massachusetts from its original owner. Other early members were Brion Sirine and Joel Fein who joined in 1990, Bill Weist in 1991 and Joe DeMilto in 1993.
In the fall of 1991, Liberty Yacht Club sponsored a week long Regatta known as Liberty Race Week. Different events were held every day. One day there were races by all women’s teams. Women sailors from up and down the Eastern seaboard came together to race. There was also a team of Russian Women Sailors who were visiting Philadelphia. One Saturday night a huge party, with two bands and tons of food, was held on Pier 19. The club owners knew how to throw a party but did not know how to get the club to live within its means and the first Club when bankrupt in 1991. It had 183 members at that time, but many were free memberships. All of the boat owners were given a free membership. The man who built the suspended ceiling in the first club house and the man who supplied the shirts for Liberty Race Week were all given free memberships. That was probably a good thing as the boat owners rarely received money due to them for boat leases.
Following the second bankruptcy a few years later, several people had ideas for a new club. A meeting was held at Skip's house with a core group of former dedicated Liberty Yacht Club sailors and it was then that a decision was made to start a not for profit, members owned club. This core group each put up $100 each to get things under way and vowed there would be no paid employees. All the work including boat maintenance would be done by the members. A new Board of Directors was formed along the structure in existence today. Skip was the first Commodore of the new club. Because of the previous bankruptcies it was decided to get a new name to dissociate the new club from the old one, hence the name “Liberty Sailing Club”. And we did get members and paid all of our obligations including paying the boat owners their monthly rent.
In the first years of Liberty Sailing Club, membership dwindled and money was tight. The biggest monthly expense was the boat leases. In 1999, then Commodore Harvey Bunch recommended buying the boats. Since the boats were nearing their tax usefulness, some owners were anxious to sell anyway.
Then Treasurer Skip negotiated with each owner to accept the next 12 month lease payment as final payment. In order to finance the purchase of the first boat, several members including Skip and Annie paid their next year’s dues in advance. The following years more boats were purchased until Liberty had them all.
As our membership started to grow again we found ourselves needing a clubhouse. We found one. We signed a lease on 15 May 2005 and we are still here to offer the Philadelphia community a great opportunity to sail on the Delaware River.