Manila Yacht Club
Being one of the world’s largest archipelagos with 7,107 islands and an extensive coastline that is almost twice as long as that of the United States, the Philippines has a proud and great seafaring history stretching to over thousands of years ago when the first balanghay, (basic and prehistoric dug-out canoes of maritime Southeast Asia) set sail in its waters of the South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Java Sea and as far as the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean after the thawing of the last Ice Age. At present, the only flotilla of these boats that were excavated in Butuan was known to exist only in the Philippines and an ambitious expedition of Filipino adventurers are planning to follow the ancient routes using a replica of these boats to go around the Philippines, then Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and eventually Madagascar in later years.
The boat manned by the seafaring people of Tawi-tawi called the Badjaos, the Philippine Mount Everest Team and representatives from the Philippine Navy will set sail on 24 June 2009 from Manila Bay. Closer to the Spanish colonial era, the Philippines served as a vital link to what is now called as the Maritime Silk Route – connecting the trading Chinese to the very important Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade during the Spanish Period. In recent years, the Philippines has supplied the majority of the crew of world’s ships – and it is no exaggeration that it is possible that there is a Filipino seaman anywhere in the world working on a ship at any given time as Filipino seafarers are known to be the most skillful and the most reliable in the international maritime industry.
Photo by storm-crypt
It is with this unparalleled and internationally distinguished maritime history and tradition that the Philippines finally deserved a premier residence for the sailing elites and one of the hubs of the upper crust of the country. With the backdrop of one of the most famous sunsets in the world in probably the best natural harbor anywhere on the planet – the famed Manila Bay sunset, the love affair with the sea was finally consummated when James C. Rockwell, Joseph A. Thomas, Aubrey P. Ames, Stewart E. Taite and A.S. Heyward formed the Manila Yacht Club on 20 January 1927 making it one of the oldest in Southeast Asia and became one of the most important sailing hubs along with Singapore and Hong Kong. Manila Yacht Club today is considered as the Grand Dame of Philippine Yacht Clubs being the most prestigious and the oldest yacht club in the Philippines with affiliate membership with yacht clubs in over 90 countries around the world and a local membership of at least 400.
It was actually at the former location of Manila Polo Club which was located next to Manila Bay where the first by-laws of the club were signed. For unsuspecting locals, Manila Yacht Club was something totally removed from the annals of mainstream Philippine history, and was just another pretty but a tad elitist addition in its margins. But this is a gross under-appreciation. Few know that the seawall that forms a basin where Manila Yacht Club is now located was initially built by the Americans as a place where they could anchor their seaplanes called the China Sea Clippers. However, the United States Federal Aviation disapproved the design and the declared the basin unsafe for anchorage as the breakwater was not high enough to arrest the strong current and the area too exposed to the typhoon winds that seasonally blow into Manila. Manila Yacht Club seized the opportunity to seek permission to use it and soon after an airy two-story clubhouse was built on the site. The 17-boat Star Class was the club’s largest fleet then and in 1936, the Dragons (or Ankers) made their sailing debut with the club. The original clubhouse was located at the Southeast corner of the yacht basin, along Roxas Boulevard (formerly called Dewey Boulevard) facing Manila Bay.
Photo by c.flessen
Like the turbulent seas, the club faced extremely rough sailing when World War II broke out in the Pacific in December 1941 and was forced to close its doors, fourteen years after it was founded. Boats that were moored at the Manila Yacht Club basin were confiscated by the Americans, some of them sunk and others set on fire so that the advancing Japanese Imperial Army would not be able to use them for attacks on the nearby island of Corregidor. A Japanese marine detachment appeared later and occupied the club and shut the gate. Some of the boats that were not sunk or burned down were appropriated by the Japanese and shipped to Japan as a war booty. In one case, two young Englishmen asked for a boat to be used for their eventual escape to Australia and one of the first members, Santiago Picornell, in a stroke of humanitarianism, gave one of his two boats, Amihan (Tagalog for the cool, northeast wind and also represents a deity in Philippine mythology).
After the war, the United States Army occupied the club and finally in March 1947, the club reopened. In the same year, the formerly exclusively men-only club opened its doors to women. The gruesome war and the resulting devastation of Manila had its effects on the club. It was only in a meeting on the 25th of October 1948 that the first mention of a boat race was ever included in its minutes. During these years, the Manila Yacht Club Commodore Albert Capotosto (1956-1957) wrote in the 50th year commemorative book of the club, that the racing fleet at this time was composed mainly of boats like “Hurricanes, Stars, weekend cruisers and backyard wonders” 110s as well as Dragons also made an appearance too. Slowly the homey atmosphere returned to Manila Yacht Club with around 80% of membership composed of Americans and other expatriates and a ladies group that competed weekly. The club also had a Junior Sailing program for children of the members which essentially helped produce topnotch sailors in the country.
By 1960, the Philippines became the first Asian country to participate in the Olympic yachting events in Rome, with the KA-48 skippered by Manila Yacht Club’s Fausto Preysler. Preysler again represented the country in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
When the conjugal dictatorship of the Marcoses finally came to town in the ‘70s, expatriate membership declined as a lot of them decided to leave the Philippines in the creeping shadows of Martial Law. Today, the club casts a shadow of understated elegance, history and excellence and still is the premier club of the Philippines and one of Southeast Asia’s most important in organizing the President’s Cup Regatta (Manila-Boracay Race) as well as being the co-host of the China Sea Race, the oldest bluewater race, primarily organized by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, whose participants sail a distance of 650 nautical miles from Hong Kong to Manila, one of the most anticipated and exciting yachting events in Asia.
While Manila Yacht Club is for members-only and strictly by invitation, it never dissociated itself from the Philippine society- through the affable and generous incumbent Manila Yacht Club Commodore Ildefonso G. Tronqued Jr., the club organizes sailing lessons for Manila street-children for the Optimist and Laser class, some of which eventually were able to go to sail and compete with the Philippine Sailing Team. If a group or a company decides to conduct a cleanup of Manila Bay, the club is more than willing to lend its three boats to assist in the operations. It also assists the Philippine Coast Guard in patrolling the bay and in more dire circumstances like responding to a search and rescue operation of the ill-fated Laoag International Airline Flight 585 from Manila to Laoag, Ilocos Norte to Basco, Batanes which crashed into the murky waters of Manila Bay cementing Manila Yacht Club’s reputation as an important local community initiatives partner. Commodore Tronqued himself figured prominently in the rescue of 35 International Boy Scouts stranded near Corregidor in 1996, just before their boat ultimately capsized. Manila Yacht Club is also an active supporter of the Philippine Sailing Team – the team usually holds its practice and runs along the bay with the Manila Yacht Club as its hub. I remembered sailing with the Philippine team myself back in November-December 2004 when I brought in a very good Turkish friend, Deniz Sasal – a former Junior European Champion in the Optimist Class who also hails from a family of boat builders in his home city of Izmir in Turkey.
Commodore Tronqued has been one of the longest running heads of the Manila Yacht Club, and for a good reason. The good Commodore with his father-like vibe and the unmistakable air of a true man of the sea is much beloved by the equally friendly staff of the club. I also had the pleasure of meeting and being gladly assisted by his son and the upcoming Editor-in-Chief for the Manila Yacht Club publication, Marco Tronqued with the research for this article. Commodore Tronqued along with the distinguished Board Members of the club is actively renovating the club and transforming it slowly into becoming a more prominent landmark of Manila. The height of the seawall was increased in 1998 and in 1999, floating berths were launched which serve as a place of protection for the boats. The clubhouse was renovated and more renovations are underway. Recently the National Historical Institute recognized the club because of its historical significance in shaping the history of Philippine Sailing and Yachting in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia, a well deserved recognition to one of the country’s sporting and social meccas.
Currently, the club offers sailing lessons from mirror dinghies to streakers to keel boats (platu).If you have a club contact (must be a club member) and you plan to hold an event, Manila Yacht Club does accept reservations for banquets as well as club dining. Manila Yacht Club dining is a gastronomic surprise – they have a very good selection of reasonably priced steaks, traditional Filipino, Spanish, American and Asian favorites. For one, I fell in love with the club’s version of Gazpacho Sevillano (Iced vegetable soup from Sevilla, Spain) – which I can’t stop myself from raving about that club staff Lyn Macalagay can’t suppress a giggle or two as well as the delicate flavors of excellently prepared Boneless Bangus (Milkfish) in Lemon-butter sauce, mashed potato and shredded pickled papaya. Other notable must-eats on the menu are the Amalfi Prawns Skewer, Zarzuela de Mariscos, Sopa de Lentejas, Singaporean Chicken Curry, Arroz Abanda (Spanish Seafood Paella) and Pinakbet Laoag. Prime Tenderloin for only P660 is definitely not bad at all! Meals are served quick and fresh by its friendly staff like its Captain Waiter Ruel Garcia.
Photo by storm-crypt
As a members-only club, Manila Yacht Club has very strict entrance policies. However, some of the yacht owners offer their yachts for chartered trips. One such yacht is the King of Sports III, owned by Mr. Justin Po. The yacht has a length of 114’ and a beam of 48, it has bedrooms complete with air-conditioning, king sized beds, bath rooms, bunk beds; a very comfortable salon with a big collection of films, music, and games; a dining area at the Sun Deck that would seat 8 people comfortably; a nice Jacuzzi at its stern and a full service crew. Charters are available for surfing, diving or simply exploration of the vast Philippine archipelago. With 7,107 amazing islands in the Philippines, it is not impossible to find your own private cove, your own private diving area, or your own private surfing spot off the beaten track. The yacht is also open for parties onboard like the one that we had onboard in 2007. Nothing beats partying in a yacht with copious amount of bubbly, a decidedly multicultural crowd of cosmopolitan Manila and a gorgeous sunset as a backdrop.
With over 82 years of the Manila Yacht Club and its resilient and forward-looking leadership in the backdrop of the storied past of Philippine maritime history, the future of Philippine sailing looks definitely bright and heady and perhaps as beautiful as the spectacular Manila Bay sunset it continually enjoys.
Ryan supports socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable tourism, as well as the promotion of the Philippines as an alternative Asian tourist destination.
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