Sailing the Dark and Stormy


The Story of the Loyal West End Yacht Club

Lou Schwartz, the new commodore of the Loyal West End Yacht Club and former owner of the Jolly Roger, explains how a ragtag group of sailors and landlubbers formed a staple of the BVI sailing scene.

Lou Schwartz, the new commodore of the Loyal West End Yacht Club and former owner of the Jolly Roger, explains how a ragtag group of sailors and landlubbers formed a staple of the BVI sailing scene.

(l-r) Dave Cooper, Bob Phillips and Louis Schwartz

Loosely formed late in the 70s and then (a bit) more formally organized in the mid 80s, the West End Yacht Club, was originally comprised of an eclectic group of talented sailors, shipwrights, teachers, families, intellectuals, “on the lam” folks, boat people of differing trades and nationalities who gathered at the Jolly Roger waterfront bar and restaurant in Sopers Hole on Tortola. They sported beards, hair configurations and tattoos not previously displayed in the BVI. These West End residents lived on boats and on land and plied their special gifted trades: drinking, schooling, family rearing, music, partying, more drinking and cooking ethnic BYO dinners, now recognized as “culinary dinners.” They were great fun loving people living on a sailing island with a proverbial partying problem and as they say in Brooklyn: a “fugegedaboutit” attitude.

Having fun after the Gustav Wilmerding Race.

Among the many colorful characters to cross paths with the West End Yacht Club were Killer Ken, Scary Mary, Mad Dog, Disaster Dave, Biker Butch, Miss Nancy, the White Rapper, Candy Man, Tork and Beanie. These were just a few of the names, nicknames and terms of endearment which kept the sailing fabric of the WEYC tied together. Then there were Da Big Boats and Da Little Boats: Rob Roy, Grace, Hot Flash, Lydia, Midnight Rambler, Kuralu, Ruffian, Roseway and Spirit of Baltimore.

Our Commodores

A new era for the WEYC was launched when Morgan Sanger became the first Commodore from 1987 to ‘89. He was followed by Carter Powell, owner of the sloop Lydia, who took the Yacht Club helm from 1989 to ‘96. Bo and Lyba, a young couple from West Virginia, owned the Jolly Roger for part of this period and kept spirits raised throughout. Wednesday night races soon became popular. Starting off at the Jolly Roger, racers sailed to a mark off of Great Thatch and back…sometimes the mark would drift due to not being anchored correctly and racers would be sailing towards Jost before laughing and turning around.

Martin Van Houton (center) at a West End Yacht Club awards ceremony

From 1996 to 2012 David Cooper was Commodore, running the club with his partner in sailing and life Miss Nancy Terrell (host of the 1960s children’s TV program, Romper Room). They were an unforgettable team. Our longest serving Commodore is Martin Van Houton of Sistership, who took the helm from 2004 to 2015, ably assisted by Dancin’ Mike and Princess Di.  He, Carter Powell and David Cooper, have selflessly served for the past years as examples to all, would be, and wannabe commodores, including myself.

Who put the Loyal in the West End Yacht Club?

Capt. Robin Pinfold of Kuralu fame claims responsibility for the addition of the word “Loyal” to the West End Yacht Club after the BVI Yacht Club in Road Town added “Royal” to theirs. He was vice-commodore for many years…the specific number is hard to recall after far too much rum.

Notable Events

The late 80s to 90s: “The Noisy Neighbors,” a band made up of musically talented rock and rollers entertained the locals and West Enders at the Jolly Roger – and from time to time at the West End Yacht Club’s second home, the Sand Spit. Burgers and hot dogs were cooked on the grill and rum and beer flowed at these parties held on the water’s edge on Sopers Hole.

Thanksgiving 1991: 17 West End Yacht Clubbers gathered at the Jolly Roger for the first of 20 years of “Pot Luck” Thanksgiving dinners that became a traditional feast for all displaced Americans who missed their turkey, as well as West End neighbors of all nationalities and worthy tourists.

The Races

A few of our race rules: “First up, if you start early you are dumb,” and “if you hit a boat or get hit yer both out.” WEYC races are all about fun and all participating vessels win a prize. While everyone wants to finish at the top, being in it is the satisfaction.

Sweethearts of the Caribbean and Classic Yacht Regatta 2016: This will be the 38th Sweethearts of the Caribbean and 34th Classic Yacht Regatta, which are traditionally held on Valentine’s weekend – this year on February 12th to 14th. Featuring some of the last remaining island schooners and many other classic yachts, this picturesque race is the second most participated in yachting event in the British Virgin Islands. The race offers something for everyone with singlehanded, lovers, wannabees and schooner classes on Saturday – and there is more racing fun on Sunday when the Classic Yacht Regatta gets underway.

The Firecracker 500: With the growth of the West End community there was a need for an event during the summer slowdown, and the Firecracker 500 followed by the “Great Chili Cook-off” (one of several WEYC fund raising events) were born. Many great chilies were brought to bear upon our neighbors’ constitution. There were prizes for all entrants and the event was consummated with a bottle of Pepto Bismol for the last place chili. Through the Great Chili Cook-off and other events, the Loyal WEYC has raised thousands of dollars for VISAR, KATS, Tortola Sloops, 49’ers, the Dinghy Championships and more.

WEYC Grande Dames (l-r): Nancy Terell, Carter Powell, Janelle Pascoe, Kate Savales

Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta: One of the highlights of the West End Yacht Club calendar is Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta, organized in conjunction with the race’s famous founder Foxy Callwood and his wife Tessa. Held each year over Memorial Day weekend, the race has been diligently administered by various commodores including Dave Cooper (ably aided by Miss Nancy) from 1991 to 2006.

Gustav Wilmerding: In 1991 a sailing event in December was necessary for The West Endians’ voracious appetite for competition, and Commodore “Disaster” Dave Cooper, Miss Nancy and I came up with The Gustav “Ding Dong” Wilmerding Race. The race was predicated on the tale of a fierce and foolish buccaneer with bravado, (the most famous pirate to pilfer ships and steal other’s treasure in British Virgin Island’s history). In actuality Gustav “Ding Dong” Wilmerding is fictitious and, we like to believe, the predecessor to Pirates of the Caribbean (apologies to the Walt Disney Company and Johnny Depp).

As the story goes, Gustav Wilmerding left Britain as a cabin boy on a merchant ship when just a lad of twelve.  His vessel was captured by pirates and he grew to know and master the trade of his abductors.  Becoming the leader of the pilfering band soon after adulthood, Gustav chose Little Thatch Cay, just off  West End, Tortola, as his home.  His pirates raised such a ruckus upon returning from their plunders that the local islanders would loudly ring bells announcing the return of the ships, laden with stolen booty. Pretty maidens from surrounding islands would then be fetched by Gustav’s lads and the festivities would begin. Thus Gustav’s notorious nickname name, “Ding Dong.” The first Gustav Wilmerding Race was successfully led by Commodore Carter.

Dark and Stormy: 2016 will mark the WEYC’s 19th Dark and Stormy, generally held Commonwealth Day weekend (the first weekend in March). Created by Marty Halpern, Captain of Ruffian, the first race was run in tribute to the Soares family of Anegada.  Soon the event evolved and really helped to open Anegada to the boating community.  Because of its popularity it soon became a four-day event with kite flying, treasure hunting, sandcastle competition and a BVI/USVI horseshoe competition. The event has become a Caribbean tradition.

The weekend finishes on Monday (Commonwealth Day in the BVI) with a good natured race back to Nanny Cay on Tortola where there are sure to be more unforgettable stories of the good old days of the Loyal West End Yacht Club and fun times sailing in the BVI.

With the able assistance of the BVI’s many colorful characters, both on land and at sea, the Loyal West End Yacht Club will continue to sail on into new and uncharted waters.

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