Sailing used to be only a means of transportation, exploration and warfare. Expeditions and trade made the world’s great seafaring nations prosperous and powerful. The Dutch were prominent merchant mariners whose activities caused the appearance of a new trend in the 16th and 17th century. Sailing gradually became a new entertainment activity, greatly practiced for pleasure. The earliest boats were very practical in the Netherlands’ sheltered waters. The word “Yacht” derives from the Dutch word “Jaght”, used for those small and light boats, easy to navigate. Since the idea of new sailing activity appeared in the Netherlands, it was soon introduced to King Charles II of England, and eventually spread to the American colonies.
The English king Charles II became aware of the new leisure activity, while he was in exile in the Netherlands. Upon his return to England, Charles II was given a yacht “Mary” as a gift from the Dutch, which stimulated the English shipbuilders to improve on design having rather sportive approach. As a result, they built two yachts, “Catherine” and “Anne”, to King Charles and to his brother. They performed the first recorded race with two pleasure yachts, on the race course between Greenwich and Gravesend and back along the Thames.
Sailing for pleasure soon became pretty popular, which led to joining for recreational purposes and to foundation of yacht clubs. The first yacht club was founded in 1720, at Cork, Ireland. “The Water Club of the Harbour of Cork”, whose records disappeared in the 18th century, was later re-established as “The Cork Yacht Club” in 1828. It is known as the world’s oldest yacht club.
Another yacht club appeared at that time in England, “The Royal Yacht Club”, which changed its name by the royal request into “The Royal Yacht Squadron”. Soon after “The Royal Thames Yacht Club” was founded as well. The foundation of yacht clubs marked some kind of a turning point in the world of sailing, yacht design and sailing organizations.
That whole new approach became recognized outside the British Empire, which resulted in a growing trend among sailors to found new clubs. “The New York Yacht Club” was the most established yacht club, founded among New York businessmen and residents. Nine yachtsmen met aboard James Cox Stevens’ yacht “Gimcrack” and decided to form an organization for weekend racing and summer cruises. It is the oldest existing yacht club in the United States.
The popularization of sailing for pleasure was pretty much expanded which resulted in different approach to yacht design and preferences. New materials and innovative designs made that entertaining activity more exciting and challenging. The new entertaining and competitive sport attracted many sailing enthusiasts and a new form of recreation was born.