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Drive The Boat: A Rich History Of Black Sailing Groups In The U.S.

By Leah Freeman-Haskin

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It’s not every day that you hear about black yacht clubs and sailing groups, but the popularity for sailing within the black community is growing, putting these historic clubs in the spotlight. From Chicago to Washington D.C., these for-us, by-us groups are proving that there ain’t nothing we can’t do.

Black Chicago Sailors

The Black Chicago Sailors is the largest virtual group of black sailors of both men and women in the country —cruising and racing. Founder Pam Rice says, “knowing how difficult it would be to nail down sailors and free-spirits, I decided that a ‘virtual’ organization would work best…no meetings, no dues, just sharing each other’s company.”

Although the Black Chicago Sailors group is handled virtually, Jackson Park Yacht Club in Chicago, is said to have the largest community of black sailors in the country. The club has 400 members, 300 of which are African American. In recent years, the Jackson Park Yacht Club has focused hard on outreach, including affordable sailing lessons for adults – and even a free sailing camp for kids.

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Universal Sailing Club

Universal Sailing Club (USC) was founded in 2001 by sailors Marcus Asante and Michael Campbell. These men gathered other African American sailors on the Chesapeake Bay, primarily from Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. The USC maintains a historically black sailing presence on the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the world. As the popularity of sailing grows within black communities, the club has recently expanded to include sailors from around the country and abroad.

The club organizes on-the-water sailing activities, raft-ups, and cruising getaways both locally and around the world including excursions throughout the Seychelles Islands and the Mediterranean.

Originally founded for African Americans to share culture and camaraderie while sailing, USC welcomes all sailors that express interest in aligning with its powerful mission and vision.

Seafarers Yacht Club

The Seafarers Yacht Club has a rich history as one of the oldest black yacht clubs in the United States. Founded in 1959, when many Chesapeake Bay marinas would not let black boaters gas up at their piers, and yacht clubs were closed to black captains, a group of working-class black men banded together in the face of discrimination and founded the Seafarers Yacht Club. 

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Today, their mission is to foster educational, recreational, charitable, cultural, historical and environmental knowledge and activities relative to boating.  Seafarers is a private organization of boaters and requires an application to become a member.  Membership includes access to some of the perks including a robust calendar of events including holiday clubhouse dinners and jazz festivals.

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