Get ready, sailors—a freshly renovated Noroton Yacht Club is ready for its big reveal.
The stately, sunny new structure has brought changes to the traditionally high-level sailing club—some obvious, some more subtle—that its leaders hope will attract new members, satisfy existing families and serve it well for generations to come.
While members had gone through a renovation of their historic clubhouse in the nineties and talked about other improvements for years, the back-to-back impacts of Tropical Storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy pushed them to a decision point.
Irene, which hit in late August 2011, peeled away the club’s pier and damaged the patio, among other issues. The club had barely recovered from that damage when Sandy rolled through in late October 2012 and took yet another significant toll on the property.
ASSESSING THE DAMAGE
The amount of work needed to fortify the historic building against future storms seemed cost-prohibitive and the structure presented challenges, former Commodore Peggy Hersam said.
Most of the second floor was intended to be used as a sail loft, and, without air conditioning, was virtually unusable. The main function room was downstairs, where it was most prone to storm damage.
Off-season events were difficult; a cranky heating system had to be turned on hours in advance.
Taking a new tack, leaders undertook a study of members’ needs, from sailing and entertainment to kids’ programming and the clubhouse itself. The younger members were particularly vocal about wanting a bar and more social events, Hersam said.
A new building came with other advantages, offering a chance to bring the building up to code and into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including adding an elevator. Slightly relocating it on the lot would put it in a more manageable coastal zone under new boundaries that had recently been established by FEMA.
Architect Rob Lambert of Burgin Lambert in Newport, Rhode Island, brought the club’s vision to life, designing a multifunction building that can be adjusted to meet its sporting and social needs.
The permitting and approval process took longer than club members initially expected. They faced push-back from some neighbors, in part over the club’s request to have a year-round liquor license in place of its former BYOB status. Ultimately the club prevailed, though the number of days it can serve alcohol in the off-season is capped, as are the number of events it can host per year.
The old building was torn down in the fall of 2016. The following summer, the sailing season was run out of parking lots and tents. Construction was completed last spring.
BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
The new building is slightly shorter and smaller overall than the old building, but vastly more usable.
A large external staircase leads up to a bright function room with several styles of seating and wraparound windows. There is a gleaming bar and a full commercial kitchen
Several sets of French doors is an expansive, partially shaded deck with teak tables overlooking the pier and moorings. The deck will be kept as an adults-only refuge.
The new downstairs includes a junior sailing area, office space and additional restrooms with showers, along with a multipurpose room that can be used for the club’s camp program or repurposed into the “regatta room” for race registration. There is also a grassy area for parties or camp activities, and an extensive patio.
In addition to the improved snack bar, which is open all day, the club would likely offer waitstaff and meal service one night a week to start, then adjust dinner offerings depending on interest.
The new function space has radiant heated floors that will allow the club to host off-season events. One idea current Commodore Tom Ross mentioned was Sunday Night Football-watching parties for members.
He also has a chillier pastime in mind: a “frostbiting” winter sailing season from November to March.
“People can sail on the good days in the winter and then enjoy a nice warm clubhouse that encourages even more sailing,” he said.
Despite the club’s high-level racing reputation, the current leadership is looking not only for members who want to be top competitive sailors, but also others who want their experience out on the water to be a tad more laid back.
“We want people to join who have an interest in sailing. We can teach them to sail, we can teach their children to sail, we have club-owned boats they can sail,” Ross said.
Keeping up with other trends, the club has added a kayak group and is looking to establish a stand-up paddleboard contingent, Ross noted.
The club has about 250 members, with an outside cap at 278. There’s no waiting list, but they are choosy about which applicants make the grade. In addition to an interest in boating, Hersam said, the club is looking for a spirit of volunteerism, “people willing to get involved, to roll up their sleeves.”
What they’re not looking for, leaders emphasize, is people who see the new building as another stop on their social circuit of cocktail spots with a view.
The initiation fee for new members, which leaders declined to disclose, was raised with the renovation, but Hersam maintained it remains “significantly lower” than other clubs in Darien.
NOROTON YACHT CLUB
From a little clubhouse to a modern sailing retreat, making progress through the years
FIRST CLUBHOUSE OPENS ON CURRENT SITE
TENNIS COURTS ADDED
CREATION OF THE DRYSAIL AREA AND BEACH
NEW CAPTAIN’S SHOP CREATED NEAT MARINE RAILWAY
CLUBHOUSE EXPANDED TO INCLUDE NEW CAPTAIN’S QUARTERS AND JUNIOR AREA
HURRICANE IRENE DESTROYS CLUB’S PIER
SUPERSTORM SANDY FLOODS AND DAMAGES THE CLUBHOUSE
OLD CLUBHOUSE TORN DOWN, CONSTRUCTION BEGINS
NEW CLUBHOUSE OPENS
Photographs: Harry Milne and Paula Winicur