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A Bit of History

This account of the birth of the Great Lakes Cruising Club was written by Arch Gibson in the early 1970s. For this retrospective, he jotted down — in the third person — his recollection of the founding of our club.


The Great Lakes Cruising Club is another example of the old saying "Mighty Oaks from Little Acorns Grow".

The GLCC was organized to promote cruising among Corinthian yachtsmen and to produce and publish a Port Pilot which was the brain child of Arch Gibson. Arch had had the idea, after some years of cruising the waters of the inland seas, that a guide which would give one an aerial view, showing the water area plus the surrounding shore, accompanied with a chart showing water depths, and a list of the services to be found or not found, and a description of the interesting features of the place--that such a guide would have appeal to the venturesome yachtsman.

He had tried to interest the local yacht clubs in the Chicago area with the idea, but they were primarily interested in the racing end of the sport at that time, and mostly in class racing. He also tried to interest the major oil companies, but they were at that time more interested in the development of inland service stations than marine service stations.

One of the main factors that helped to bring the Club into existence was the arrival of Wells Lippincott in Chicago. Lippincott had lived and cruised on the East Coast. His business moved him to Chicago, and he expected to have his boat shipped to Chicago later. His knowledge of the Midwest and the Great Lakes was to be acquired. He was introduced to Arch by a mutual friend as one who could give him information on where the desirable cruising grounds for Chicago yachtsmen could be found.

He was surprised to learn that all of the harbors around Chicago were restricted and all others within 35 miles of the City were commercial areas. Michigan City, was the closest with yachting accommodations. The favored areas were well to the north, some two- to three-hundred miles. Lippincott was also surprised at the lack of available information relative to these areas. True, the Government published charts, plus a guide or bulletin that had been used since the coastal shipping industry was at its height, with information pertinent to their day. The last Canadian coast survey was made by Admiral Bayfield in the early 1820s. Many of the present harbors were named by Bayfield for members of his family or his friends. Most of the rocks and reefs were named in memory of some boat of that name that encountered them to their grief and sorrow.

Lippincott said there ought to be a file with pertinent information about harbors and their surroundings, available to yachtsmen like himself. Arch said he had such a file, as well as logs covering his voyages over the years, but the information had not appealed to those he had contacted up to date.

Arch's sailing partner had been Commodore George O. Clinch, who had cruised the northern waters of the Lakes from the 1890s and was Arch's sailing companion from 1911 until his death in 1930. In those early days, it was customary to take aboard an Indian guide at Detour at $5 per day for the trip to Little Current. From Little Current east into Georgian Bay the fee was $10 per day. For Lake Superior, the guide came aboard at the Soo.

This was the background of Arch Gibson's Corinthian cruising. He had also made numerous trips up and around the Lakes on ships of the Goodrich, Graham, and Morton Northern-Michigan Transit, and on other coastwise ships which were popular in their day and well patronized. One could travel most anywhere around the Lakes then for $5 per day, meals and berth included. Of course, the ports made by the ships were of the commercial type, with resort areas adjacent. So Arch had a very good knowledge of what the different localities had to offer.

The next time Lippincott came over to Arch's, Arch invited some of his other cruising friends in. The evening was spent discussing different spots that might be of interest to a fellow like Lippincott, especially in Green Bay and the North Channel.

The next gathering was at the home of Wells Lippincott, and then the group began enlarging, with each fellow bringing an interested friend with him. Soon they started meeting at the various yacht clubs. Dinners usually were of the corned-beef-and-cabbage or beef-stew type, always accompanied with a bowl of spiked punch (these were Prohibition days). And always, there was much good fellowship.

When the group had grown to some thirty, they began to hold meetings at the Chicago Engineers Club which was also the winter quarters of the Chicago Yacht Club. It was at one of these gatherings that it was decided to organize into a club that would enable them to solicit and compile information for a Port Pilot, according to the ideas of Arch Gibson, with the club backing and endorsing the project.

The name selected was The Great Lakes Cruising Club, and a number of suggestions were made for the design of a burgee. The one decided on consisted of a blue field, representing the water and the sky, with five links of anchor chain, all united, representing the five inland Great Lakes as well as the unity of the organization in fellowship and purpose.

Among the original officers and directors were the then Commodores of the Chicago Yacht Club and the Columbia Yacht Club, Jackson Park Yacht Club, Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club, and Waukegan Yacht Club. This gesture was to indicate that the GLCC was not in conflict with any existing yachting organization. The charter clearly defined the Club's purpose and function.

Originally, membership was limited only to those willing to contribute information or those who were in a position to obtain or assist in compiling the information. It was truly a working group--all interested in making cruising safer and more attractive.

In commercial ports, Arch solicited the Chamber of Commerce or yacht club where one existed, for local information relative to conditions and attractions presently existing, along with names of suppliers of foods, gas, oil, and marine services, places to eat, and so on. He also found the names of doctors and dentists and the location of the nearest hospital. Initially, he invited the Chambers of Commerce to defray the cost of printing the harbor report, which was usually four pages, 8 1/2 by 11 inches, amounting to $15, which included the cost and the right to use an aerial photograph from the Chicago Aerial Survey. No pressure was put on anyone if they declined to co-operate--he explained that by inviting ports with services to pay for their harbor report, the Club was able to use its funds to describe places where there were no services of any kind, some of which were only gunkholes or hideaway places attractive to the cruising man and perhaps his family.

The personal contributions by early members in both time and money must be noted as a major part of the Club's growth. Wells Lippincott assumed the task of writing and mailing all club notices. Logan MeMenimy and his secretary contributed many hours of research on the sections covering safety at sea and seamanship. Commodores Harold Wood and Averill Tilden were most active in operating the school for terrestrial and celestial navigation sponsored by the Club during World War II. The school graduated some three thousand students. Both men were most liberal with their money and time in putting the project over. Don Currier was another member liberal with his time in everything the Club undertook. While John Snite was Commodore, the Club sponsored a lecture by Allan Villiers which proved a considerable success, and as a result the Commodore moved that all the proceeds be turned over to the Log-Book Committee for its use. This was quite a boost at that time, as the bank balance was around $0.00.

Commodore Warren Davis was another member who was most helpful in contributing to the development of the Club and the Log Book, and succeeded Arch as Chairman of the Log-Book Committee. He in turn relinquished the job to Phil Hess whose work of continuing and developing the Log Book was outstanding.

The original idea of the Club was to keep it small and not let it exceed 200 members, so that members could become better acquainted and at the same time have a representative attendance when we had guest speakers at meetings. With the election of E. E. Sheridan as Commodore, the policy and by-laws were changed, since he felt that every man who owned a boat was a potential prospective member and should be solicited. In one year the membership was increased by over 250 new members, and the growth has continued until today there are over 1500 registered members.

To the Canadian Government, too much credit cannot be given. Arch, through his friend Grant Turner at Little Current, Ontario, was put in touch with key people in important departments. In the name of the Club, he was able to obtain not only some very helpful improvements in several areas--including new aids to navigation--but, in addition, the Government did a considerable amount of aerial charting of some very attractive spots for the Log Book to feature. Many of these places were not at that time surveyed for navigation.

A considerable amount of survey work was also done in these areas by Cruising Club members, and copies of their findings given to the Government for their files. Some of these places now offer a limited amount of service to yachtsmen.

Today [1973] Arch in his eightieth year is basking under the branches of that mighty oak that had such a small beginning, but which today is the monarch of the forest. The friendships Arch has made and enjoyed through the Club--and who now are located from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Florida to Alaska and on some of the islands of the Pacific--are a lasting reward to him for any part he may have contributed or played in the birth and growth of the Great Lakes Cruising Club.

If you would like to join the GLCC, please visit our How to Join page. If you prefer more general information about our club please click on  A Little GLCC History (an account by Jack Parker of the Club's early years). 

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