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HomeHistory of the club
[The following is a history of the club prepared by Bettye Riddle, wife of founding member Craig Riddle, circa 2000.]
[There are some comments by Win Dunwell, club historian.]

The first regatta held on Kentucky Lake was sponsored by the Paducah Jaycees in 1953. It was called the Governor's Cup and the Governor actually came and awarded the trophies. Cully Cobb from Nashville won it in a Lightning.

By this time, Mr. Robert Marsh Watkins of Chicago had come down and set up shop as a sail boat rental operation. He had 2 lightnings and 3 little cat boats, He usually had to go along with his rentals, as nobody knew what to do with a boat powered by a sail. If someone became proficient enough to be let out alone and any wind came up, most of the time he would have to retrieve them, or fish them out of the water.

He retired from International Harvester April 30, 1952 as their head of the tractor division, and his plan had been to go back to Wisconsin, where he was from, buy land on a lake, build a house and get himself a sailboat, but as with many well laid plans his did not work out that way. His wife died suddenly and he thought he would be too lonely doing that. He had heard about our lake, came down to check it out, rented a house in Murray and decided since we have a fairly long sailing season this would be a good place for him.

By then there were a few privately owned sail boats on the lake. Jack Keiler, of Paducah, had a Luders 20, Joe Pace, of Murray had a Star, which Jack Piers bought and we had a Winabout - about the size of a Lightning only much heavier - that we had bought on our honeymoon. It came from Cape Cod and I think was obsolete when we got it. Cotton sails, heavily patched, named Walrus and was as ugly as one but Craig was thrilled to death with it. We had a terrible time putting it together - Craig had to climb the mast numerous times before we finally got it put together on the shore at Fisherman's One Stop, a place at the end of Eggner's Ferry Bridge before the LBL was established. On our maiden voyage across the lake to what is now Kenlake Dock (was originally called Coakley's Dock) we got stuck on that bar that extends out, and is now marked, and had to be pulled off by a fishing boat. Soon after that, as we had learned a little about what makes a boat go, we bought a Raven.

Since the Paducah Jaycees did not pursue their Governor's Cup Regattas, our little group, still not organized as a club, put on one or two but we didn't get another Governor to come down until later when Ned Breathit, from Hopkinsville, was elected.

After Mr. Watkins’ business picked up enough that he needed more space than his small floating dock and walkway he located an old two story quarter boat, bought it, had it towed in and anchored to the shore across from Kenlake Dock. With his help we organized and incorporated the Kentucky Lake Sailing Club with the grand total of 6 members: Sam Gugenheim, Jack Keiler, Jack Piers, David Reed, Craig Riddle and R. M. Watkins. Within a very short time Tom Brizendine and Tom Threlkeld joined, but it stayed at 8 through many regatta's. Mr. Watkins taught us how to score races, kept our "Club House" afloat - the old quarter boat that the club bought an interest in, repaired our sails or whatever needed seeing to, and was our mentor until his death in the late 5O's.

[Note: the first Kentucky state
registration for the club was Feb 2nd 1955 with ROBT. M. WATKINS, J. W. KEILER II, and J. S. PIERS as incorporators.]

We finally gave up on the old quarter boat, after pumping it out and raising it many times, sold it and as they were trying to tow it away it sank again right in the middle of the harbor.

There was an unused concession stand up on the hill above our docks and the state let us use it for a club house starting in the spring of 1960. We added a deck on the back, put in a fireplace and shower and used that until the ill-fated move, in the spring of 1978, to Cherokee Park, which was advertised as the finest park in the South for colored people. It had been abandoned for some time and was in a sorry state, but Mr. Wilhelm, who had the lease on Kenlake dock for ages, and had a brother-in-law in Frankfort, wanted our side of the harbour for more space for house boats. After a short time at Cherokee and many hours of cleaning, repairing, renovating the kitchen, putting in a hoist and docks it became apparent that the dredging was insufficient, there was no protection from storms and it was so isolated that our Club House was constantly being broken into - our big wood burning stove, couches, tables, etc. were stolen and things stolen out of the few boats that their owners were brave enough to leave them there from one weekend to the next.

The state had gone to considerable expense to help us and would not let us go back to our original spot as they had made a Tennis Center of our house and Mr. Wilhelm had taken over our waterfront. We had more than 50 members by this time but we were like the man without a country. It was "tough sailing" for quite a while and we lost lots of members for a while.

The earliest record on who the commodores were is 1969 when Dr. Faxon Payne from Hopkinsville served, but prior to that the original members took turns many times. In 1970, Max Ladt, Paducah: 1972 - Cal Luther, Murray; 1973 and 74 Jack DeWitt, Nashville; 1975 - Don Overbey, Murray; 1976 - Pollard White, Hopkinsville; 1977 Dick Crysler, Blood River; 1978 - Chuck Stagg, Henderson; 1979 - Virginia Khouri, Paducah, (her husband, Dr. Eli Khouri was vice comm when he died suddenly, and Virginia took his place very efficiently. The only "official" female Commodore we've ever had, but there have been lot's of excellent "First Mates") 198O - Bill Allbritten, Murray;1981 - ?? Lee White ??; 1982 - Harry Furches (???83), Murray; 1983 -English Lacy (???82); 1984-Chip Riddle, Madisonville; 1985 - Nick Warren, Paducah, then I skip to and end with 1995 - Jack LeBeau. I trust you can fill in from there (I do have a list that needs additions and some correction but I think is pretty accurate. The first Commodore was Jack Keiler with Jack Piers as Vice Commodore. The club apparently had some unsure years when officers resigned to move. Win). By about 1985 I was a card carrying member of the "Over the hill Gang".

In looking through old trophies the earliest I came across was 1954 Fall Regatta, so by then we were having that in addition to our spring Governor's Cup. We have a 1st place 1956 Commodores Cup, a '58 Commodores and a '59 Watkins’ Cup (both were 1st places - we had learned to sail by then) so I'm assuming that Mr. Watkins died in early '59 and we renamed our fall regatta for him then. I'm enclosing a copy of a 1960 brochure advertising it as the second annual Watkins’ Cup, given to me this past winter by his son R. M. Watkins, Jr of Mesa, AZ. His daughter, Betty Jane, who lives in Chicago also gave me some information. Please note the prices for hotel rooms (single room $6 and 2-bedroom cottage for $16).

Dick Geier of Evansville was a faithful member and served as secretary for many years, as was Bud and Elizabeth Heerde, and many others. Jack DeWitt of Nashville, retired as CEO of WSM and WSM - TV was another. Jack Caldwell and Arnold Nye of Nashville were made honorary members for many years of donating their time to run our races. Arnold is dead and Jack is in a nursing home since having a stroke a couple of years ago. Of our original six members, Jack Piers and Craig are the only two that are still members.

We hosted many Lightning District races, a Windmill District, and frequently had a hundred small boats for our spring race. In 19 we had a Lightning regatta called the Wild Turkey as it was sponsored by the Distillery that makes Wild Turkey Bourbon. Harry Furches, who taught jewelry making at MSU made a beautiful model as 1st place trophy, the rest were bottles of bourbon. Chip won and still has the model as it was never held again.

Some other happenings were when Percy Priest issued a challenge - I've enclosed their letter. We nailed their hides to the wall. The Boating Club, all houseboats and cruisers, at Paris Landing State Park Dock in the spring of 1968 invited us to sail down there, so we raced down on a Saturday, spent the night and raced back on Sunday which was our first long race. They really put on a great feed for us of the sterns of their boats which were on both sides of the dock. After that we raced to the Dam, had a banquet at Ken-Bar Inn then raced back the next day Bud and Elizabeth always had a reception for us when we did that. There were many moonlight Regattas with very little organized racing from our dock to Turkey Creek. First one there built the bon fire, and after pleasuring ourselves for a while sailed back under the full moon. In 1983 there was an all girl, Bikini Regatta, that Suzanne won in Chip's J24 two years. Don't know if they had it again or not (I think the last to win was Tina Coughlin on "Nighthawk", but the KLSC Fall Newsletter 1988 says for race results "Bikini Cup - there were no bikinis", Win).

Over the years the type boats slowly changed from day sailors to cruising boats and our Spring and Fall races fell from 100 participants to around 25. At about this time Marty started selling boats and we started the 100 Milers and things picked up again.

After we built our house on Sledd Creek in 1977 we hosted a July 4th sail-in or drive-in picnic in our back yard for many years. The Heerde's who lived across the street always helped us. Most of the members still kept their boats at Kenlake and sailed down.

The earliest roster I could find is 1969 and shows 30 members and by 1971 were up to 36. In 1975 we had 46.

Nearly every year when we had the spring race we would have a terrific storm on either Sat. or Sun. Lots of boats would capsize and there were lots of stories to recall when we had our winter meetings, which we had every year. Jack DeWitt had brought one of his TV camera men with him when we had the Granddaddy of all storms and it was shown for a couple of years then somehow disappeared. If we didn't have a film from a sailmaker or boat builder, frequently we had some hot-shot sailor who had written a book come down and talk to us.

For such a small club that was spread out so far from the lake we were very active. For years we didn't have a member from Murray which was the closest town. We took one of our Ravens to Lake Erie to race in the Nationals and went to St. Pete many times after we got a Lightning. Tom Brizendine, Wilson Scott, from our club served as President of the Lightning Assn. one year. Ross Bryan, Cully Cobb and others from Nashville Crit Curry and others from Memphis were there nearly every year. Some of them made the circuit Mobile, Savannah and St. Pete. We were much younger then.