The History of Dana West Yacht Club

by Sue Griesbach
from interviews with
Staff Commodores Jim Ferguson and Vito Ferlauto



Like much of California’s history, the construction of the Dana Point Harbor has its roots in politics and powerful landmen. No matter what your thoughts are on the matter, there’s no doubt that much of the boating lifestyle we enjoy in the harbor today wouldn’t exist without the construction of the breakwater and harbor that began in August, 1966. A time capsule was placed inside the breakwater, and is set to be opened on August 29, 2016, 50 years after the breakwater was built. The East and West basins, and the island were constructed over the next few years, and dedicated in July, 1971. At that time, there was an anchorage only in the West basin, managed by the Dana West Marina.

In May of 1976 the Dana West Marina consisted of a forest of concrete pilings, with an occasional concrete dock floating in place. Slips in the local area were so hard to obtain that several boats were tied to these docks even before the dock to shore ramps were installed. The marina gradually grew to include six docks, each with an identical building at the head of the dock, which housed marina amenities. By July of 1976 most of the slips in the marina were full.

The Dana West Marina promoted a club-like atmosphere. The boaters were a rather unique group, and in conjunction with the marina, many events took place in and around the harbor. Boaters enjoyed dock parties, pot lucks, cruises to Catalina, Newport and San Diego, and informal competitive events.


During 1978 there were many discussions among the boaters about creating a more formal organization to sponsor events, activities and competition. A general consensus favored the formation of a yacht club, and all of the marina boaters were offered membership as charter members. The first 100 members to sign applications were invited to a formation meeting on January 27, 1979. Some of those Charter Members are still with us today, identified by their member number.

At that meeting, bylaws were adopted, officers elected, and the club was formed. The club’s organizational structure has not changed much over the years. There were six Directors, one for each of the docks in the West Basin, and essentially the same Officer positions we have today. The first Commodore was Monty Beach. In 1979 the cost to join DWYC was $25 and dues were $2/month. The board and general membership meetings were held at a clubhouse in Monarch Bay. An ambitious schedule of events was developed, and many committees were put in place to handle various activities and tasks.Membership grew quickly from the 100 Charter Members in 1979 to 290 memberships in 1982. As the membership increased, the acquisition of a clubhouse became of utmost importance. The upstairs of the Dock D building was originally leased out to the B&B Boathouse Bar. When B&B gave up their lease, DWYC undertook a project to obtain that space as a clubhouse. After many meetings, some hard work, and a unanimous vote by the membership, the DWYC clubhouse became a reality in the spring of 1982.


The early clubhouse had only a bar and BBQ. Club members tended bar and took turns using the BBQ, while the directors each took a 2 month shift to handle the opening and closing of the clubhouse and cash register. The menu usually consisted of hamburgers on Friday nights and steak on Saturdays. Sometimes the club was able to get a local lobster catch, or a large swordfish that would be filleted into steaks. Lobster or swordfish could be had for just $8! Members would select a lobster and take it to their table to crawl around until there was room in the pot on the grill.

ClubhouseEarly employees at the clubhouse were Roger Louis (now owner of Captain’s Choice Yacht Service) and Winnie Campbell. They both came on in 1984 when Vito Ferlanto was Commodore. Roger is the son of one of the charter members, and he was the manager of the club, responsible for organizing some of those wonderful BBQ dinners. Winnie was the bookkeeper. Winnie was in the Navy in her younger days, and then worked for the Orange County Sherriff’s department prior to becoming a DWYC employee.

When DWYC took over the lease in 1982, the building looked like all the other dock buildings. The club’s first remodel project took place in 1988 when Ralph Davison was commodore, and the first balcony was added. To pay for the balcony, 10 members each kicked in some of the $3500 needed for the project. The second remodel was a rather large project that involved adding our first kitchen. This project took place in 1995 under the leadership of Commodore Dick Randolph. The outside wall near where the balcony stood was hit by cannon fire in 1996 when Commodore Wesley Hawkins fired the Opening Day cannon. Even though the balcony was torn down during the 2012 Remodel, remnants of that unforgettable day are still visible in the side of the building.

The third remodel, completed in December 2012, was by far the largest in scope, and created the clubhouse we have today. Many members over many years helped to turn the dream of a new and improved clubhouse into a reality. All of those who volunteered their time and expertise overcame significant financial, political and technical hurdles to accomplish the task. Current and future members will appreciate the Remodel of 2012 for many years to come.


Photo Credits:
Historic Dana Point Surf Break
Cal State University Long Beach Department of Geology
Dana West Marina