Put the Winds in Your Sails at Harbor Island

WLM - Harbor Island Yacht Club onCumberland River

 WLM - Harbor Island Yacht Club onCumberland River

Yacht club celebrates 50 years on Old Hickory Lake

It’s not far down to paradise
At least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me
—Lyrics to “Sailing” by Christopher Cross

Story and photos by KEN BECK

For hearty souls who relish challenging the wind, waves and weather, Wilson County’s sole yacht club devoted specifically to sailing, Harbor Island offers sailors a perfect spot to shoot the breeze.

Nestled in Vanderbilt Cove off Saundersville Road, a zephyr’s breath or two northwest of Mt. Juliet, this 30-acre island boasts 22 private residences and, more importantly, a very active, inland yacht club. Vehicles must pass through a privacy gate and cross a 150-yard causeway to reach the club whose 185-member families currently celebrate Harbor Island Yacht Club’s 50th year.

Looking down to the water from the long wooden deck of the clubhouse, sailors and landlubbers alike will spy four docks with about 40 moorings in the harbor and about 150 sailboats in the vicinity.WLM - Vanderbilt cove - Home port for HIYC

“We have two fleets of club boats, consisting of opties, which are beginners’ sailboats about eight feet long, and lasers, the next step up, a small, single-person, fast sailboat about 14 feet long. You can store a boat there at a mooring and as seniority builds can move to a dock,” said David Desforges, Harbor Island Yacht Club vice commodore, 42, a structural steel detailer, who lives in Wilson County. “We hold many social events and yearround sailboat racing. We also have a very active Sea Scouts troop.”

“I’m not as into racing as a lot of the men and women. What I like to do is enjoy the family time on the water,” said Desforges’ wife, Trina. “It’s the only place my husband, daughter (Tessa) and I can get away from it all. It seems to change the whole personality of my husband and be a stress reliever.”

Desforges, who grew up in Belinda City learned his sailing from an uncle who took him under his wing on the Great Lakes and the Gulf Coast of Florida as a teenager. While in his mid-20s, he and his wife, both graduates of the Mt. Juliet High class of 1986, purchased a little Boston Whaler Squall, which he described as a small bathtub-like dinghy, that they sailed out of Cedar Creek. A chance encounter with Harbor Island’s night watchman led him to sailing in a few regattas, and the couple joined the club in 1994. Today, they cruise Old Hickory on their 30-foot Hunter named Tantrum.

Notes Desforges about his favorite sport, “There’s an old saying, ‘sailing is all in the journey, not necessarily in the destination.’”

WLM - Dr Cully Cobb, 93 - Oldest member of Harbor Island YCFor HIYC’s oldest member, Dr. Cully Cobb, 93, still a very active and competitive sailor who today races a 33-foot Rhodes Swiftsure named Chloe, the journey started in the early 1930s.

“When I was a kid in Atlanta in the eighth grade, the wood shop teacher gave us an optional job of building a sailboat,” recollected Cobb, who carved a boat 30 inches long. “I finished mine and made the mast and sail and sailed it in Mosley Park in Atlanta.” The summer of his freshman year at George Washington University, he bought a little snipe, sailed it and won his first trophy in 1936 at the Capitol Yacht Club.

“I kept that little boat but went off to medical school at Harvard, and my boat was torn up when I put it in the parking lot. I never sailed it again,” said Cobb, who taught and practiced neurosurgery at Vanderbilt from 1949 until 1979. “Then I didn’t have a sailboat until I came to Nashville. In 1953 I got back to sailing with Dr. Jim Ward at Vanderbilt in a fleet in the lightning class, and they put us in the Midwest district. So to go to races, we had to go to Chicago, and we learned a lot that way.”

Cobb, one of the founding fathers of Harbor Island Yacht Club, said that sailing enthusiasts in Nashville of the early 1950s kept tiny boats at Bush Lake, little more than a pond, before moving on to the “big pond” of Kentucky Lake.

When the Army Corps of Engineers began to build the dam on the Cumberland River that would hold the waters of Old Hickory Lake, he and other sailors tramped through fields and surveyed farmland and figured out where the island would form that would be close to the region of the lake best suited for sailing.

“The island was a wood lot owned by a farmer named Nokes. The area now covered with water that forms the protective bay was a big cornfield,” said Cobb, who resides on the island. “The yacht club started in 1960, and I was its third commodore in 1962.”

For Mt. Juliet’s Patty Grissom, sailing is often a case of single handing her 27-foot Pearson, but she is not going solo as she brings her canine companion, Luna.WLM - Patty Grissom with canine companion Luna

A member of the yacht club for 2½ years, Grissom, sounding like the occupational therapist that she is, says what she enjoys best about the sport is that it is “a totally sensory experience. You’re getting visual, auditory, olfactory, vestibular and proprioceptive input.” She also loves the fact that her home port is not landlocked. “If your boat is at Harbor Island and you want to go to Kentucky or to the coast, you can go through locks and go all the way to the East Coast,” she said.

Mt. Juliet’s JB Copeland serves as Harbor Island’s current commodore. The business manager for country music star Charlie Daniels has been a member for 14 years and has a 36-foot Beneteau 361 cruising sailboat named Ooh La La.

“My wife, Donna, and I were in the Caribbean on vacation, and I saw a sailboat go by and thought it was the most interesting thing I had ever seen in my life,” said Copeland. “I thought, ‘I want to try that.’ We got on a boat and fell in love with it. We came home and bought a $500 sailboat and joined Harbor Island Yacht Club. And now we’re on our third boat and have a boat that we can take down into the islands where we fell in love with sailing.”

As for his role, he says, “The commodore has the privilege of being at the helm of the club. His duty is to work with the board and also to work with the membership, trying to make sure things run smoothly during the year.

“We hold six major social events and probably have 15 or more races in the year. A lot of the regattas are named after members and sailors that have contributed to the club’s racing program,” Copeland said.

Vice commodore Desforges says anyone interested in joining the club needs to contact Marian Maxwell, the new members chairperson, by going to their web site and clicking on newmember@hiyc.org  to get an application.

“Anybody can join whether you have a sailboat or not. We do have an initiation fee and yearly dues are based on a three-tier system. We have discounted rates for those under the age of 29 as well as for members without boats,” he said.

Harbor Island Yacht Club was pretty primitive in the early years as sailors turned off the causeway and motored along a dirt road that wound down to a rocky shoreline. The boats, mainly thistles and lightnings (open, three-person, high-performance racing sailboats 17 to 19 feet long), were moored on fl oats anchored in the harbor, and access was by small dingy and oars.

Soon, club founders built a wooden seawall, a floating dock and a wall-less shed, complete with pseudo-restrooms at either end. The shed evolved into a clubhouse with a porch, deck and fireplace, and the outhouse-style restrooms were redone as real bathrooms with indoor plumbing.

Before the 1960s concluded, a kitchen was added, and a floating dock was constructed off Green’s Point and a concrete launch ramp was installed. In 1969, the Corps of Engineers established a no wake area in the harbor and approved moorings for cruising boats and a future dock to run parallel to the causeway. That winter, the harbor was cleared of large rocks by a floating crane.

Construction of a new clubhouse began in the fall of 1976, and since then members have upgraded and repaired docks, the hoist and moorings, planted and landscaped the grounds, sunk poles to ring the driveway and built dinghy racks. In 1980, the original clubhouse was renovated to house a full-time caretaker whose job was to keep a watchful eye on boats that are on trailers, docks or moorings.

Today, the 24X50-foot main room of the 2,700-square-foot clubhouse features an oak floor, a 12-foot-high stone fi replace that rises to an arched ceiling. Furnished with couches and chairs and connected to the kitchen, the room features burgees (colorful pennants) from about 100 other yacht clubs that run high along the walls.

A trophy case holds club heirlooms, mainly silver cups and plates that bear the dates and names of winners of past regattas, such as The Tennessean Regatta, which is held in late April.

The race starts on Old Hickory Lake in front of Shutes Branch. The course takes sailors downstream, just shy of Old Hickory Dam, before they turn around and go up to Lindsley Light, a circuit of about 25 miles. The competitors are divided into two fleets, an A and a B fleet, of six and 10 boats, respectively, handicapped by their best times. On this day, the crews, numbering from two to seven, head into the wind, so they race at an angle to the wind, which blows at 18 to 20 knots with gusts up to 25 knots.

WLM - The Great Escape gets it's Red Spinnaker upThe boats carry three sails, the main sail and jib (front sail), and after they turn around from the dam and begin to run with the wind, up goes the spinnaker, the big, colorful sail that allows the boat to catch as much wind power as possible.

“It’s better than any E-ticket ride that you can get at Disney World,” says club member Randy White.

Harbor Island Yacht Club is far closer than the Florida theme park the cartoon mouse built. For those who love the sailing life, it’s a far cry from the artificialness of man-made recreation and waiting in long lines on the pavement. It’s basically man vs. nature for better or worse.

“Sailing gets you out and in natural situations of all kinds. The water is beautiful, the breezes are pleasant, and the silent movement of a sailboat has a special charm. It’s beautiful in light weather,” says Cobb. “When the wind blows and the storm’s up, then it gets exciting.”

Harbor Island Yacht Club

HIYC, just inside the western and northern boundary lines of Wilson County, sits beside Old Hickory Lake and offers social gatherings throughout the year, but the emphasis is on sailing. The club holds six major regattas annually: the Warterfield March Winds Regatta, the Cully Cobb 50K Regatta in March, the Tennessean Regatta in April, the John McDougall Regatta in October, and the Bluenose Lighting Regatta and the Arnold Nye Regatta, both in November. For more information, go online to www.hiyc.org.

Ken Beck can be contacted at KBTAG@aol.com.

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