How to float a great idea

Posted on March 16, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun


Legend has it, Jim Burch, in a moment of inspiration worthy of the great writer himself, sketched out the idea for the Jack London Yacht Club on a cocktail napkin at the Jack London Saloon. 

It was after the fires of 2017 and Glen Ellen had been hit hard. Moods were grim, morale low. It struck Burch that a community event, something novel and kind of quirky, might help. How about a sailboat race on the nearby creek, with minatuare boats modeled after Jack London’s Snark?

“It’s true,” Burch, officially Commodore Burch, says of that frenzied inspiration. “But it took more than one napkin.”

The first race of 18” boats was held in 2019. After a couple of Covid years off, it returns on Saturday afternoon, March 26, creekside at the Jack London Lodge. The crafts put in upstream and float down and under the bridge. The winner of each of the five heats goes to the finals. 

Awaiting the winner, Burch says, is a name on the perpetual trophy and “eternal glory.”

The boats themselves are faithful reproductions of London’s Snark (and likely more seaworthy), made from a piece of redwood singed in the 2017 wildfires. Each tiny craft boasts custom sails created by Ana Dominquez, the other Commodore (with Burch, above).

The sponsors – such as wineries, Valley businesses, individuals and neighborhood groups – pay $1,000 for a boat, and $250 to enter the race. All the money (plus Club dues and proceeds from other events during the year) goes to charity. “Every dime,” Burch says.

There’s even a community boat, christened Spirit of the Locals, drydocked over by the bar. You can buy an ownership share for $20. 

This year, like after the fire, the Commodores figured the town could really use a rallying event post-lockdown. So the race is back on, and the Saloon is once again the official Yacht Club Clubhouse. (for the record:  Latitude: 38° 21′ 46.7568″ N  Longitude: 122° 31′ 33.7512″ W).

It’s fun being a card-carrying commodore, but other than the fundraising, Burch doesn’t take it too seriously. The JLYC is an official, licensed club – a member of the Yacht Clubs of America association, and listed in its guide along with St. Francis YC and other such fancy clubs around the world. 

One night, Burch got a call from an international yacht owner who, having seen the listing, inquired about sailing to Glen Ellen and putting in at the club’s marina. Burch told him to sail into the Bay and go as far as he could up Sonoma Creek, “then call me, and I’ll come get you.”

Saturday, March 26. 13740 Arnold Dr. Free. First heat at 11 a.m., closing ceremony 2 p.m Trolley service from Jack London Village.


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