Rocky Champagne feels honored to be serving as commodore as Squalicum Yacht Club celebrates its 75th anniversary this month.
"Look at this list of past commodores," he said, pointing to a page in the club's membership book. "There are some serious people here, some wonderful community members."
Champagne is also proud that club members have served charities and have continually refurbished their clubhouse, which was originally designed for short-term use as an Army Air Corps barracks during World War II.
The group started in 1937 as the Bellingham Boat Owners' Association, with an emphasis on helping to create safe moorage in Fairhaven. A 1947 storm caused severe destruction and led to the opening of Squalicum Harbor in 1949, the same year the club leased its clubhouse.
A Washington State Trooper from 1973 to 1998, Champagne is the father of two and the grandfather of four.
Question: Rocky, how did the club create such a sparkling clubhouse?
Answer: We love to work on the building. In the last three years, we've put in a new roof, new porch, new windows, new wiring, new ceiling, new lights. We have a lot better acoustics now, and we're real happy about that.
Q: How do you make a go of it with dues of only $70 a year?
A: What allows us is our building rental for community events.
Q: How would you characterize the club?
A: We're a proud group, proud of our history - not many groups last 75 years - and proud of our physical projects and community projects. We have 45 families in our membership.
About 20 percent of our members don't own boats now, and we're about half powerboats, half sailboats, with 36 total boats We have basic people with basic boats who love the water and the social aspect. We don't do pomp and circumstance.
Q: What are your spring and summer cruises through the San Juans like?
A: We have three to 16 boats on a cruise. The farthest we currently go is Nanaimo (B.C.). One of the adjustments we have made to help all our members is to plan cruises so that all of our members can attend our activities, including travel by car or ferry. The other nine months we meet on the fourth Wednesday for a potluck, an educational program and a short business meeting.
Q: Tell me about the club's charity work.
A: On opening day of the season in May we do a breakfast open to the public. The proceeds have usually been about $1,000 and we've donated to the Bellingham Food Bank for many years. We recently donated to Homeport Learning Center.
In conjunction with the Corinthian Yacht Club, we do a July cruise with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Q: How does safety factor in?
A: We've had very few boating accidents. We're constantly dealing with safety priorities. It's serious business to make a cruise to Sucia Island, for example. You're out there in the Strait of Georgia among the tankers.
Q: How did you become a powerboater in your 50s?
A: Kristi (his wife of 41 years) and I were out at Zuanich Point 13 years ago, looking at all the beautiful boats. I said, "You know, it frustrating not to have a boat!" We had kayaks and canoes when we were younger.
Our first powerboat was a 26-foot Nordic tug, which we had for about five years. For nearly eight years we've had a 30-foot Sundowner. ... I'm out about 200 hours a year, which is twice the national average.
Q: Why did you join?
A: We haven't been joiners by nature, but about five years ago Doug and Pat Sterrett were out walking on the dock, looking at the powerboats, and they liked the look of my boat, so I took them for a ride. They were already members of the club and they asked us to join.
For details about Squalicum Yacht Club, call Rocky Champagne, 360-734-6549; Kris Heintz, 360-384-6067; or Doug Sterrett, 360-734-1592.
Dues are $70 a year per family, with a one-time $35 initiation fee. Prospective members' applications must be signed by three club members, who act as their mentors the first year.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.