Happy 90th Birthday to Transpacific Yacht Club

TPYC founder Dr. Albert F. Soiland  MD, from the cover of Visionary  by Kimball Livingston… courtesy Newport Harbor YCFebruary 3rd, 1928: the birth of a visionary idea in offshore yachting

NEWPORT BEACH, CA - Not every yacht club is founded by a man lying down. It was, however, a man lying down on February 3, 1928 who brought forth the Transpacific Yacht Club. We might add that the man was a serial founder. It was true in his profession of radiology, also in his field of passion, sailing, where he had already founded the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, Southern California Yachting Association and Pacific Coast Yachting Association. A contemporary said of him, “Al Soiland never seemed to rest,” and that was also true. On February 3, 1928 our man was in a hospital bed recuperating from an appendix operation, and Al Soiland had to be doing… something.

What he started, these many years later, now supports Transpac 50, coming up in July with a record 97 entries so far.

Almost forgotten, but now remembered as a visionary, Dr. Albert F. Soiland, MD had met a certain Clarence MacFarlane in 1906, when the instigator of the Transpacific Yacht Race sailed into Los Angeles Harbor looking for a race home to Honolulu. Well-known history tells us that MacFarlane had expected to join a race starting from San Francisco - he had sailed over to promote a race and his beloved Hawaii - but the earthquake got to San Francisco ahead of him. He arrived to find a city still smoldering, a hotter fact and a hotter topic than yacht racing, so his 48-foot schooner, La Paloma, sailed on to Los Angeles. There the boat, her crew, and the vision of a great ocean race were quickly embraced by South Coast Yacht Club. 

In that year, 1906, Al Soiland was a young doctor and a recent member of SCYC (now Los Angeles Yacht Club). Descended from Norwegian sea captains, he had the sea in his blood, but it was not yet time to think about sailing the oceans himself. He was, however, inspired by the notion of this race across the Pacific, and lifelong friendships were born. Count up the years, and by 1928, Al had sailed the first two of his three Transpacs and built a unique therapeutic radiology clinic on South Hope Street in Downtown Los Angeles. The California Hospital (now a Dignity Health facility) lay across the street, and that is where the good doctor was confined for his recuperation. Soiland had been in touch with MacFarlane, who had a notion that needed an Al Soiland to put it into play. 

Soiland wrote that he “connived with the nurse to sneak in a visitor when the doctor wasn't looking. It was four days later, however, before my old friend, Skip Warren, was permitted entry, and then we put our nefarious plan into action. When the smoke cleared away, Skip had written it all up beautifully and the meeting adjourned in a hurry as the nurse came in and gently, but firmly, ushered Skip out.”

Warren was a magazine editor, and what he produced on that occasion was a draft document furthering MacFarlane's newest imagining. Twenty-two years after dreaming up a race, he now proposed a yacht club, as Warren wrote, comprised only of members “who have ever taken part as amateurs in a race from the Pacific Coast to Honolulu or Tahiti or to such other point as may reasonably be termed Transpacific.” 

Warren's draft included a provision that, “There shall be no dues,” an angle that lasted about five minutes. An additional stipulation said that there would be no clubhouse, and 91 years later the Transpacific Yacht Club has no clubhouse, and membership is not about the money. It's about who has sailed, or not. 

On March 1, 1928, at a Transpac race planning meeting chaired by Race Chairman Soiland at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, George Vibert formally moved, and Joe Beek seconded, the formation of Transpacific Yacht Club. Clarence Macfarlane was named the first Commodore in absentia and largely honorary and Al Soiland, Vice Commodore.

Today we have 574 members, and we make the Transpacific Yacht Race happen every two years. To some of us, it's kind of a big deal, and 2019 is looking good.