Birmingham Sailing Club

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Group’s history in St. Clair predates creation of Logan Martin Lake

Story by Carol Pappas
Photos by Jerry Martin

Atop a shoreline hill overlooking a mile-wide opening of Logan Martin Lake stands a piece of history.

On Aug. 7, 1962, it wasn’t there at all, but neither was the lake.

Even so, a group of sailing enthusiasts thought it was the perfect place to build a clubhouse when the lake did come, and the Birmingham Sailing Club was born.

The late Sam Caldwell Jr., who worked for Alabama Power Co., the lake’s creator, began his search for that perfect piece of real estate long before the contract was signed on that late summer afternoon.

His children, Skip Caldwell and Marietta Williams, remember the long rides in the back of the family station wagon as their father — armed with geotechnical drawings of the proposed lake — would scour the countryside.

Marietta remembers “endless dirt roads while Dad looked at property and spoke with owners — farmers in battered frame houses; of Dad explaining, ‘This will all be underwater,’ and me thinking, ‘No way!’ ”

Skip recalls those days, too. “I can remember spending a lot of time driving in the car, and Dad would tell us when we were driving into an area that would be underwater, or if it was close to the shoreline. I was too young to really grasp the concept as I remember looking as far ahead as I could see on the road looking for water so we would not accidentally drive into the new lake!”

On that August afternoon, as the sun was setting, Caldwell and Herb Hager sat on the front porch of the land’s owner and his family. When they explained their purpose, the family seemed “dubious about the use of the property for a club, apparently thinking about a night club or honky-tonk,” the elder Caldwell wrote in a history penned 50 years later. One family member even suggested that the contract specify no dancing allowed on the premises.

Caldwell used a blank Uniform Real Estate Sales Contract and filled it out in pen and ink. Four acres fronting approximately 418 feet on proposed Logan Martin Reservoir, it said. Purchase price? $6,000 with $1,000 earnest money and $5,000 due on closing. And the initial deal was done.

Additional lots would be purchased by July 1963, giving the club 1,000 feet of shoreline. The clubhouse would be built along with boat ramps and floating docks as the lake began to fill. The first boats in the water were launched Thursday, July 16, 1964, “with the Commodore beating the Vice Commodore by about 30 minutes,” Commodore Caldwell wrote.

A report dated Aug. 7 of that year put the lake elevation at 460 feet, which is normal winter pool. It was thought the level would remain there until May 1965, when it would rise to its summer elevation of 465 feet for the very first time.

Today’s club
A lot of winter and summer levels have come and gone since that time, but the constant has been the Birmingham Sailing Club.

Caldwell’s children say it is still what their father and founding members envisioned when they built it. Caldwell didn’t want a yacht club, he wanted a sailing club. “He wanted a club that is open to anybody that is interested in sailing, not a country club on the water,” Skip said, noting that over the years, members continued with the visions of the founders.

BSC+pumpkin+race+4-2164004369-OThat, he said, “has resulted in one of the premier inland sailing sites in the country. I recently found some of the original plans of the sailing club and with small exceptions, today’s club is exactly as the original plans show.”

A new day, same goals
Tate Beckham counts himself lucky to be a part of it all. A relative newcomer to the club of 165 members, he joined in 2007. He sailed a bit as a kid in Florida, but he grew up in Sylacauga not knowing the club existed.

When he grew older, he wanted to get back into sailing, and someone gave him a boat. He eventually found his way to the Birmingham Sailing Club after being introduced by Rick Scarborough. “When I went to the club the first time, people were sailing. There were all walks of life — doctors, lawyers, construction workers. They had the same wants and enthusiasm. That was it. I was there. The common denominator was they love sailing.”

Now, Commodore Tate Beckham talks of the club and its impact with an apparent longing to share with others the rewards he has known.

There are plenty of crewing opportunities, which is “a great way to get into it.” It is a chance to crew with people who know what they are doing and to learn the functions of the boat.

“Come out any time and 85 percent of the time, if you show up, someone will take you out sailing,” he said. It is a sport and a love to be shared.

There are “learn-to-sail” classes twice a year in the spring and fall. A junior sailing program complete with a summer sail camp gets the younger generation started early.

Major October regattas draw sailors and spectators from all around the southeast, and locals often find their perfect spectator spot on land and on water just to watch.

Just about every Sunday at 2 p.m., you can see a core group racing — puffed white sails, then colorful spinnakers bob along the horizon. An intermittent horn blowing its signals, and sails flapping and snapping in the wind seem to be the only sounds you hear.

It is quite a sight to behold for novice and enthusiast alike. It is like a secret, buried treasure one would ordinarily want to keep for himself. Only this one is best when it is shared.

For more photos from the Birmingham Sailing Club and more about St. Clair County, visit the Discover St. Clair website, www.discoverstclair.com.

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