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Our History

By Suzanne Hurley

Today’s members of the GISC may have heard tales of adventures in earlier years and some have asked to hear from some of the founding sailors themselves. So on an early summer day, I sat down with Barney Riley and John Hamilton and long-time member Ron Barnett to hear how they had met and how the club had come to be.


John Hamilton and Barney Riley working together to get the Sailing Club going so many years ago.

How We Came About

In the 1970s, long before GISC, Barney Riley mainly sailed his Hobie Cat off the coast of St. Simons near the King & Prince Hotel.  He and John Hamilton had the good fortune to first meet when Barney was sailing there and came across John and his twin keel 18’ boat stuck on a sand bar. Back then, they looked for a place to keep their sailboats on St. Simons. So, they contacted the Miami Coast Guard for a deed to the land at East Beach and were then able to keep Hobie Cats and Sailfish boats there. For a time, the sailing was limited to these smaller boats and that location. Barney recalled that eventually he wanted a mono hull that he purchased and brought to St. Simons Marina (now known as Morningside Marina). A group of 12-13 sailors at the marina formed a close friendship gathering at one another’s boats, and at the marina’s Red Top covered area, grilling, drinking, and talking. In fact, they said, it was a family where the group thought alike and did things alike. They were about the same age and eventually got together once a month for meetings. 

In 1978, wanting to have a formal group, Barney and Joe Hammill brought together 10-12 of the original group to create a formal sailing club. Wanting to include sailors from all the isles, they named it the Golden Isles Sailing Club. As they told it, “We knew we weren’t a yacht club and we included sailors from Brunswick and the isles.” Committees included the Cruise Chair, Racing Chair, and the Nominating Committee. The first Commodore, first Commodore Joe Hammill, was a very experienced skipper and cruiser and their first offshore cruise trip was to Fernandina, Amelia Island.

For years, they met at the old bank in St. Simons. The group bounced to several other locations, getting kicked out of three! “Something about some beer cans and being asked not to come back.” For a while, they met at the county casino owned by the county, but couldn’t drink there so didn’t stay long. Even so, they had serious meetings with parliamentary procedures, committee heads, and usually a formal program with slides. Topics ranged from a slide show of cleats showing various ways, some quite unique, of tying a boat to a dock, to a film of the Whitbread around the world race, with appropriate refreshments.

Racing Tales

Once a month there were cruises to destinations such as Cumberland Island and Amelia Island. One year, they all went to Greyfield Inn on Cumberland. The following year, however, they were given the basement the restaurant and, unfortunately, after that visit were, “not invited back.”

Among other destinations was Little St. Simons, where the island keeper joined them and they were able to see the pygmy deer. Two annual cruises were a Memorial Day cruise to Belleville, Martha and Hoyt Carne's home for a cookout and a Christmas party cruise by land to Nancy and John Hamilton's big Victorian home in Brunswick.

John was the Cruise Chairman and they would always ask him about his wife, Nancy’s work schedule when planning a big cruise. A trip to Bermuda was one of the most memorable big trips, taking six days over and eight days back. The women all chose to fly over and met the men there. On the way, there were a few challenges, such as when Hoyt Carney blew out a sail. They also planned to navigate using sun sights, but for the first three days there was no sun. Luckily, Loran worked intermittently.   As for navigation charts, John had taped together two different scale maps, adding an extra challenge. “People wouldn’t do today what we did,” they declared. Once safely at Bermuda, they realized, “Oh no, now we had to get back!” Another famous trip was a summer cruise to the Bahamas two weeks, while John wasn’t teaching.  Four to five boats joined in and cruised the Abacos. 

Since the beginning, the Club has had exciting races, including those up to the present day. The group remembered one race to Talbot Island, south of Amelia Island, which had some unanticipated challenges. Using an old compass with a 10 degree error, the crew on one boat was grounded in ten feet of water. All the other boats were far ahead, eventually disappearing.  After getting back underway, they got to marker 20 and realized the others were still racing on a clear pond that hot day and not getting far. Finally, they were neck and neck with neck and neck with David Heine and the crew of Contente and to their own amazement, came in second! “We realized that, in spite of everything, we could have won!”

A Very Social Club

These original members report they had a tremendous cruising and a social club. They enjoyed each other, ate and drank together and knew each other’s schedules.  Often they would raft up five boats to a larger boat, listen to music, and sometimes end up in the marsh. Other times, someone would, “notice they were moving, and they would start up, move and anchor again.”

While the old group has gotten older and some have moved away, they recall a time when members had attitudes of the “outdoor sailor” and a time of fewer distractions.  Today, members’ boats are kept at a variety of marinas that didn’t exist previously. Club members have to make an effort now to be cohesive given these challenges of time and location.

We have these original sailors to thank for the GISC’s solid foundation that has lasted for 30 years. That foundation has provided members the benefit of its original goals: sailing education for young and new sailors, racing, cruising, and social gatherings for those who love sailing in the Golden Isles.