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Yacht Club At Channel Islands: A Family-Friendly Seaside Getaway

By Stephen K. Peeples

Most people associate yacht clubs as places where rich, older adults play during the summer. But the new Yacht Club at Channel Islands Harbor near Ventura opened last summer by a pair of former Santa Clarita Valley residents breaks that stereotype by welcoming everyone — including families — all year around.

The club already has 130 members, more than a third of them from the Santa Clarita Valley, and is becoming a popular venue for private events, said Anita Mays, co-owner of The Yacht Club, which overlooks the Westport Marina in Channel Islands Harbor and is accessible by boat and by car.

Now, landlocked, high-desert SCV landlubbers and salty mariners alike who yearn for Our Mother Ocean can have a home away from home when they want to make a quick getaway less than an hour west on Highway 126 to the coast, even if it’s just for dinner.

“The Yacht Club is a great new place for parties and special events, whether it’s an intimate party of six or a wedding of 100,” Mays said. “In the next week, we have 50 people for a 70th birthday party, a group of 40 teenagers for a Sweet 16 party, a wedding of 100 people on 12/12/12, and a member’s company Christmas party of 50 people, including a harbor cruise to see the Christmas lights on the houses along Channel Islands Harbor.”

This weekend, Dec. 14-15, the 36th Annual Holiday Parade of Lights and fireworks show will light up Ventura Harbor Village a few miles away. The Yacht Club’s flagship party boat Valkyrie, a 60-foot Sea Ray sport yacht,will be among the crafts cruising and sailing in the festive parade, which has a “Jingle Jangle” theme.

As the club’s executive director, Mays runs its day-to-day operations, which is just fine with her business partner, Tom Petersen, a longtime SCV resident who also now lives on the coast.

Anita Mays and Tom Petersen are pictured aboard their boat, Valkyrie, off Cabo San Lucas. The boat is also  pictured below with San Diego in the background.

During the week, Petersen commutes from Channel Islands east on Highway 126 to Valencia, where he’s chief information officer at Petersen International Underwriters, the family-owned insurance business headed by patriarch W. Harold Petersen.

On his own time, though, Tom Petersen’s more than just a figurehead at The Yacht Club: He’s known as Commodore Tom, piloting the Valkyrie.

“It can cruise up to 30 knots and is stunning,” he said. “We use it for charters and well as our own pleasure. The Valkyrie has been as far south as La Paz in the Sea of Cortez and as far north as San Francisco several times.”

And that aforementioned 12/12/12 wedding at the Yacht Club? It’s Mays’ and Petersen’s.

After a long business relationship, and the demise of their first marriages, their relationship took a tack toward the romantic.

“I’ve been a yacht broker for more than 20 years,” Mays said. “I was the general manager of one of the largest Sea Ray boat and yacht dealerships for17 of those years out of Newport Beach.”

“I bought six boats from Anita over the years, and we became good friends,” Petersen said. “She has sold more Sea Rays — although she sells all other varieties — than anyone else in the country for the last 20 years.”

A bit more than five years ago, after his divorce, Petersen and Mays started dating. “I told him at the time it would be cheaper to date me than to keep buying boats from me,” she said.

“When Tom and I got together and I moved to Santa Clarita,” Mays said, after about a year, “we made a decision to relocate to Channel Islands Harbor, because it was close enough for Tom to commute to Santa Clarita and a place where I could still do my business, too. I visit Santa Clarita often, as we have family and friends there.”

The Yacht Club was built on the couple’s love for boats and the boating lifestyle, and shared passion for food, cooking and entertaining.

“When I opened my business, Valkyrie Yacht Sales, in Channel Islands Harbor, we needed an office space on the water,” Mays said. “We found a great space, but it was much bigger than we needed for just my business.  So, since we are involved in the boating community with planning trips and training, and we both recently finished culinary school (at Westlake Culinary Institute), we decided to invest in creating a great place where we can enjoy, feature, and share our two passions.”

By the time The Yacht Club opened last summer, more than 80 people had signed up as charter members.

"Memberships are mostly couples, so that was more than160 members,” Mays said. “Now, we have about 130 memberships sold, and they keep adding weekly. More than a third of our members do live in Santa Clarita. Half of our members are boat-owners, and the other half don’t even own a boat, but just enjoy the social activities.”

And enjoy the food. Mays and Petersen have high praise for the club restaurant’s chef, cooks and front-of-house staff.

Filet mignon served with gouda potatoes and seasonal vegetables is a Yacht Club favorite.

“They prepare fun items ranging from great steaks to Aebleskivers (Danish pancakes) for breakfast,” she said. “Just last night, Chef Ernie had a special of sea bass with a light curry rice and steamed vegetables. Really top notch. We know the food is great because the first two months we were open we didn’t have a liquor license, yet we were busy every night.”

Now open Friday-Sunday and Monday nights during football season, the club also hosts a themed dinner every other Thursday night, like “Grandma Jacquie’s Fried Chicken Night” or “Pirate’s Prime Rib Night.” There are wine tastings (for 21 and older, of course), cooking classes, electronic bowling leagues, movie nights and more.

As noted earlier, even in the winter months, The Yacht Club’s event calendar is very active. During whale-watching season, January-March, the club takes single-day trips out of the harbor to see the gentle giants as they migrate close to the coastline.

Other day trips visit Santa Cruz Island, and, as Petersen mentioned, multi-day trips travel from Mexico to San Francisco.

In November, a flotilla of 26 club-members cruised over to Catalina Island for Thanksgiving weekend, Mays said.

The Yacht Club offers other resources and services for boat owners and owners-to-be, like boating and sailing skills training and navigational electronics training, as well as vessel inspections and overnight docking.

Beyond their professional and personal lives, Mays and Petersen are active with non-profit and service groups in both the Ventura and Santa Clarita communities. On Veteran’s Day, they opened the club to veterans and active members of the military to make Skype calls to loved ones on large TV screens.

Following an Italian cooking class, Yacht Club members sit down to enjoy their creations.

“Various members of the club also are very involved in many charity functions and involve other members,” Petersen said. “One of our members hosts 120 Special Olympics kids each year during the Parade of Lights. Several of us, with larger boats, donate our time and fuel to take these kids in the parade. And Anita recently walked in the Susan G. Komen three-day event, where her team, the ‘Nauti Boobs,’ raised almost $20,000 to fight breast cancer.”

“Valkyrie Yacht Sales and The Yacht Club sponsor a ‘Toys for Tots’ collection for the local Military Base at Port Hueneme,” Mays said. “We also donate dinner certificates to many fundraising events for charities in and around Ventura County and Santa Clarita. The Yacht Club made a very large donation to Meals on Wheels this year.”

For many years, Mays’s company and the club have donated $5,000 outings each year to the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club, as well as the Boy Scouts Leaders of Character, said Petersen, also a member of the Boys & Girls Club Foundation board for the past 15 years.

Speaking of young people, adult members who visit The Yacht Club can bring family members or guests of any age, as long as everyone behaves. “We actually have a kids’ committee that plans activities just for kids,” Mays said.

Anita Mays christens Valkyrie in October 2007.

So let’s get to the bottom line: What’s a membership cost, and what does it include?

“There are two levels of memberships,” Mays said. “The TYC Membership has a $480 initiation fee and includes two club shirts, a club burgee (flag), ID card, access to the club and reciprocal rights to other clubs around the world.”

Admiral Class membership is a pricier $1,180 initiation. “That includes the above plus extra perks including a special dinner just for our Admiral’s Club members, the name of your boat engraved on a chair at the club, access to the club Duffy (electric boat) two times a year, and more guest accesses for family and friends,” she said.

Both membership levels have the same monthly dues: $100. “That can be satisfied in food and beverage purchases, so if you visit regularly your dues are easily paid for,” she said.

In addition to other California clubs, The Yacht Club at Channel Islands has reciprocal deals with clubs elsewhere in the United States as well as Mexico and Europe.

“We set up this club so that it’s affordable to join and continue to visit, with a low initiation and low monthly minimum,” Mays said. “Now, for the price of a dinner, you can belong to a yacht club and have privileges around the world.”

Find The Yacht Club at Channel Islands at 4308 Tradewinds Drive, Channel Islands Harbor, Calif., 93035. Phone 855-825-5974, fax 877-270-5891 or visit www.theyachtclub.us.

Photos: Courtesy The Yacht Club.