Elba-Mar Boat Club

January 7th, 2021

Host: Ben Fogt

with Commodore Neal LeBlanc, Vice Commodore Chris Purcell, and Past Commodore Jim Crooks


[0:00] [Ben Fogt] It's episode 13 of What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? the podcast exploring the people, places, history, and events that make Grosse Ile unique. I'm your host, Ben Fogt.

[0:11] It's January of 2021 and it's still fairly mild outside. I've been down at Gibraltar Bay a few times this last month and the lineup of boats east of there is impressive. They got me thinking about Grosse Ile's boating culture.

[0:24] Now in the conversation ahead, you'll hear me say that I'm not a boating guy and that's true, but in the next couple of months I'm going to be talking with a variety of people who helped me, and us, learn why so many are involved in River activities and how to get involved, even if just peripherally.

[0:40] Luckily I was able to reach Elba-Mar Boat Club in the offseason. That's where all those boats are stored. It won't be too long before their docks are busy again.

[0:51] Today I'm pleased to be thinking about spring and talking with Commodore Neal LeBlanc, Vice Commodore Chris Purcell, and Jim Crooks, a past Commodore from Elba-Mar Boat Club. Thank you for being with me on What's the Deal, Grosse Ile?

[Neal LeBlanc] Thank you for having us.

[Jim Crooks] Thank you for having me.

[B] Let's start with introductions. Can you guys introduce yourselves and tell us what your role is at Elba-Mar?

[1:15] [J] Well I'm Past Commodore Jim Crooks. I was Commodore probably 25, 26 years ago. And I'm just a regular member there. I do a numerous amount of committees and I like to be involved with the club.

[1:32] My name is Neal LeBlanc. I'm the current Commodore at Elba-Mar Boat Club. I've been there seven years now. My wife and I recently moved to the island just shy of four years ago. We were in Farmington Hills for many many years. And we had joined the club while we were living in Farmington Hills and then we just decided it'd be easier if we just moved here because of our involvement with the club. We just spent a lot of time down here and so we made the move and we've been here, like I say, for years. We love it. I'm in my final year as far as going through the flags and sorry to see that go but I'll be a PC [Past Commodore] next year and I'll be an advisor to the board for one more year.

[Christ Purcell] My name is Chris Purcell. I'm the current Vice Commodore at Elba-Mar Boat Club. My responsibilities at the club are house liaison, which means I'm in charge of all Clubhouse activities as far as interior and just outside the club. This past year we've been having to deal with, obviously, the COVID restrictions and keeping Elba-Mar a safe environment for our members and guests. My wife and I joined about 5 years ago. We live just off the island in Southgate and I've been around the club probably the last 30 years with my parents involvement and getting involved with it recently.

[2:51] [B] Well Chris you really jumped into the hot seat this year, didn't you?

[C] Yeah, we did. We did. It was quite the adventure early having to deal with MiOSHA and trying to get everybody on board. We've gotten through it. The members really stepped up and helped us all out and all the board members and flag officers and PC Jim Crooks on the house committee with myself and Commodore Neil LeBlanc helping out where he could. It was an adventure to say the least. Hopefully we're going to get through this coming out better than most. Just to give you a little background, we just did a little bit of an improvement at the clubhouse. We went ahead and opened up some outside dining areas. The individual Family Dining areas on the porch and we have capacity for about just over 30 people right now and our normal ink side capacity is about a hundred and fifty people. So once we get back open inside, we should be able, if it's 50 percent capacity, we'll get back up to run 70, 75 and when we go back up to a hundred we're good for up to a hundred and fifty people.

[B] Excellent. We've talked about it a little bit already but Elba-Mar Boat Club is obviously a book club. Describe it in more detail and where it is located.

[J] Well, it's a I can say it's on East River Road.

[4:15] At the South End of the island I guess. The address is 2817 if I remember correctly. It's right across East River Road from the airport. It's been there since the 50s.

[B] Is the entrance just off right before Hickory Island then?

[4:34] [N] No. It's about a mile north of Hickory Island. It's just before you go over the smaller bridge there.

Not the one on the Hickory but the one...

[B] The one that was just fixed?

[N] Yes. So right before that there's Hoover's right there. Our driveway is adjacent to Hoover's.

[4:53] [B] About the name, I've seen the name elba-mar all over Grosse Ile. There's a road on the west side of the island, on the other side of the airport. I heard that Ransom Olds' home over on Elba Island was named elba-mar at one point. How did the club get the name?

[J] Well I think that goes way back to when the club was built. When they acquired the property there was just going to be a Boat Basin and they decided to build a clubhouse. So all that land when they purchased it was all Marshland. It was just a big swamp marshland and they built the clubhouse. They had to give the club a name, and Elba Marsh just didn't sound right so I think they just cut it short and called it Elba-Mar Boat Club and it's stuck. At least that's the history I have.

[B] What year did it open?

[N] 1953. Well it was actually founded before that but it actually. I think officially it became Elba-Mar in 1953.

[J] '53 was our first year for a Commodore. We bought the property in 1938, actually.

[6:06] And then we built the club starting and like 52 and 53. The township said we needed to build a club if we wanted to acquire that land within a year. So that's what we did and then we finished it in 53 that's when we decided to designate someone as the Commodore.

[6:23] So that's our first year officially as a club with a commodore.

[B] Wow, it goes back a long way.

[J] Yes, it does.

[B] So as a club, is it very formal?

[J] No. I think we're a... I would have like a boot Blue Collar Club I guess you might call us, but it's not formal at all. Everybody enjoys coming in. You can come down and work on your boat.

[6:47] Come in and have a cold one and a burger at the restaurant and as long as you've got a shirt and shoes on you're pretty well good to go you know.

[N] Yeah all of our elba-mar is a little bit like cheers I mean it's a pub or maybe what you might call a beer and a shot kind of bar but it's casual but we have a pretty diverse group of members that belong to the club and we have roughly 500 members on average and that includes both full and social members but it's pretty diverse. But I think Jim's right. A blue-collar type club is probably the best way to describe that.

[B] Obviously you just mentioned the memberships. What kind of memberships are there?

[N] There's a full membership which entitles you to actually put in for a dock and actually own your own dock and you can put your boat there. And then there's also a social membership where folks can join the club. They wouldn't keep their boat there but they could come in and enjoy the club, have drinks, take advantage of the restaurant, any social events that are going on there. So we do get a lot of members from other clubs that are social members at Elba-Mar.

[8:05] And vice versa. I think the full membership right now I want to say is $1,800 roughly which would include your Initiation fee or dues and what we call a script card which is $100.

[8:18] And I believe the social membership is, 375 dollars that's $275 for your dues and then again another hundred dollars covers your script card which you would use at the club, food, drinks, clothing. We do have a clothing showcase for clothing and usually someone in the auxiliary makes sure to take responsibility for ordering different types of clothing that has the elba-mar logo on it. Typically it includes t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, jackets, that type of thing. So you can use your script card to buy any of that merchandise as well.

[B] How do you get more information about joining?

[N] I think you've talked to Craig Catellus. I know he's our membership chair though I think he might be stepping aside and somebody else may be moving in that position I'm not sure. I think it's every third Thursday of the month, between 7 and 9 o'clock, it's membership night where you can come in there and meet with the chair and you can see the club and you can actually fill out the application and get the wheels rolling, as far as membership goes.

[B] That's good to know. And that that's probably not running as usual right now.

[9:46] Maybe contact the club [Yes. Contact the club about Membership Night.]

[N] Yeah, I'm not sure if it's... Jim, am I on target with that, whether it's every third week or...

[J] I think you're right there, but also you might want to mention, anytime you want to come into the club if it's not on that third Thursday of the month. There's also a packet that we will hand you that gives you all the information including the numbers and what the club is about and you can take it home and look it over and see if you're really interested in joining or not.

[10:17] [C] I can speak a little bit for this too. We're trying to update the website to have the the new membership committee on there, and with contact info and you can get in touch with them and we might also want to add that full and social members we do have a full-service gas dock at the club and all members are entitled to use fueling and pump out at any time that we are open.

[B] I'm sure that's important.

[10:45] As we talked to before the interview here, I'm not a boat person so a lot of this is all new to me. And I find it fascinating really. So the restaurant. How would you describe the restaurant? And is there a minimum that members have to buy? Are there any things like that?

[J] No I would say there's there's definitely no minimum to buy, but we just have right now a newly renovated kitchen and a new Chef that just started the end of... what about how many months ago? 4 months ago, 5 months ago, and she's quite the chef. She puts out some great food. And like I said the kitchen has totally been remodeled.

[11:28] So she has a lot to offer and the club has a lot to offer with that, but no, you don't have to spend any amount of money in the kitchen. But remember you get that hundred dollar card when you join also and that's good for the food from the restaurant.

[N] And also Ben just important to point out there to clarify, it's for the members. So access to our kitchen as far as the dining is for members or their guests. It's not open necessarily to the public per se. So I just wanted to put that out there.

[B] Absolutely. We're in January now, though we're actually recording this in December but when this publishes it will be January, and we're getting closer to fishing season starting and the walleye will start coming up and people are going to be looking for marinas and launches for the boats. We talked about the fuel. We talked about a few of the boat services. What kind of services are there for boaters?

[J] Well again you're going to have to be a member to enjoy our services, but along with the gas dock we have pump-out facilities for the boats and again we said the restaurant. We have shower rooms.

[12:45] The bar, of course, and everybody likes the gas and pump out. It's very handy. It's right off the water and our gas is always very reasonably priced.

[12:54] So those are some of the things that we have to offer but again that's it's for members and Affiliated Members only.

[B] Elba-Mar always has quite a busy schedule in the summer, 2020 is the exception of course. But what, assuming that we get back to a normal 2021, what sort of things should we expect to be happening at Elba-Mar for members.

[13:19] [N] A typical season for us, for a year for us, typically starts out with our Change of Watch in January, under normal circumstances. That's where the new Commodore is brought in, officially brought in that position, along with the new Vice Commodore and of course the Fleet Captain. Another big event that we have is the dockage meeting in March. That's an annual event where all the members come to the club and it's where you, based on seniority, you vie for either your first dock or to make a move to another location, another dock, within our harbor.

[14:03] That's a huge event for us, and actually typically earlier in the year, we have our Commodore's Ball too. It's usually in February. This year it's being it's been rescheduled for later in the year as a result of everything that's going on. But that's that's one of our biggest events that we typically average probably 200 plus guests at those, at our balls. It's fantastic. Everybody gets dressed up. It's very formal. Men in tuxes. The women are in evening gowns and the Commodore celebrates their new position. That's huge. A lot of the other things that we typically do during the year includes bus trips earlier on in the season. Which this year, may or may not happen. They usually happen in the early months before we actually launch the boats so that would be anywhere between typically February and late March, maybe early April.

[B] Where would those bus trips go?

[N] The Fleet Captain organizes that and that's their responsibility so... Then you're talking about the flags, of course. You've got your Fleet Captain. You've got your Rear Commodore, then your Vice Commodore, and then Commodore, So the Fleet Captain's responsible for that.

[15:15] And they can typically coordinate with the Commodore to establish what trips we're going to make to other clubs. Typically we will actually lease a bus, a large large bus sometimes, and quite often two. And then we'll travel anywhere from two to three clubs in our area, make a day out of it. It usually lasts from, say, noon to six o'clock somewhere in there. Those are a lot of fun. And then we typically have our scheduled Club Runs for the year which are established again by the Fleet Captain working in conjunction with the Commodore and the actual regattas that are scheduled for that year which are planned ahead of time, but this year it's hard to say what's going to happen.

[B] So those regattas then. Those are where you sail off to another club to visit?

[N] Correct. Yep so...

[J] By boat.

[N] By boat, yes. Yep. So Chris, I don't know. Do you want to comment on that?

[16:23] [C] So in a general year with us being affiliated with AYC, they do five runs to other clubs and they call them poker runs because the premise of it is when you go to these clubs you get credit for your attendance and they give you a poker card and at the end of the five runs, obviously, they'll award prizes to the best hand. If you go to all the clubs or you know even if you go to three clubs if you have the best hand they'll still award you. And the club's we'll always alternate for the ones that you go to and it is an AYC affiliated deal. So with the affiliations of our club with the AYC, the ILYA, and the YCA, the AYC is the most predominant that we're involved with. It's the western end of Lake Erie and it's a way for the western end of Lake Erie all the way from you know Wyandotte to Toledo and even a little bit east of Toledo... it's a way for us to all stay in touch with one another as a boating community and have rendezvous and/or regattas about once or twice a month throughout the summer and that's the purpose of those poker runs or the regattas

[N] Plus the other thing, Ben, that with the regard is too, it's a great way for these other clubs, the hosting clubs to use that as a fundraiser to generate

[17:52] income for their clubs. So all the clubs typically participate as much as possible as far as their members joining in on these regattas and we help support each other by doing that. So when we have our regattas people come and visit Elba-Mar and it's huge. I mean there's a lot of folks there. Our harbor fills right up and likewise with the other clubs typically.

[B] Sure. I'm used to the term regatta being like a competition. So these are more of a gathering thing.

[18:27] Maybe a social competition. And we've talked about those organizations that have the reciprocal relationships there. So you'd mentioned the AYC and I forget the acronyms for the other ones, but can you say more about those?

[J] Well I can tell you AYC, actually AYC is the one we participate probably the most in. That's Associated Yacht Clubs is what it stands for and it's basically 32 clubs strong and every year they put out a yearbook that they hand out to all the clubs that participate and it gives a schedule of all the clubs and how they reciprocate with each other, what they have to offer, and that's what you use to tell you the Commodore of the club and all our officers and whether they have gas docks, what facilities, everything that they have. And so we kind of go by that. ILYA does basically the same thing. They put out a yearbook every year that basically tells you the same thing. So you can stay in communication that way being a club member you're automatically given one of these books if you want them. So it keeps you in touch with everything that's going on.

[19:35] [B] And the other clubs on the island that are part of AYC those are?

[J] Yes, Grosse Ile Yacht Club and Ford Yacht Club are both parts of AYC and IOYA.

[B] Okay. So those are all in there too. We have all these boat, yacht, and country clubs on the island and each one has a particular niche, I'm sure. Everybody specializes in one particular thing or has a feel or something. What would you say makes Elba-Mar set apart from the others?

[J] Because it's the Friendliest Club on the River.

[20:11] [N] That is our motto.

[J] That is the motto that we use and like Neal said earlier it's kind of like a Cheers club, Cheers bar, or whatever you want to call it. It's hard to walk in the club and not be recognized. I don't care if you're a new member or an old member. You come in everybody says hi and that's kind of what we have a niche for.

[20:32] [N] Yeah we're definitely a family oriented boat club. We really encourage families to join and take advantage of the facilities. There's a lot of members that were kids growing up at Elba-Mar. I think Chris was one of them, Chris. But we've had several of our members that grew up at the club as children and now they're adults and they're members and they've been with the club a long long time. But the members look out for each other. If you get new members coming in like myself and my wife when we first joined you know we didn't have a lot of hands-on experience with boating and we got a lot of help from a lot of members. It was fantastic and people really took us under their wing and got us up to speed. So that was great. It's a great opportunity for a family or somebody that wants to get into boating and get in take advantage of the

[21:30] of the experiences that we have at the club. The other thing too is we hope that we're responsible stewards for the surrounding waterways in the surrounding property and as Jim mentioned earlier the marshland are still marsh, connected to marshland connected to the club and we really try to take care of the property and make sure that it survives and is there for future generations to enjoy.

[N] I'm really glad you said that. One of the intimidating things about moving to Grosse Ile are the clubs. You move onto the island and a lot of people are members of the clubs and you're not really sure what to ask about it. And so hearing you say that families are part of this, you guys really make it sound like a very approachable thing, something that shouldn't be as as mysterious as I think it is to a lot of us. I think that's really great.

[22:30] So we're at the end of the interview here, I think. This is where I ask you if you'd like to make a wish for Grosse Ile. Would you like to contribute a wish for the island?

[J & N] Yes go ahead no you go ahead you guys.

[J] All right. I probably have the same wish that everybody wishes to get the free bridge fixed as soon as possible and keep us and keep us updated as to the progress. And I would like to see the township get together with the county and maybe do something about their roads. Grosse Ile's roads are

[23:10] in pretty rough shape and a lot of places I know... they're basically County Roads and maybe the township and the county could get together and do something about that.

[N] Yeah I think my wish would be hopefully the old McLouth Steel property. In the inevitable development that's going to take place there I worry about what might happen there and I hope it's not some type of, like we probably caught wind of, multimodal transportation facility and I only say that because I think it could be an eyesore for a lot of the folks on

[23:50] West River especially. But I just hope we don't get overrun by traffic if that were to happen. That would be my concern that close to the island.

[B] That's for sure.

[C] I guess what I would have to say is I would hope that Grosse Ile residents can realize what they have surrounding them as a resource with the Detroit River and Lake Erie and maybe try to get the kids more involved coming out of school. At the end of the day, those are going to be elba-mar as future members, and for us to succeed as a club we have to keep feeding that. That would be my biggest wish.

[B] Those are excellent wishes. I think everyone echoes those for sure. Well, I want to thank you so much for enlightening us today. I sincerely wish you good luck this year. I think everyone needs it, but running an organization such as you do, definitely needs every bit of help it can get. And I appreciate what you and the club are adding to life here on the island. Thank you so much.

Thanks again to Jim, Neal, and Chris and Elba-Mar Boat Club.

We recorded this before New Year’s Day and they’ve since had the annual Change of Watch.

Congratulations to Commodore Chris Purcell. I wish you the best of luck.

[25:09] If you’re listening to this episode when it “airs”, on January 14th, 2021, I will be giving a talk at the virtual Rotary Club meeting tonight at 7.

You can watch on their Facebook page or get the Zoom link from them.

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