It’s Party Time! Benicia Yacht Club’s Opening Day on the Strait 

The terms “yacht” or “yacht club” may convey to some the suggestion of snobby elitism  and privilege. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the Benicia Yacht Club. 

They are a group that loves a party. 

Dena Styles includes herself in that description. She is the commodore of the Benicia  Yacht Club, its top flag officer, and a longtime resident of Benicia. “Boat people are different,”  she told me with equal parts pride and amusement.“What has been said about us is that we’re a  drinking club with a boating problem.” 

You can find Dena and all her boating problem friends at their clubhouse at 400 East 2nd  Street at the Benicia Harbor. While walking me through a tour of their two-story building the  other day, she was also talking up what promises to be one of the biggest parties and community  events in Benicia this year: Opening Day on the Strait, hosted by the Benicia Yacht Club and  Benicia Marina.

The big day occurs Saturday, May 18 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the yacht club and  harbor.

Everybody is welcome. Dena explained that after a day of enjoying the festivities she and  her husband Steve plan to spend the night on their power boat docked in the marina. When they  wake up in the morning they’ll have coffee. 

You may be able to spot Dena at Opening Day because she will be dressed in her flag officer whites, same as Vice Commodore Brian West, who laughingly says that when club officers  all dress in their formal white uniforms it makes them look “like ice cream salesmen.” Brian and  his wife Eileen live in Vacaville, but they both regard their 41-foot Meridian berthed at the 

Benicia Marina as their “second home” because they spend so much time on it happily hiding out  from the inferno-like summer heat of east county. 

The club unofficially appointed Brian as the main spokesperson for Opening Day, and he  did a heckuva sales job with me. A confession: For all our years of living in Benicia, my wife and  I have never attended the event. After listening to both Brian and Dena sing its virtues, that  seems a major error that needs to be corrected.

Here are a few of the things that are happening  that day: 

  • Three dance bands, playing at different times of the day and night. People dancing, too.  On the grassy greens around the harbor and in the clubhouse, too. 
  • Play areas for kids and kid activities. If you’re a parent, these youthful diversions may  provide the opportunity for you to sneak off and enjoy the beer tent sponsored by Natalie and  Mark Keller, owners of Bruehol Brewing. Natalie Keller is a rear commodore of the club so she  may be dressed up like an ice cream salesperson too. 
  • According to Brian, the yacht club has a really talented chef, known as Chef Carlos. He  will be cooking that day. The club’s equally talented bartenders, Jeannie and Maya, will be  pouring drinks at the upstairs and downstairs bars. It seems to be a stone-cold lock that if you’re  in the mood for something to eat and drink on Opening Day, you will not walk away unhappy. 
  • The Red & White Fleet is known for its scenic cruises on San Francisco Bay. It will be  offering similar scenic tours of the Carquinez Strait in conjunction with Opening Day. These  tours, for a fee, launch from Benicia Harbor and will occur four times a day on both May 18 and  19.  
  • The highlight of Opening Day is the parade of boats. “Sailboats, power boats, inflatable  boats, you name it,” said West, “and everybody is encouraged to dress their boats up.” This marine costume party starts around noon. Awards are given for the best-decorated crafts. Still,  there’s a deeper meaning to all the frivolity. The boats swing past the First Street Pier toward a  special vessel waiting for them. There, a Catholic priest extends blessings to them all—the  annual blessing of the fleet to keep all boaters safe. 

Benicia Yacht Club has a membership roll of about 200, not including spouses. Like  every organization, it is always looking for new members and if you’re interested in getting  involved, there will be lots of people around on Opening Day who will be happy to discuss their  boating problems with you. Not sure who to talk to? Look for someone in an ice cream suit.  

“You make new friends at the club, you really do,” said Styles. “There’s always a party  going on, always places to go. You can feel welcome and you won’t feel weird. Everyone feels  like family.” 

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Award-winning author and Benicia Magazine columnist Kevin Nelson now writes a weekly  column on Substack.