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80 Years Yacht Club of Greece

 

Eighty years after it was founded, the Yacht Club of Greece still maintains its values and promotes fair play, water sports and sailing. The Yacht Club of Greece since it was founded, bears the seal of Antonis Benakis, its great benefactor and champion of “urban modernisation” of Greece. Descendant of the Greek society of Alexandria (where the Hellenic Yacht club has operated since 1909, which he has been one of its founders and donors), Antonis Benakis was the visionary and patron of the Yacht Club of Greece. Having distinguished himself in international and local competitions as an oarsman, and lover of the sea and it§s sports, Benakis and his friends-colleagues laid the foundations for a nautical organisation called the Yacht Club of Athens – the initial name for the Yacht Club of Greece. The foundation memorandum of the Club was signed on 1 November 1933 by 27 select members of Athenian society (including Artemis Denaxas, Georgios Panas, Ioannis Drosopoulos, Antonios Fix, Vasileos Rosolimos, Konstantinos Empeirikos, Panagis Charokopos, Grigorios Livieratos, Christoforos Karolos, Nikolaos Kampanis) at the Benaki Museum.

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The founder chose Mikrolimano Bay (then called Tourkolimano) as the site for the Club, which was the ancient harbour of Mounichias and one of the three naval ports of the ancient Athenian Democracy. Koumoundourou hill, dominating the picturesque bay, was the ideal location for the Club. It was designed by architect Kimon Laskaris and construction began immediately after the purchase of the slope. In late 1936, the Yacht Club of Athens became the proud occupant of a modern building in keeping with the aesthetic of the period and its goals. Antonis Benakis was the first elected president of the Club (held the position until 1954). The Yacht Club of Athens was renamed the Yacht Club of Greece (YCG) in 1936 and began to engage in the organisation of competitions, at the same time that the islands were beginning to feel the effects of the first tourism waves, thanks to the yachts of its members, led by the “Aello II” owned by Antonis Benakis. A gorgeous vessel, “the flagship of Athenian high society” and the symbol of an era, “Aello II” was sunk by the Germans during the occupation of Greece. The Club evolved rapidly on all levels, including expanding membership, new facilities, sailing outings and competitions, until the onset of World War II. The Club first entered the international sporting arena in 1938, when “Star”, the new Greek vessel defeated experienced Romanian sailors at Faliro Bay and Costanta. That same year marked the first dinner dance attended by the ex – King and members of parliament, a social event bringing members of the Club closer together.  In 1940, women joined the sport as helmsmen or crew members and according to a decree by King George II, “a decision of the General Assembly of its members and the approval of the King”, the YCG was renamed as the Royal Yacht Club of Greece (RYCG), a name retained until 1973. WWII, the occupation and civil unrest curtailed its growth for eight years. In 1941, the RYCG was converted into a club for German officers. Many boats were sold or requisitioned. Set aside sailing and marine recreation, the Club stepped into a more socially- conscious role. For two years (1942-1943), it organised and served food for 350 children under the care of the Club’s young women association, with the assistance of the International Red Cross. When the Germans withdrew from the facilities, threatened to blow it up! It was miraculously rescued by the negotiating skills of Antonis Benakis and Christophoros Karolos. In the face of many difficulties, a period of reconstruction and gathering of scattered vessels – four “Star” type sporting boats were rescued and four more would be added to them, donated by Aristotle Onassis, delivered to the Club in 1948.

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The first Greek sailing team participated in the Olympic Games in London that same year, and was comprised exclusively of athletes from the RYCG, thanks to the personal interest expressed by King Paul, an admiral of the RYCG, who also contributed his personal repaired Star yacht. In the Greece of the 1950s, every sporting activity was an achievement, and every effort and athletic success was significant. The Greek Sailing Federation was founded in 1951, under the guidance of Antonis Benakis, who was its first president. At the RYCG, he was initially succeeded by Admiral Pericles Ioannides and then by Admiral Dimitrios Tsafos from 1957 to 1982. Admiral Tsafos was efficient and respected by one and all, helping to maintain the athletic character of the Club. Competitions multiplied, as did the participation and victories of the RYCG in international events, culminating in 1960 with the victory of crown – Prince Constantine at the Olympic Games in Naples, Italy. The “Nereus”, captained by twenty-year-old Constantine and crewed by Odysseus Eskitsoglou and Georgios Zaimis would breathe new life into sailing events in Greece and become an aspiration for the next Greek sailors. The Club’s facilities were expanded. With designs by Club member, architect Dimitris Koutsoudakis the main building was extended and redecorated. The beautiful location, the refurbished building, the experienced organisation and prestige ensured the significant role the Club played in the social events of that time. Ioannis Kostopoulos was elected president in the early 1980s and held the position until 1995. A dynamic man, won three world championships with three different vessels, whose firm hand led the Club to thrive. He passed the baton to Georgios Andreadis (who is currently a Vice-President), an internationally renowned yachtsman with seven wins in world championships and eight in European events. He has had a long tenure with the World Sailing Federation, of which he is now vice-president. The Club continues to grow, as do its educational facilities, with its primary purpose is to inspire a love of water sports in children and young people. During the years 2003 – 2006, under president Andreas Potamianos, the facilities were again extended with new additions (schools, gyms etc.). Maintaining its initial character, the iconic building now houses many activities befitting a large yacht club. The Athens Olympic Games would bring the sport of sailing to the forefront in an affecting way, when at the opening ceremony the “son of the wind”, Nikos Kaklamanis lit the flame, while at the closing ceremony the “golden girls”, Sofia Bekatorou and Emilia Tsoulfa extinguished it. _Rania Georgiadou

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