Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Delaware County, Pennsylvania

Corinthian Epistle


Philadelphia had ups and downs as a maritime center. Right now, it's rather down, but what's bad for commercial shipping sort of encourages recreational boating. There was once a time when almost everyone in town had some connection with the sea, and there were a hundred sailing clubs, many of them quite rowdy. Out of this environment grew the Corinthian Movement of amateur sailors, sometimes stated as requiring the owner to sail his own boat. Wanamaker, Drexel, and similar names were once associated with the formation of sailing clubs that wanted to distance themselves from the characteristic rowdy behavior of professional sailors. Yachting thus acquired a snooty flavor. It also had to contend with the plain fact that people with enough money to own a big sailboat were often not agile enough to handle them. Corinth is not terribly far from Olympia in Greece, and it seems likely that qualification for entry into the Olympics was influential in the development of sailing club rules, which tend to emphasize the manner in which the sailor learned his skills. If you learned to sail as an amateur, you qualified, even if you were crewing on someone else's boat. Learning your skills in the Navy is also sort of an ambiguous situation, so membership in a Corinthian Yacht Club cleans up your Olympic credentials.

{Corinthian Yacht Club}
Corinthian Yacht Club

It thus happens there are quite a number of Corinthian Yacht Clubs in America, mostly unrelated to each other except competitively. Philadelphia has a Corinthian Yacht Club founded in 1892 out of the remnants of other clubs, and located in Essington on the grounds of former Governor Printz's estate. The food there is famously good, and sunset buffets at the head of Delaware Bay are quite memorable.


Unfortunately, there are only about fifteen J-boats moored there. Most of the members use some other harbor as their home port, and the blame is placed on the Philadelphia International Airport. The runway was extended out into the river, causing changes in the current to pile up silt outside the yacht club. The club has so far been unable to overcome the Governmental rules which prevent private dredging, so there is gridlock. One can also easily imagine a little class warfare with local politicians, who might not be enthusiastic about using taxpayer's money for the benefit of rich yacht owners, etc, etc.

A river full of lovely sailboats, or even an exciting river race, would greatly enhance the attractiveness of the city as a place to live. Just notice how residents and tourists flock to the riverbank to watch the Occasional visit of tall ships. To the extent that modified dredging and navigation rules would help the process, it certainly needs to be helped.

Originally published: Monday, June 26, 2006; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Great story on Corinthian, also of note is that the newly renovated historic yacht club sits on top of what was once the parliament building of New Sweden. 15 J/22s isn't a bad fleet. It's fairly active considering the conditions. They also sail Vanguard 15s. Penn and Drexel's sailing teams both are stationed there and they own 17 FJ sailing dinghies between them. Villanova sails out of Cooper River Yacht Club in New Jersey.
Posted by: anonymous   |   Jun 26, 2008 11:59 PM