From the March 18, 1983 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Robert Sanborn and Stuart Bangs are two members of the Barnacle Club, a club that has held a prestigious place in Vineyard history for 115 years. Into its ranks have come whalers and pilots, fishermen and master mariners, and a host of Vineyard characters who have lived and made their livelihood by the sea. Their love of the open ocean and their everlasting hankering to tell a tale and share a joke brought them together at the Barnacle Club.

Through the generations the Barnacle Club in Vineyard Haven has provided a place for close fellowship and comradery. And today, the unfailing traditions and colorful history of this club live on through the lives of members, the memorabilia that clutters the club room and within the yellowed pages of a log book kept since 1938.

The clouded beginnings of the Barnacle Club date back to the year 1868. In those days Vineyard Haven was a seaport of some magnitude, and mariners who visited these waters were men of vast experience. It is no wonder that while in port these seafaring men would gather together to swap stories and bask in the security and enjoyment of familiar faces.

Speaking from the upstairs room of the Barnacle Club, Robert Sanborn, a recent club president, and Stuart Bangs, a member for 35 years, recalled the club’s humble beginnings.

“It first began when old whalers would hang out and tell yarns and make each other mad, while they warmed by the coal stove in Sinclair Oliver’s chandlery,” says Mr. Sanborn. “That’s where you get the expression ‘hot stove league,’” Mr. Bangs says.

Sinclair Oliver’s chandlery was located in Vineyard Haven where the SSA parking lot is today. The club existed in this informal way for 15 or 20 years until members secured a gathering place in the back room of Matthew Chadwick’s store on Main street in Vineyard Haven, where Ameilia Bloomers is today. The story has it that when the “old salts” sat outside in the noonday sun, mischievous girls across the street would tease and call them “barnacles.” The name stuck.

The club always has relied on sentiment and enthusiasm rather than regulations and protocol. There are no mandatory weekly or monthly meetings. Dues are modest and exist only to cover rental costs of club rooms. The stiff requirements for membership that once existed in earlier days have faded. And yet a man newly accepted for membership still feels the honor and self-esteem as those who came before him.

The club changed headquarters several times before 1923 when it settled in the upstairs rooms of Cromwell’s Block, the old Ben Franklin building in Tisbury, now the Tisbury Exchange.

Though not spared the usual ups and downs that afflict any organization, the club remained strong and seaworthy for 56 years, until the winter of 1979. For the second time in Barnacle Club history the club was on the brink of disbanding. Club rooms were in need of extensive repair, club meetings were down to about one a year and the active membership had dwindled. When the building was sold in the winter of 1980, it appeared the end of the Barnacle Club was near.

Hoping to salvage the club, some of the younger members grouped together to find a new meeting place.

The large room above the Chamber of Commerce and the Natural Food Store in Vineyard Haven was decided upon as the new meeting place for the men of the Barnacle Club. Glancing at the new, comfortable quarters, Mr. Bangs says appreciatively: “If not for Ralph Packer, we wouldn’t be here today. He’s the guy who pulled the club out of the fire.”

“Francis Vincent, Captain Ralph Packer and Stuart here got together every Monday night and overhauled this new room.” Mr. Sanborn says. Looking up to the wide plank board ceiling, Mr. Bangs adds: “Ralph Packer bailed every nail in this ceiling. Arthur Bailow helped with the ceilings also. He really held the club together while it was in limbo.”

The new room where the men of the Barnacle Club meet resembles an old New England fishing lodge. At the top of a narrow wooden stairway and though a door lies a room filled with mementos and souvenirs that whisper stores of Vineyard history and of past members of this exclusive club. Expansive, yet cozy, the wide-planked walls stretch out on either side of the small doorway. A bulletin board hangs on the back wall in the center of the room for the posting of newly proposed members, club activity notices and cribbage scores.

Like the mementos on the wall and the other relics of the past, nothing illustrates the elaborate history of this club more than the club log book. Excerpts from the log overflow with a kind of personality and kindred spirit born in the days of ship’s captains and whalers.

And from the Barnacle Club log one last poignant notation from the British poet John Masefield:

“I must go down to the sea again, the lone sea and the sky and all that I ask is for a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox