110 YEARS OF THE CZECH YACHT CLUB, THE CRADLE OF CZECH YACHTING
Podolí, famed for its rafting activity in days gone by, is the birthplace of Czech
yachting. Opposite the 14th century rafters’ church stands the Czech Yacht Club (ČYK), a unique three-storey wooden
boathouse, built in 1912 on the breakwater at Podolí, below the rocks of
Vysehrad. The boathouse has become another historical monument in this part of
Boats have been on the Vltava since time immemorial, first powered by
sails or oars. It is said that the first people in Prague to sail for reasons
other than trade and commerce, were millers such as Odkolek and Vávra.
There is evidence of earlier sailing activity in the engravings by Antonín Pucherna
from the year 1807, which show boats sailing on the Elbe at Roudnice and Děčín.
Perhaps the earliest known sailing event in Prague was the Open Yacht Race between Střelecký
and Barvířský (today Slovanský islands on 25th September, 1870 – the winner of this race was s/y Libuše (owner Mr. Odkolek). Later,
members of the rowing clubs (Sokol Prague from 1861, English Crew in Prague, and V.K. Blesk in Mělník, Roudnice and elsewhere) took up sailing. From the late 19th century, sails
were already being used to power boats for sporting purposes.
The Czech Yacht Club (Český Yacht Klub – ČYK), which is one of the oldest in central Europe, pioneered yachting club in the Czech lands.
It was founded in 1893 by Josef Rössler-Ořovský, an outstanding sportsman. He was a member of the rowing club BLESK (founded in 1876) and the first to win a championship title for his club.
His trophies are on display in the BLESK clubhouse. He was a pioneer in a range of other sporting
areas. He used the cover name Ořovský
during his school years when his family, as well as the school authorities,
disapproved of sports activities, even though Rössler was a good student. It
was in France and in England, where he was sent to work in a pharmaceuticals
factory, that he spent more time than ever around water, and especially the sea.
He had always enjoyed physical activity since he was a boy. He also loved
nature. He first started rowing for V.K. BLESK at the age of 19. He wanted
others to take part in sports as well, and personally helped to give young
people of the time the opportunity to practise sports. In the Czech lands, he
set up canoeing, water touring, water scouting and other sports activities.
Testament to his organisational skills is that he established the first Czech
lawn tennis club, the first in the Austro-Hungarian empire, and just four years
later, registered this club with the International tennis centre (FILT) in
London. He was a keen and proficient
player of tennis, football and hockey, as well as being a first-rate swordsman.
In order to promote skiing, he set about organising an improvised race on
Wenceslas Square, and in 1897, he helped to set up the first skiing races at
Jilemnice. He had already brought his first skis from Norway and was involved in
the domestic production of racing skis. He enjoyed competitive rowing and
speedskating; he acted as referee in the first football match between
traditional rivals Sparta and Slavia. Rössler-Ořovský died 17.1.1933 and was buried at Vyšehrad.
Members of the ČYK promoted yachting, founded the Czechoslovak Olympic
Committee and competed in the Olympic Games. It is thanks to the club’s
founder, Rössler-Ořovský, that
the Czech delegation competed in the Games as a recognised state even before
independence was declared in 1918. Together with school teacher Guth-Jarkovský
Rössler-Ořovský helped to establish the Czech Olympic Association despite objections from the
Austrian authorities. He is remembered for his clever intervention at the
Olympic Congress in Stockholm before the First World War. When the Germans and
Austrians announced that the Czechs were not allowed to enter the Olympic Games
independently, he showed the Olympic Committee an Austrian ten-crown coin
bearing an inscription which stated that Franz Josef I, the Austrian emperor,
was also the Czech King. For the delegates, especially the English ones, this
settled the argument: if they had a Czech king, they had a right to enter
independently. In 1912, eight members of the ČYK competed in the Stockholm
Olympic Games, with Rössler-Ořovský and Dr. Guth-Jarkovský leading
the group. The appearance of our team flying the Czech flag was even a topic for
discussion in the parliament in Vienna.
Rössler-Ořovský ’s talent for promoting sport was put to good use in his post as general
secretary of the Czechoslovak Olympic Committee, a post he held from 1906 to
1929. He led the Czech Olympic group in Stockholm 1912 and in Antwerp 1920. In
1999, in recognition of his merits, Rössler-Ořovský
was nominated sports official of the century and the Czech postal service issued a
nine-crown stamp of Rössler-Ořovský
to commemorate the centenary of the Czech Olympic Committee.
The Czech Yachting Association
In 1893, while still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in the lands of the Czech
Crown two yacht clubs emerged – the Czech
Yacht Club, and a club set up by German yachtsmen in Litoměřice.
More followed in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, and from 1952 in Slovakia. After the
end of the First World War, Rössler-Ořovský
instigated the establishment of the Czechoslovak Yachting Association in 1929.
Its first chairman was the founder himself, and after his death in 1933, Mr.
Pavlousek became chairman. After the Second World War, in the reconstituted
Czechoslovakia, only one yacht club remained – the ČYK. However, new clubs
soon emerged, and even the association resumed its activities. Thanks to members
of the former ČYK (later TJ Slavoj Vyšehrad,
Czech yachting was part of the international organisation IYRU (International
Yacht Racing Association), which is today ISAF
International Sailing Federation), where it has to this day a
representative on the committee.
The Czech Yachting Association caters for various types of yachting
activity, and supports the interests of its members. 110 years of organised
yachting has brought together 120 yacht clubs and sections. They are made up of
associations of single categories of boat (Cadet, Café 24, Europa, Finn, Fireball, Flying Dutchman, Fortyniner, Laser, ice yachts,
Soling, Star, Tornado, Vaurien, ‘420’, ‘470’, the latest ‘2.4M’,
which was chosen for the Paraolympic Games in Sydney 2000). It includes the
Czech Windsurfing Association, the Czech Association of Sea Yachting (ČANY)
and more recently, the Association of Match and Team Racing (AMTR)
The main task of the head association is to co-ordinate the activities of
its yachting subsections and arrange championships in the Czech Republic.
The Development of the Czech Yacht Club
Beginnings are never easy. After separating from the rowing club BLESK in
1893, the ČYK established in 1895 a small floating clubhouse, first of all on
side of the river, later at the breakwater near Podolí
embankment. At that time, the Vyšehrad tunnel did not exist; access to the club
was either by ferry around the rocks or
a circuitous route over the hill at Vyšehrad.
A horse-drawn tram ran only as far as what is now the Palacký bridge.
Another two floating clubhouses were created before permission was given to
build the boathouse upon the breakwater at Podolí.
The club was also politically-aware. At its 25th anniversary celebration,
on 20th October, 1918, the ČYK became the first place in Prague
where the Czech flag was flown instead of the Austrian flag – even before the
end of World War I and before independence had been declared. At that time, the
flag bore the Czech lion and St. Wenceslas’ crown (naming the King). This was
the same flag under which the Czech Olympic athletes had paraded while still
under Austro-Hungarian rule. The flag was preserved; one is stored in the club,
another in the Museum of Physical Education and Sport in Tyršův
The ČYK’s membership register features a succession of names of prominent figures.
Apart from the founders and some renowned sportsmen and women, the register also
mentions Vladimír Aichelburg
LLD, a historian of European yachting and of the Austro-Hungarian naval forces,
and who now lives in Vienna (he has been an honorary member of the ČYK since
1993). Another name of note is Tomáš Jan Baťa, a
successful Canadian businessman and a member from 1931 until the war. There are
those who no longer ‘sail on the waters of the earth’, such as Tomáš
Baťa (1876 – 1932), a successful Czech entrepreneur, who died in a plane crash in 1932 (
a member from 1925), Karel Baxa LLD, a Member of the Czech Parliament, and the
first Mayor of Prague (a member from 1916), Antonín Berger, a
famous Prague confectioner (from 1914), Jeroným Colloredo Mannsfeld,
who from 1912 – 1928 enabled Alfons Mucha to create his famous ‘Slavic epic’
in Zbiroh castle (a member from the year 1919), Eduard Grégr,
owner of a printing office (he and his wife were members from 1926), Jiří
a founding member of the International Olympic Committee and its chairman from
1918, master of ceremonies for President T.G.Masaryk (a member from 1925),
Professor Bohumil Mathesius, professor at Charles University, literary scholar
and translator (a member from 1922, as was his wife Zdenka), Vladimír
a prominent Czech writer (in the ČYK from 1937), Jaroslav Novák,
a pioneer in youth education, leader of Prague water scouts (a member from
1935), Jaroslav Preiss LLD, a financier, general manager of Živnobanka
(from 1927), František Ringhoffer, an
industrialist (from 1934), Arnošt Schwarzenberg, a technician
in Ringhoffer’s firm (a member of the CYC from 1919), Jan Werich, a well-known
Czech actor (a member from 1947). There were also ambassadors, envoys, consuls
and embassy members from France, Britain, the USA, and Germany, as well as other
Even after the period of German occupation, the ČYK remained a genuinely
Czech club. Internationalism characterises yachtsmen and sailors all over the
world, and Czech yachtsmen are no exception. Entered in the membership register
are the names of citizens from other countries who were living or working in the
Czech Republic. Before the First World War, the ČYK set up an affiliated centre
in Trieste, and before the Second World War, in Split. Unfortunately, both of
these centres were destroyed in the two wars. Nevertheless, international co-operation
continues, as the ČYK co-operates with clubs in Germany (the Berlin yacht club
FRATERNITAS, founded in 1891), in Croatia (PLAV, the oldest Croatian yacht club, which
specialises in training juniors), and in Austria (ÖSYC – Österreichischer Hochsee Yacht Club).
After the Second World War, the ČYK initiated the establishment of other yacht clubs,
and even the Prague Regional Yachting Association. The war and political
developments in its aftermath brought changes to the club as well. It became
incorporated into the Physical Education unit Slavoj Vyšehrad,
which began as SOKOL Vyšehrad.
Despite the hostile attitude of the authorities, who considered yachting to be a
bourgeois sport, the members tried to promote yachting by maintaining boathouses
and boats, and with amateur construction of new boats, especially for cadets.
All the while, they continued to support the formation of new clubs.
Nowadays, Prague’s Regional Yachting Association covers 20 clubs and yachting sections
in the city of Prague, with another 11 in the central Bohemia region. In south
Bohemia, there are 10 sections, 11 in west Bohemia, over 20 in the north, 9 in
eastern Bohemia, 17 in south Moravia and over 20 in north Moravia. In the Prague
area, the CYC is one of the clubs that offers training programmes for young
people – its cadets division is the second largest in the Czech Republic.
Other yacht clubs which also cater for young people are: AVIA Praha, SaS, YC
Praha 12, SPARTAK Modřany and NYK Praha.
The boathouse, constructed in 1912, is a unique wooden three-storey
building, complete with clubhouse and changing rooms for members. It not only
replaced the previous floating clubhouse, but was a great improvement in terms
of capacity and facilities. Today it has hot water, workshops, modern offices
and it provides members with a full range of services. The club’s harbour has
electric power points, drinking water, mooring facilities for members and for
visitors, and three pulleys for boats weighing less than five tonnes. Boats can
be pulled up onto rails where they remain throughout the winter months.
At present, the club has 200 members with around 90 boats. Juniors sail
in optimist, cadet, europa and fireball category boats; adults sail in pirát
and fireball boats or in cruisers. Since the club was first established, members
have also sailed on the sea. Every year, boats from the club sail on the North
sea, the Baltic, the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Several boats are anchored
all year round in Italian and German marinas to avoid awkward overland
transportation. The club built its own marina for the summer season in the
Sladovařská inlet at Slapy reservoir.
The ČYK and yachting on rivers and lakes
Even though most members of the ČYK sail as a hobby, races do take place
especially for juniors, and the ČYK itself organises yacht races. In the period
after the First World War, one of the most outstanding racers was without
question Eduard Bürgermeister, who competed in the Olympic regatta in Paris in
1924. Right from the beginning of yachting activities in this country, a great
many yachtsmen, including the founders of the ČYK, have successfully
represented Czechoslovakia in international events. Other names of note are : M.
Brebta, Vitězslav Pavlousek (known as Ata), and Ctibor Burda, whose nomination for the London 1984 Olympics was
cancelled for political reasons, despite him successfully qualifying. After the
Second World War, Miroslav Vejvoda emerged as a brilliant new yachtsman. A
competitor in the Tokyo 1964 and Kiel 1972 Olympic Games, he went on to become
the trainer for the Czechoslovak team.
The ČYK has produced a series of champions, including Englich and Vopálenský
(FD), Burda and Buchtela ( J22, P, FD), Hradecký,
the Kryl brothers, Mr.and Mrs. Kryl, Mr. Pavlousek, Tamassy and Krofta, Vála,
the Žáček brothers (FD), Guryča and Bachtík.
Although the river is more suitable for recreational yachting and
training than for racing, the ČYK has always been highly competitive, entering
yacht races at home and abroad. The biggest local race is the Lord Mayor’s
Shield, which has been running since 1946. It takes place every autumn below Vyšehrad,
and began at the end of the Second World War in memory of the first Lord Mayor
of Prague, Baxa, who had also been a member of the ČYK since 1918. In the year
2000, 63 yachts competed in the 55th race under the auspices of the
Lord Mayor of Prague. The bronze statue, mounted on a marble base, was donated
by the Lord Mayor, and is still the challenge trophy awarded to the winning boat
in the category with the greatest number of boats entered.
Other ČYK races in the Czech yachting calendar are
the Eduard Burgermeister Memorial (from 1937), the Rössler-Ořovský Memorial
(from 1946) and the Vltava Blue Ribbon race (from 1950). A recent addition is
the Dr. Štěpán Memorial, a tribute to the outstanding theorist and referee from the ČYK.
In 2001, the ČYK organised the European Championships for pupils in cadet category
boats at Lake Lipno. Ten countries took part in the competition. In 2002, the
CYC cadets won 11 first places in the racing categories, and 3 crews competed in
the 2002 World Championships in the cadet category.
The ČYK and sea yachting
If anyone is surprised that a citizen of an inland country longs to
‘conquer’ the sea, they should remember that in the last century, many
Czechs have had direct contact with the sea. This is not only because of their
adventurous spirit, as travellers and explorers, but also for reasons such as
emigrating to America or fleeing political persecution. Another little known
fact is that around a third of the sailors in the Austro-Hungarian Empire came
from Bohemia and Moravia. Most were machine operators and ships officers.
There are many examples of fine Czech yachtsmen. One of the most renowned
was the painter Jaroslav Čermák ,
the first Czech to graduate from the French school of yachting (died 1878). Also
of Czech origin was US admiral George Dufek, commanding officer in the
construction of the 7th US base in Antarctica (died 1977).
Besides Rössler-Ořovský, three other yachtsmen from the ČYK also had experience of sailing on the sea,
namely Škvor z Horomilu and Arnošt and Eduard Bürgermeister.
They initiated the exchange of experiences with foreign yachtsmen and greater
familiarisation with the theory of sailing. The experiences of Rössler-Ořovský
from the Adriatic, Mediterranean and the North Sea as well as the Atlantic, and
those of Arnošt Bürgermeister, who was a frequent guest in Berlin and north German clubs, were
put to good use by their successors. As early as 1896, the ČYK, serious in its
endeavours in sea yachting, had the yacht Stella registered in Opatia. In the
same year an affiliated centre of the ČYK was established in Trieste, where 3
seagoing yachts were made available to club members. This centre closed down
during the First World War. The second overseas branch of the ČYK was set up
through the yacht club Labud in Split in 1934 after the death of Rössler-Ořovský,
the founder. The club captain Eduard Bürgermeister oversaw the establishment of
this second centre. In 1935 work
was completed on a 10-metre yacht, which was given the name Vltava. In the same
year, it won the first interstate regatta and the Lord Mayor‘s Cup. They had
managed to transport this yacht to Prague before the outbreak of the Second
World War. The other club boat was destroyed, along with the entire fleet of
boats in the Yugoslav club Labud, during the bombardment of Split.
Today one of the club‘s best known and most successful sea yachtsmen is
Josef Rössler, grandson of the founder of the ČYK, an honorary member of the
club. Every year he sails his steel-hull yacht Štír from Podolí via Hamburg
to the Baltic and the North Sea. Others sail along with him, usually in homemade
yachts. Everyone returns with renewed respect for nature and with a feeling of
great satisfaction that they have encountered both its beauty and its power.
The yacht HEBE II, built by Jaroslav Havelka, a member of the , also started off
with recreational sailing. However, its owner‘s competitive spirit meant that
it was entered in the ‘Kieler Woche‘ race, in the ‘DELFSAIL 98‘
competition in Holland, the race from Falmouth (UK) to Lisbon, where it came 7th
out of 20 in its category, and the race from Vigo (Spain) to Dublin (Ireland),
where it took 11th place. In 2000 Havelka acquired a new boat and
entered the ‘Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race 2000‘, whose patrons are Queen
Elizabeth II, King Juan Carlos of Spain, the Dutch Queen Beatrix and the Italian
President Oscar Scalforo. Havelka‘s new boat, the 12.2 metre HEBE III, sails
under the Czech flag, and has the identification number CZE 103 on the sails.
This boat has won the famous ‘TALLSHIPS 2000‘ race four times, even in the
difficult conditions on the Atlantic with strong competition from countries with
long sailing traditions, such as England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the
USA. Every year Havelka competes in international races, in 2002 in the European
Championships and the World Sailing Championships.
Younger members of the ČYK are also active in sea yachting. In September
2000, a Czech crew won the Austrian sea yachting Championships on the Adriatic.
Three juniors from the ČYK were part of the winning crew of five.
The ČYK today
Out of the 20 Prague yacht clubs, the ČYK, with its own volunteer
trainers, is the only club with training programmes for cadets. In winter, in
the interests of keeping fit and maintaining crew solidarity, training takes
place in school gymnasiums and swimming pools. During the yachting season, there
is training every Wednesday afternoon on the Vltava at Podolí .
This is close to the centre, yet in the scenic surroundings along the leafy
embankment at the Podolí
waterworks. Cadets and juniors compete in races on local lakes and reservoirs
nearly every week in the season. In summer, there are training camps for juniors
on lakes or on the sea, at Krk island in the Croatian club PLAV, which co-operates
with the ČYK. The priority in co-operating with clubs abroad is to promote
sporting activity and to encourage contact among young people from different
Club life continues all year round. Workshops are available for the
upkeep of the boats. Adults can become members of a crew, if they do not have
their own boat. If they do, they will find mooring facilities, winter storage
facilities, workshops, changing rooms with showers and hot water, refreshments,
and friends who can give assistance or advice about boats. They can even advise
on making preparations for a sea voyage. Members (and also the ČYK Seniorclub)
and their guest organisations (eg. Baltic Club through the Polish Institute,
Marathon, water scouts) hold meetings on the spacious veranda, which looks over
the river towards Hrad any,
or they can meet in the historical clubroom. Life in the club was not even
disrupted by the catastrophic floods of August 2002, which caused almost a
million crowns worth of damage. Thanks to the dedicated work of club members, a
damaged workshop and one floor of the boat house were back in working order from
the start of the season in 2003.
R. J. Holý, ČYK chairman (10.10.2003)
Translated by Eleanor Lurring
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