The History of Coyote Point
The area we now know as the Coyote Point Recreation Area, which includes the marina and the yacht club, has a long and storied history. Navigation charts from as early as 1810 label the area as San Mateo Point, or Punta de San Mateo, but for reasons unknown, the locals referred to the marshlands and their surrounding islands as “Coyote”; other names included “Coyote Hill,” “The Big Coyote,” or “The Coyote.” It may be difficult to think of Coyote Point as an island, but it once was, at least at high tide. In 1824, Captain Otto von Motzbue, a Russian officer of German descent, visited San Francisco. Needing provisions, he found that meat was readily available at the Presidio, or at Mission Dolores, but fruits or fresh vegetables would have to be obtained from Mission Santa Clara (now the site of Santa Clara University). Eager to explore the interior of the Bay, Captain Motzbue set sail from San Francisco. At noon, he arrived at a deep creek opening; the tide had ebbed, and the wind had died down, so the group proceeded via launch to a small island. “Its northern slope was tolerably high, and rose almost perpendicularly to the sea,” he wrote, “It soil consists…of a variegated slate, probably the foot of man has never trodden it.”
In the early years of the twentieth century, the land was owned by the Howard family. Al Cheetham (who would later become a commodore at the yacht club) became friends with the Howard boys, Frank and Lindsay, and after school, the boys would go to Coyote Point to fish, dig for clams, or to gather oysters. One of Mr. Howard’s employees was a man known simply as “Indian Joe,” who kept a strict watch against any trespassers. The boys would try to tell Joe that Frank’s father owned the property, but he would kick them out anyway. One day, when the boys were fishing just south of the present day yacht club, they heard gunfire and saw several men running away. The next weekend, the boys again heard gunfire; this time, the sheriff came, and a man was arrested for stealing Joe’s belongings from the shack where he lived on the southwest side of the Eucalyptus grove. As it turned out, the “bad guys” were laborers from the PG&E plant, who knew exactly when Joe would be gone. The boys asked Joe if he really fired his gun at people, to which Joe replied, “Oh no–just in the air over their heads!”
In 1940, San Mateo County purchased about 50 acres of reclaimed land west of the Coyote Point Knoll; this purchase included a small, natural harbor which had long been an anchorage for small boats and also provided a meeting place for what the county labeled”a loose association of boaters [who call themselves] ‘the Coyote Point Yacht Club.'”The group was officially incorporated on July 20, 1941, and Coyote Point Yacht Club was born.
Early in World War II, the United States found that they needed many new officers for the merchant marine, so a Merchant Maritime Academy was established at Coyote Point. A deep-water channel was dredged on the east side of the point, with the dredge-spoils forming the center berm that separates the two basins of the harbor. Thanks to the presence of the Merchant Marine and their large training vessel, the harbor channel was kept well dredged. At this same time, the county began installing pilings and floats to form rudimentary docks; the local boat owners helped build a head float on logs overlain with planks, and the county soon began renting out slips, which boaters frequently modified to make their own finger floats.
After World War II, the Maritime Academy was decommissioned, and its facilities leased to the San Mateo Junior College (now College of San Mateo); a portion of the Academy’s practice mast still stands just west of the harbor master’s office. The College of San Mateo continued to operate on the premises until 1963, when it moved to its current location on the top of the hill.
The original Coyote Point burgee was designed in the 1940s, and made with scraps by Mary Ann Byrd and Janet Corbett. It consisted of a red, upper-half featuring the letter
“C” and a blue, lower-half, featuring a letter “P.” In 1996, Palo Alto Yacht Club’s facilities were destroyed in a fire, and members of both Palo Alto Yacht Club, and Coyote Point Yacht Club, agreed to merge. The burgee design we fly today was originally that of the Palo Alto Yacht Club; it was accepted by both clubs and symbolized the merging of our clubs on June 17, 1997. We are especially proud that the union of these two clubs continue the legacy as the oldest yacht club on the San Mateo peninsula.
“The art of the sailor is to leave nothing to chance.”
-Annie Van De Wiele