Meet Jay Dean

Rowing Commissioner, Dolphin Club San Francisco

The Dolphin Club is a nonprofit, public-access athletic organization that was founded in 1877 with a membership of about 1,100 individuals. Members can swim at Aquatic Park, row in the Bay and on Lake Merced, and utilize the facilities, which include boathouses, two lounge areas, a gym, and a flat-water rowing facility on Lake Merced in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

Sea: What boating facilities do you offer, and how can someone interested get started?
Jay: The members of the Dolphin Club (officially the Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club) have been swimming and rowing on San Francisco’s north shore, at what is now known as Aquatic Park, since 1877.

For the most part, the “boating” that we do is rowing in our unique fleet of classic, handmade Whitehall-style row boats, or in modern open-water rowing shells. We also have a number of kayaks and several outboard-powered craft, which are mainly used as safety pilots for our club swims.

Our rowing boats are all singles or doubles, except our historic, six-oared pilotgig, the John Wieland, which was built in 1887 and is still actively rowed.

Use of our boats and kayaks is limited to club members who have completed our certification process. Folks interested should investigate joining this special community of swimmers and rowers, by checking our web site and/or contacting the appropriate club officers by email (contact info at

What is Boat Night?
Anyone who has owned a wooden boat knows that the downside of these beautiful craft is the regular maintenance they require. The Dolphin Club fleet is tended in our on-site boat shop by our master boatwright, Jon Bielinski, several assistants and a small army of volunteers who collect every Tuesday evening to work on our boats under Jon’s direction, and then share a family-style meal in the boathouse.

Boat Night is a fun and social activity for our members and their guests, and an excellent time for visitors interested in small wooden boats to see the club, meet our people and even join in the shop work and dinner (come dressed for wood work!).

What’s the best part about the waters in the San Francisco Bay?
Aside from the spectacular city views, our rowers enjoy the ever-changing nature of the bay waters. The bay’s infamous tidal currents, winds and fog create a challenge for rowers and paddlers that assures you will never be bored on the bay. The bay is also a pretty big playground, with loads of room to roam and places to visit. And to watch the sun rise over San Francisco from a small boat is an unforgettable experience.

Could you talk more about what Viking-class wooden boats are and their history?
The original “Viking” is a racing gig, rowed by two, that was built in 1915 by two carpenters from the SF Cable Car barn. They rowed and raced the boat for about a decade before donating it to the Dolphin Club, and it remains active, and much loved, in our fleet. In the 1980s a boat builder named Jeremy Fisher Smith was engaged to replicate the Viking, eventually producing a series of doubles and single-rower variations for both the Dolphin Club and our neighbors at the South End Rowing Club.

What types of classes, equipment and services are offered?
The Dolphin Club is open to the public Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday on some months and just Tuesday and Thursday on others (check the club website), but only for swimming or use of our other exercise facilities (weight room and rowing machines). Our boats are not available for public use. Visitors using club facilities must sign a waiver and pay a $10 guest use fee. We have locker rooms, showers and saunas for both men and women. Our boating-related training program is available to members only.

Is there a marina nearby for boaters to moor and visit?
The club is on Jefferson Street, close by the Maritime National Historical Park on the Hyde Street Pier. The closest marinas are the Pier 39 Marina to our east and the San Francisco Marina (or Small Craft Harbor) to our west.