In October 1955 shortly after he moved from New York, Captain Walter Isbrandtsen wrote to a friend: “I have purchased a house in a small community on the New Jersey coast where I am gradually becoming active…in an organization known as Dads Incorporated…whose activities include a newly established program designed to take full advantage of a neighboring river….” Captain Isbrandtsen organized the family-oriented sailing group and became the first Skipper of River Rats.
The first sailing classes were held on shore, and led to boat building project in order to sail on the river. Twenty-one Indian Scout sailboat kits were purchased and assembled by members; both children and parents working together. River Rats celebrated its first summer of sailing with a party and the presentation of two awards: The Captain Ed Little Award to the child most embodying a spirit of helpfulness, cooperation and enthusiasm; The Mayor’s Award to the child with the greatest all-around achievement and improvement. These two awards are presented every year.
One early base for River Rats was a 111 foot barge. Isbrandtsen had it towed from New York Harbor, and anchored it about 300 feet off the Fair Haven public dock. The barge had the approval of the borough’s council and the New Jersey Bureau of Navigation, but prompted vigorous opposition from adjacent homeowners. Christened the Pied Piper, it was converted for the club’s use with storage space for boats and recreational facilities. On October 7, 1959, it broke loose from its 4,000-pound mooring (despite a new anchor chain), drifted across the river, and ran aground on the Middletown shore. Isbrandtsen moved the Pied Piper to winter storage, as the state revoked its mooring permit. It was sold and the club was without a home base for a while.
River Rats, Inc. was formally incorporated in 1960 as a volunteer, non-profit educational organization, and continued to maintain sailing programs. The present property at the foot of Battin Road was purchased in early 1961. With its new property, River Rats, Inc. was able to continue and grow its sailing program to the point where nearly one hundred children are instructed each year in the art of sailing and a love of the water.
A photo-montage of earlier River Rats:
Photo 1 – The Mona before her transformation into a boat club.
Photo 2 – An August 1982 sailing event.
Photo 3 – A rigging lesson (date unknown).
Photo 4 – The Pied Piper.