Since its establishment over 40 years ago, the Guelph Community Boating Club has hosted regattas and other events for sailors of all ages and abilities in a quiet, tucked away corner of Guelph Lake.
This year is no different, as the pandemic has prompted many sailors to hone their skills on the water, including those in the Learn to Sail program for youth.
“It’s great that we’ve been able to stay open and welcome our members and kids back to the club. Utilization of our facilities has just been way up,” said Adam Wright, the commodore of the GCBC.
An avid sailor, he has been involved with the club since 2012 and recently took on the role of commander-in-chief.
The club was founded in 1978 by a group of local sailors, whose names are now emblazoned on a memorial post that overlooks the northeastern point of the lake. One of the founders and long-time members, Mark Parkinson, was named 'Honourary Commodore For Life' before he passed away last year.
The GCBC officially opened in May, and it has been able to continue successfully operating its ‘Learn to Sail’ program by implementing a number of safety measures including colour-coded masks for each cohort of sailors, multiple sanitation stations, designated washrooms and strict physical distancing guidelines. The program is almost entirely booked for the remainder of the summer.
The GCBC is a volunteer-run entity with no running water or electricity, which members say gives it character and a rustic charm. It’s also home to Canada’s largest Snipe fleet, which is a 15-foot, two-person racing boat used by world class and Olympic sailors.
“When it comes to racing with these types of boats, Guelph is it,” said Wright, noting that many club members and instructors are professional sailors and have competed and won championships nationally and internationally.
One of those sailors is Harri Palm, who has been involved with the club since 1981. He has lived and competed around the world, including in Finland and the Bahamas, before establishing the youth program in Guelph. He says it has grown tremendously over the years.
“With COVID, [participation] is exploding. Sailing is one of the few things they can do and it’s just a wonderful place to learn,” he said. “The club has a vibe that’s hard to duplicate. It keeps everything down to the bare essentials of what it’s about, which is boating and sailing.”
Palm’s late wife, Molly Kurvink, was also a devoted sailor and club member. She died in a tragic ice sailing accident on the lake in 2018. A celebration of her life was held at the club last year, and a small memorial display remains on the wall inside the club house.
Since its inception, the GCBC has hosted weekly races, which currently run every Tuesday evening. Wright says that the quality of the boats and the experience of many racers makes for an exciting, high-speed event that the public can come out and enjoy. And for those looking to learn how to sail, Wright emphasizes the club’s inclusiveness, saying the more experienced sailors “won’t let you win, but they’ll definitely give you pointers and help out where they can.”
On Aug. 9 the club will host its first regatta of the season -– a tradition that was delayed but not dampened by the pandemic. The event will include a ‘Sail Past’ - a ceremonial nautical tradition where sailors salute the Commodore before he inspects and approves the fleet. Then, sailors will compete in the ‘Commodore’s Cup’ race before capping off the day with a social mixer. Wright emphasizes that the regatta is a family affair, and he encourages anyone with an interest in the sport to come out and participate.
“I wanted to make the Sail Past and regatta more inclusive, so we’ve made it a tradition where anyone can take part and just have fun with it,” he said.
The GCBC is open to new and existing members until the end of the season in October. The club will also host the Canadian championships in September. To learn more, visit www.guelphboating.ca.