Gulf Yacht Club

Boat Makers With Their Boats


By Katherine Stone

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” 

― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Back to the days when most sailors made their boats in their garages, backyards, or basements, because that would have been the only way that they could procure a boat of any type. Boaters of yore were hardy folk who endured sleeping on floor boards in open boats with very little shelter, no boat cushions, cotton sails that never dried out and often succumbed to mildew, a hand compass and line of sight was used to navigate, no GPS or chart plotters, and their idea of a head was a bucket, if you were lucky.

This is how many of the first members of the Gulf Yacht Club recount their childhood and early adult years. Sadly, for many of them, they are wistful when recounting stories of the “good old days” when cruises weren’t planned… you got on the phone and called someone, who called someone else through the telephone chain and everyone magically arrived at the chosen destination. The bulk of the sailors that eventually formed the Gulf Yacht Club were from Kitsilano Sailing Club; a club organized for racing. Others wanted to spend their boating time exploring the British Columbia coast with its many inlets, bays, and islands, so decided to form another type of sailing club.

Canada Bday CelebrationUnofficial club historian, Doug Macleod, took it upon himself to interview eight long-time members who came up with some amazing stories, along with fabulous accounts of the club’s beginnings. According to long time members, Phill and Nancy Little, who are still very active members, their goal was to support affordable sailboat cruising. There would be no clubhouse or docks. On April 5, 1965, the inaugural meeting of the Gulf Yacht Club was held at Peter Bold’s Dance Studio. To qualify for membership an individual needed to skipper a cruising sailing yacht across the Gulf and back, with an overnight stop-over. With that one rule, the Gulf Yacht Club was born. Many of the club’s founders never actually qualified for membership. But, because they felt the concept was at the heart of the club, they voted for rules that disqualified themselves!

The GYC’s first cruise included seven boats in the spring of 1965 that sailed across the Strait of Georgia to Pirate’s Cove on De Courcy Island. Phill and Nancy weren’t on that cruise, as they didn’t have a sailboat at the time. So, what did Phill do? He built a Rover 22 in his backyard, of course! Born Free was launched in May 1968. Phill did his crossing shortly thereafter, becoming Gulf Sailor 81, with Nancy close behind becoming Gulf Sailor 98. In fact, women sailors have always had a strong presence in the club. Of the first 100 members, five were women who had skippered a boat across the strait and back to qualify.

Commox Appie GatheringBrian Sigsworth and his wife, Lenora, became members soon after this inaugural cruise. “Today, joining the club requires filling out a form and signing a cheque. It was not so simple in the early days, a sailor had to qualify to join. A hopeful member needed to keep a log and navigate across the Strait and back. A completed form was required with signatures, collected at several locations along the way, verifying the authenticity of the voyage,” recounted Brian, Gulf Yacht Club member 22.

Once people join the club they tend to stay involved for a very long time. Don and Laura McLeod loved the club but were faced with a tough decision. They decided to sell their sailboat and buy a powerboat, which would have made them ineligible for membership in the GYC. So many loyal friendships had been created with the couple that the constitution was changed at the Annual General Meeting to state that members who had joined as sailors could continue as associates if they moved over to the dark side and bought a powerboat.

From all this evolved Vancouver’s south coast build-and-sail fellowship of the 1960s. It wasn’t a hobby, it was a way of life, with friendships that were formed and have lasted decades. As recalled by Phill, “Everybody was helping everybody. Sailors often dropped in on a fellow boatbuilder to check on construction or lend a hand. We couldn’t wait to finish our boats, so we could join in with the gang.”

Phill spoke of, “Frequent raft-ups where we’d sing until the wee hours. The traditional GYC Labour Day Salmon Barbeque started at Pirate’s Cove. The cooks lit briquets in tiny caves on the east side of the spit giving the salmon a wonderful smoky flavour. Entertainment at cruises was elaborate including sing-a-longs, skits, and comedy routines. One time the women produced a fashion show using men as models on a makeshift catwalk.”

Hiking Group SmugglersThere was more than one mis-adventure for many of the members in those early days of “rafting up” when they arrived at a destination. “Tying up to docks was considered expensive so early Gulf sailors anchored, but now, club rendezvous are usually at marinas. Early cruises were always an adventure. Organization was spontaneous, boats just showed up and cruises were more like hippy happenings. You walked to shore along the log booms in West Bay. There were always people who fell in. It was lots of fun,” commented Phill.

Brian recounts a story that the club cruises used to tie up at the Anglican Church docks. After several misadventures that might have entailed too many adult beverages and the docks tearing away from their pilings, the church finally made the boats all set an anchor and stern tie to the docks.

Three other members – Cam Shields, Tom Shenton and Don McLeod – were adamant that socializing was at the heart of the club, coupled with “appy hours”, kayak and dinghy competitions, potluck dinners, paper boat and airplane building, Easter bonnet parades, goofy games like boot and fender tosses, egg tosses, and stumbling through the bushes on a scavenger hunt. The formal club schedule of 10 cruises a year and monthly meetings every third Monday of the month from September to June at the Vancouver Maritime Museum gives new members more confidence to expand their cruising experience and develop sailing skills.

In fact, the best part of the monthly meetings is the socializing! Everyone gets to the meetings early so that they have time to chat and catch up on the latest news. Of course, the business part of the meeting with reports and motions has to be accomplished, albeit quickly, so that they can get back to socializing and the presentations. Engaging topics such as marine mammals, nautical history, maintenance, sailing skills, nautical life, and exotic destinations just might be on the agenda. With speakers from UBC, Environment Canada, Vancouver Aquarium, Disabled Sailing and the marine industry there’s something for everyone.

Hippies Victoria DayClub members all agree that the pool of knowledge, experience, and skills is a huge benefit and sharing has always been another important part of the club since the beginning. Commodore John Dixon is quick to say that, “Our members can recommend an anchorage in some obscure place, help you rebuild the transmission in your boat, or share the best fishing spots.”

Any new sailor learns quickly that boats require maintenance, which is part and parcel of boat ownership. Gulf sailors are happy to help out and share their knowledge of mechanical or electrical workings, rigging, boatwright questions, and even varnishing problems. Cam Shields smiled and pointed out that there is one exception, “If you have a clogged head, you’re on your own. No one will help you with that!”

Kayak RaceWhy do Gulf Yacht Club members love their club so much? There is little doubt that the initiation fee of $50 and annual dues of $150 are bargains, but the value of membership is priceless. The members enjoy getting together with people who share a love of sailing and cruising. The activities have made it easier for couples to sail together and the whole family can take part in everything. You know that if you are anchored in some bay and you see another boat displaying the GYC burgee you will be invited for a cold drink and enjoyable conversation. As Don has put it so well, “Networking, stimulating presentations, helping hands, and exciting cruises make the Gulf Yacht Club special. Friendliness, ranging from a welcoming spirit to relationships lasting decades, has created a vibrant and loyal membership of over 100 boaters.”

Gulf Yacht Club
Vancouver Maritime Museum
1905 Ogden Avenue
Vancouver, BC V6J 1A2

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