On Deck: Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club
June 7, 2022
The Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club in Toronto is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2022. “On Deck” discussion with Past Commodores Rick Humphrey and Carolyn Weckesser. Weckesser is also the Chair of the 90th Anniversary Celebration Committee.
Happy anniversary to the Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club! What have you planned to celebrate the occasion?
We formed an organizing Committee of Members who have planned three significant signature events, including a night of history through readings, skits, songs and slides, a weekend of events in June coinciding with our annual Sail Past celebration, and concluding with a weekend of heritage-inspired events in September. These three events are being planned on top of an ambitious schedule of regattas, cruises, club racing and education programs for youth and adults, all with a celebratory anniversary flair!
How did your Club start out in 1932?
In the words of our first Commodore, Archie Walker: “a bunch of us used to hang around Humphrey’s Boat Yard in the early 1920s, and I guess it was about 1931 before someone suggested that we form a yacht club. There were four of us and we had a meeting to talk about our plans. They elected me Commodore – why? I’ll never know! – and our first official clubhouse was my dad’s boathouse on Eastern Avenue.”
In 1936, the clubhouse, which had been trucked to the club grounds, was opened officially on a site just north of our current Club and boats were hauled at the Club for the first time in 1938.
Over these 90 years, what have been the highlights throughout the Club’s history?
The 90-year history of Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club is a tale of continuous growth and a commitment to offer the very best of sailing and boating in Toronto, as well as to advance watersports in its broadest sense.
The Club was formed in 1932 to help organize modest sailing regattas for local sailors as a way of getting some respite from the worsening economic times of the Great Depression.
Being a leader in the sailing community is a role ABYC has always aspired to fulfill. Whether it has been as a host of a wide range of local, regional or national regattas, in the formation of the Lake Ontario Cruising Club Association (LOCCA), sustaining a commitment to youth and adult sail training or offering innovative access programs such as the cooperative sailing, padding or paddle boarding memberships, ABYC can generally be found among the “first to the mark”.
How many members does your Club have and what are the categories?
Senior and Life Members: 298
Associate/Crew Members: 360
Junior Members: 44
What kind of programming do you offer?
ABYC offers a range of programs to appeal to a wide variety of sailing, boating and watersports enthusiasts of all ages.
Programs include a fulsome club racing program for keelboats and sailing dinghies.
For cruising sailors, we organize formal and informal reciprocal cruises across Lake Ontario. For youth, we operate a Junior Sailing School that offers CanSail programs at all levels. Our junior race teams are represented in almost every active dinghy class and they compete at the local, regional, national and international levels.
For non-boat owning members, we offer cooperative dinghy and keelboat programs as a way for new sailors to enjoy and continue to build their skills through access to club-owned keelboats and dinghies.
On the Adult Education front, we run courses on a year-round basis, both off and on the water, starting with the Adult Learn-to-Sail and Basic Cruising courses.
Recently, ABYC opened membership to the paddle board, kayak and paddling community, offering benefits of membership to a new group of watersports enthusiasts including access to the waterfront, as well as onsite launching and storage facilities.
What kind of services do you offer?
ABYC has a gas dock with pump out, diesel, and gas. The clubhouse has a restaurant with a varied menu serving member dining, race nights, as well as numerous regatta and social events occurring throughout the year for both club members and outside organizations. The Club also has a marine railway for members in case emergency repairs are needed, as well as park areas and decks for social activities.
Do you stage any races? If so, what kind and how many in a normal year?
ABYC has a vibrant racing club schedule and will run over 50 keelboat and dinghy races this season, including both course and coastal races on weekdays (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) and weekends.
The two Family Races are designed to encourage members to race with members of their family, regardless of age or racing experience, and they provide an excellent opportunity to try racing while enjoying low-stress competition in a fun and friendly environment.
The Club hosts its Annual Open and One Design Regatta in May, and this season it will also host the ILCA Masters/and ILCA Canadian Championships, J-fest and Seahorse Youth Regattas.
ABYC is noted for its willingness to host events such as LYRA, class and junior regattas, and it contributes Race Officers, Race Committees, equipment and boats for regattas around the lake. Among the ABYC membership, there are a number of certified race officials including National and International Judges.
Are there any other interesting initiatives your Club has developed through the years that could inspire others?
The Cooperative Sailing program, which was launched in 2004, has been an unqualified success for ABYC and has inspired newly-certified adult sailors to continue to explore the sport, as well as build and practice their skills through access to a club-owned fleet of keelboats and dinghies.
The co-op members contribute to the physical maintenance of the fleet through a mentorship program. This means that the co-op members are continuing to both build their sailing skills, while at the same time learning about boat ownership and maintenance tasks. A good number of sailors who started with the co-op program have stayed with the sport, and have gone on to become boat owners, lifelong sailors and contributing members to the ABYC and broader sailing community.
Have you developed any interesting partnerships with your community?
Recently, ABYC entered into a partnership with the Broad Reach Organization. This group’s mandate is to introduce keelboat sailing to young people who would not normally have access to sailing. Diversity and inclusivity are at the core of the purpose of this group. A keelboat will be moored at ABYC to support their programming and a special membership category will be created to enable members of this group to be part of our community. We hope to partner with this group with our Junior Sailing School, which will be part of our upcoming Adventure Sailing program in 2023.
In addition, ABYC has developed a longstanding relationship with Toronto’s Eastern Beaches area through its participation in the community’s Annual Easter Parade.
The Club has consistently provided spaces in our Junior Sailing School for children who are at a disadvantage financially and we can note a relationship with Centre 55 in Toronto.
How did you manage to get through the pandemic?
As is the case with all organizations during the pandemic, ABYC had to pivot to alternative programming or scheduling to serve members. Our launch dates were delayed twice and our launch and haul out procedures were adapted to a smaller work crew and to alterations to equipment. And of course, there were reduced services available.
Having noted that, our club members were able to communicate through Zoom for meetings and socials, and club newsletters. Our club house food and beverage services were modified with all safety precautions in place and we developed a well-subscribed takeout service.
Despite the pandemic, for the past two seasons we were able to offer club series racing, a couple of regattas and an extensive Junior Sailing School.
Most notably, ABYC was able to complete a major harbour improvement and dock upgrade, an expansion and replacement project that has seen the harbour transformed to almost exclusively floating docks that can host 292 keelboats, all during the pandemic.
In a way, it was an exciting time!
What makes the Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club unique?
ABYC’s vision statement is to offer the very best of sailing and boating in Toronto, where anyone can escape and share their passion for adventures on the water.
Our values include being friendly, open and welcoming, inclusive and diverse. These values are realized through a long-term commitment to creating an environment in which everyone is welcome and the whole family can enjoy the facilities and programs.
On a historical note, ABYC was established at the height of the Great Depression. From its early days, and out of necessity in those hard times, an ethic of voluntary labour from members, in place of high fees, was a founding principle. To this day, ABYC is an “All Hands On Deck” organization with members being involved in all aspects of the Club’s programming and operations, supported by a small professional staff. That feeling of a “can-do” spirit is still alive even though we are now a sizeable club with added expectations from its members. Volunteerism is embedded in our nature!