Birth of an Inclusive and Accessible Sailing Club

Once upon a time there was nothing….. an embankment, a dozen or so yards of undeveloped land, and a shoreline of shallow, very exposed water on the Ottawa River. That was the beginning of the Nepean Sailing Club: no breakwater, no docks, no clubhouse, no yacht basin… and this is where the story began.

In December of 1978 “three guys from Harlowe Avenue”; Bill Mantle, Jim Leeson, and Keith Cattell, organized a Community Sailing meeting because they were tired of waiting around for the Nepean City Council to develop a marina. The council thought that boaters were just people who sat around on their yachts and drank martinis and they didn’t want to be associated with that image.

The “three guys” rallied the community and decided to immediately establish a sailing club. “These efforts soon paid off. Less than a month later, on January 9, 1979, the Nepean Council voted 7-0 to commit $90,000 toward the construction of a ‘sailing marina’ on the Ottawa River… the facility would be run by the recently formed Nepean Sailing Club (NSC), ” recalled Michael McGoldrick.

When the ribbon was finally cut, on July 29, 1979 there were 120 families signed on (350 people) who paid an annual membership fee of $50/family or $25/senior. Bill Mantle was elected the very first commodore, many say because he had by far the most experience of anyone in mooring a boat in Graham Bay! You could land a dry sail spot for $30 and a dandy swing mooring for $40. The only draw back of the swing mooring was that when a strong wind came up, you had to run down to the club and check to see that your boat wasn’t bouncing along the rocks. You also had to figure out how to get back to shore, especially if you didn’t swim! One of those early members, Roberta Hayley, remembers sometimes hearing distant voices in the evening hours calling, “Could somebody come and get me?”

Members thought they had died and gone to heaven when the black plastic dock (which was constructed in the City of Nepean’s workshops) was completed and anchored in the harbour. They now had somewhere to land their dinghies and tenders.

By 1983 the breakwater was largely completed and the dry sail compound was in place. They dredged the harbour and put the soil in the compound so that the bottom of the harbour became the top of the dry sail area. This all took a lot of hard work and that year symbolized the coming of age for this small community sailing club. But as we all know, the hard work is always followed by a social gathering that ranged from BBQs to pizza parties where the beer flowed, songs were sung, and everyone had a great time.

Today, the club boasts over 1,000 members and hundreds of boats that pour out of the basin during the summer to enjoy the water. Located in a corner of Graham Bay at Dick Bell Park on Lac Deschenes in the Ottawa River, the Nepean Sailing Club in Nepean, Ontario has made it easy for Nepean residents to have convenient access to the Ottawa River.

The current Commodore, Peter Bradley, has initiated and led extensive discussions with the board and club members to come up with a vision and mission statement. Their four Pillars of Success focus on Racing & Cruising, Sail Training, Membership Services, and Facilities which are all laid out on their website at . This wonderful foresight will bode the club well as they expand and improve their present facility in the years to come.

NSC has some very unique programs that have made them distinctive among other sister sailing clubs. Probably number one in the eyes of many is the support and sailing facilities that it offers to persons in the National Capital Region with disabilities. Their clubhouse is fully accessible and there has been a transfer lift installed on the dock. These facilities allow a person with any disability to experience freedom in the club’s sailboats that are designed for independent sailing. Their commitment to sailors with disabilities is paramount. As Wendy Zatylny, director of the club’s PR points out, “We are proud to host the Mobility Cup in the summer of 2012. NSC is a centre of excellence for able sailing in Ontario, and our sailors regularly compete in international regattas such as Miami OCR.”

The club is open year round, which helps to keep the sailing community together. There are Friday night buffet dinners with a band, a Winter Speaker’s Series (which has featured such notable sailors as Derek Hatfield, Diane Reid and Paul Henderson), David Searle’s racing seminars, and a francophone mini-series. Once the summer starts there is the June Nepean One-Design Regatta (NOD) which is rapidly becoming a North American success story for dinghies as well as keelboats. Their Easter Seals Regatta has raised 25% of Ottawa Easter Seals’ financial needs for the year.

When there isn’t a social event going on in the winter, the gang shows up on the shoreline to sail. Sail, you say, in the winter, in Ottawa?? Are you crazy.. It’s Ottawa, the water is frozen!! If you are an ice boater, then that’s perfect!

“When the ice is right and the wind is up, just come down and go sailing. And when you want to warm up, you can sail right up to the bar and have a drink,” exclaims ice boating enthusiast, Hugh Morrin. He tries to get his ice reports posed in a timely manner, but sometimes he doesn’t have time because he’s too busy iceboating.

But what if you don’t know how to sail?  NSC has one of the largest sailing clubs in Canada, based on membership numbers and boat count. You can do a week long “wet feet” camp for 6-8 year olds, high performance racing for 15-19 year olds, and offered for the first time this summer, is adventure sailing where participants will learn how to plan a sailing camping trip. “They will sail from the club and either picnic or camp out overnight on one of the islands upriver,” enthuses Hugh McGugan, the NSC Youth/Learn- to-Sail Director.

Don’t have a boat to sail? Members can access a sailboat without spending the time and money associated with boat ownership in the “Sail Share Program”.

Probably the most unique event of the summer is the “Bring on the Bay Swim”. All you have to do is swim across Britannia Bay from the Nepean Sailing Club to the Britannia Yacht Club. There are over 400 swimmers who compete in this milestone on the competitive swim circuit.

This is a club that is very much volunteer-driven, with over 15,000 hours of volunteer time put in to run the club, launch and haul out boats, maintain the pavilions and the grounds, and run the evening races and numerous regattas. Wendy put it well when she said, “Ultimately, we’re about extreme volunteerism, kick-ass regattas, and contributing to the community of both sailors and the community at large. We’re a thriving and dynamic club, and we have a lot to be proud of.”

I think they do too. Drop by and visit and maybe you too, will want to join in!

Nepean Sailing Club
3259 Carling Avenue
Nepean, Ontario

By Kate Stone

Photo Captions:

1. The Nepean Sailing clubhouse from the water on a calm evening.
2. Learn to sail starting out in the calm harbour let’s adults be kids!

3. Sailors with disabilities preparing to board with the hoist.