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By Katherine Stone

The Coast Mountain Range and the Insular Mountains that form Vancouver Island make it a truly unique geographical area. Generally it is a region of heavy precipitation, but the mild temperatures and long frost-free periods are the rule and that certainly doesn’t categorize it as Canadian.

Prior to the white seamen arriving in the area now known as the Uplands, some dozen or so native groups who all spoke Salish inhabited and played lacrosse on the sandy beaches that still remain on the coast from Sidney to Beecher Bay. These were coastal, seafaring tribes who always travelled by water, never land, and were, for the most part peaceful. Unbeknownst to them, King Charles II granted a charter to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670 to maintain a settlement and in exchange was given the rights to all the lands, rivers, other waters, and natural resources, which might be discovered beyond Hudson Strait.

According to G. Murdoch, the first known white seafarers who travelled to the area were on a boat captained by Charles Barkley who sailed between Vancouver Island and the Washington coast in 1787, naming the strait Juan de Fuca. The Spaniards sailed these waters over the next couple of years and met up with Captain George Vancouver (a British naval officer who was commissioned to survey the northwest coast) off what is now Point Grey in 1792. Captain Vancouver is the only person that is known to have circumnavigated the island that bears his name, however it is not certain that he ever stepped foot on the shores of Oak Bay, where Royal Victoria Yacht Club is located.

By the early 1800s, no boundary separated the British and American settlers. Fearful that a boundary would move increasingly northward, the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Victoria in 1843. By 1862, the city of Victoria was incorporated and the old fort later demolished. Sometime thereafter, the Company set up a farm and wharf some 4 km up the coast in Cadboro Bay where the present RVYC now stands, accommodating 17 employees and barns for livestock. Cadboro Bay received its name from the first Hudson’s Bay Company sailing vessel brought to the BC coast and to anchor in the harbour. Cadboro Bay is also the home of the mythical Cadborosaurus sea monster (nicknamed Caddy) often spotted in the area. It is said by witnesses to resemble a serpent with vertical coils or humps in tandem behind the horse-like head and long neck, with a pair of small elevating front flippers, and a pair of large webbed hind flippers fused to form a large fan-like tail. Yikes, these mythical creatures seem to abound in British Columbia…. around yacht clubs…. hummm.

We learn from the club’s website that round about 1888, a group of 11 yachtsmen organized the first BC yacht race to help commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday. It was a hit and even drew sailors from Puget Sound. Everyone was so delighted with the competition that in June 1892, forty-six yachtsmen wanted to extend the sailing season and formed the Victoria Yacht Club. They thought that a two-story clubhouse floating on pontoons would suit them just fine, until numerous times when they found it resting on the harbour floor! Word spread, more members wanted to join, and the yachtsmen were tired of fighting for space with the whalers and sealers. What to do?? The Uplands Corporation was building an upscale suburb in Oak Bay just 4 km away. Other planned communities had golf courses, so why couldn’t they persuade Uplands to marry the community with a yacht club…and so they did in 1910! A beautifully built clubhouse was constructed and officially opened in July 1913. King George V had already granted permission for the club to add Royal to their name in 1911 due to their exceptional growth and stature. The Club’s royal patron, HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York has made two official visits in recent times in 2003 and 2013.

The RVYC also organizes the Swiftsure International Yacht Race (http://ow.ly/sBLgK ) which has now become the largest annual offshore yacht racing event held in the Pacific Northwest and is the regular host of the annual Pacific International Yachting Association Regatta. They foster and promote sailing starting at a young age for members as well as non-members with approximately 300 children involved in the sailing school. They have had their members go on to compete and win medals in the Olympics, Vic-Maui race, Mallory Cup, Paralympics, world championships, and solo, non-stop, record-breaking, circumnavigations. They ensure that their members can become involved in the club, catering to memberships that are accommodating and affordable. Juniors can join from ages 8-18 years and Intermediate memberships have been extended to age 39, to help young sailors stay connected to the sport. There is also a Temporary/Trial membership to accommodate those who can’t quite make up their mind!

The Club has a long history of adapting to the member’s needs. In the Depression members could work off their dues performing maintenance chores. During WWII, almost 1/3 of the membership was serving overseas, so the senior members took on the task of organizing and patrolling the waters off Victoria for enemy submarines with club member’s boats painted grey. By 1962, due again to increased membership, more moorings were needed so the Tsehem Haven site was opened. In the 1970s, the boats still had to be hauled in the fall and launched in the spring, so a seawall was constructed to allow for safe, year-round moorings in 1972. In the early 2000s members could lease slips at Friday Harbour on San Juan Island, and then Long Harbour outstation on Salt Spring Island was purchased and opened in 2004. This was then followed by more leased slips at Shawl Bay in the Broughton Archipelago.

In the 1920s the boats of choice were Stars and International 14s, by the late 1940s the popular boats became Dragons, Lightnings, Snipes, and Six Metres.  Today you’ll see Cal 20s, 29ers, Martin 242s, Thunderbirds, Lasers, Optimists, and Mini 12s. You say you don’t have a boat and don’t know what to buy? The club owns many types of boats that can be leased. Sunday afternoons in the summer from 11-3:00 is Fun Sail. You can rent by the day, event, or racing series. An Optimist goes for only $10 and a club 420 for $20. Martin 242s, Cal 20s, and the Min12 (a miniature 12 m boat steered with foot pedals) are also available for hire. Not into sailing? RVYC understands and promotes the use and rental of kayaks and paddle boards. Power boats are also actively involved with out-and-out speed races, predicted-log racing and extensive cruising, especially in the inland waterways.

Mike Turner, a national sailing judge, joined the club as a junior in 1976. His parents had a boat and they spent their summer holidays in the Gulf Islands. Mike would get in his dinghy and sail around while they were cruising. Friends suggested to his parents that he join RVYC as a junior. Mike has never looked back, and his own son has gone through the sailing program and is now a certified instructor teaching at RVYC. He noted that RVYC is now the premier Disabled Sailing Centre for Canada with a dozen skuds and 2.4s. “It’s a friendly sailing club in one of the most beautiful areas of the world with great food and beverages.”

More recently, John Abel (Senior National Race Officer and course conductor) and his wife Judith joined in 1984. They both feel that RVYC is the best competitive sailing club, but that they are sensitive to the members’ needs. Extending the Intermediate membership to 39 has allowed their son to keep sailing and buy his own boat. “Now the young people are staying and bringing their friends which is a great revival and bar business has also increased. Two days prior to Opening Day, someone had taken the rudder off his boat. So my son built himself a new one from 2x4s. All the old salts around the Club put their 2 cents in for advice and he got it to work and sail for Opening Day.” Now that’s what I’d call a community of sailors.

An event always planned for early in December is the Sea of Lights. More than 2,000 people have lined Willows Beach and Gyro Park to watch the superbly-decorated HMCS Oriole lead the parade of gaily-lit boats. Crews and observers are asked to donate foodstuffs to the Salvation Army and it's now become a key Christmas season starter and community service event for Victoria.

Sounds like this yacht club has a lot happening and maybe you would like to join them, as I’m sure that you’ll find some water activity that will interest you, along with some great camaraderie.  Who knows, you might even spot Caddy!

Visit www.CanadianYachting.ca for more photos of the RVYC and other Yacht Club and Marina reviews.

Royal Victoria Yacht Club – Cadboro Bay - 3475 Ripon Road; Victoria, BC - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.       

Royal Victoria Yacht Club – Tsehum Haven - 2001 Swartz Bay Road; Sidney, BC - Or visit their website at www.rvyc.bc.ca

Photo 1: Sailpast Opening Day 2012 - Flying colours coming in the breakwall erected in 1972

Photo 2: Front of the RVYC clubhouse at Cadboro Bay

Photo 3: HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York at official visit to RVYC June 16, 2013

Photo 4: Royal Victoria YC clubhouse circa 1920’s

Photo 5: Boats nestled nicely in the harbor

Photo 6: Main Clubhouse in Cadboro Bay on Opening Day 2012