St. Margaret Sailing Club

To all those volunteers who came together to make something happen from small beginnings: this story will sound very familiar.

“On a cold Sunday morning, sometime in the middle of the winter of 1956, a group of gentlemen met and laid the plans for what was to become the St. Margaret Sailing Club (SMSC) in Nova Scotia. It was led by a man who was later to become the first commodore, Dr. Arthur Murphy. At the time, the head of St. Margaret’s Bay (Schooner Cove) was the cottage area for Greater Halifax,” reminisces Lee Myrhaugen, past commodore from 2001–2003. Lee’s father-in-law, Dr. Baker, would get together with Dr. Murphy and grumble about the increased noise in the bay. It seems one youngster would get a 2-1/2 hp motor, and the lad next door, who couldn’t be outdone, had to get a 3 hp motor. Before you knew it, the racket in the bay became deafening….What were they to do? This present condition just couldn’t go on…they had to find a quieter alternative for the youngsters…sailboats! They needed to find some at a reasonable cost, start a sailing club to keep the young’uns occupied and cause them to shut down their motors. Then everyone could get back to the tranquility they once had in the bay.

Lee remembers the story of the best buy they could find: a boat built in England, a Fleetwind, that was made out of Mahogany plywood, with jib and mainsail, required two to operate, could tip, but was easy to right because of floatation tanks, and was affordable. But how would they get them to Canada? As only senior citizens could do, they found out that the newly commissioned Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Bonaventure was making her maiden voyage from Plymouth to Halifax — so they arranged to have them transported from England aboard the warship. As the warship entered Halifax Harbour, the crew were delighted that so many senior citizens came out to welcome the navy, not knowing, of course, that they were only there to ensure that their 12 dinghies arrived safe and sound!

Later, three more dinghies were made by Wilfred Covey, of Hackett’s Cove, to bring the fleet up to 15 boats. Sadly, Lee tried to track down one of the original vessels for the SMSC’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2007, but couldn’t locate one. He did find the boat shed where they were built, but alas, there were no diagrams or blueprints — back in the day, everything came from memory. In a sad, ironic twist of fate, when the Myrhaugens moved to St. Margaret’s Bay in 1972, a Fleetwind with hull number 315 was in the shed out back, but they sold it. Elise Doane was appointed historian for the 50-year celebration. She couldn’t have any dinner parties because her dining room table was taken up for three years while she put together scrap books of the club covering the last 50 years in pictures and mementos.

It was never intended that the club would own property. In August 1958, it was thought best to organize themselves as an out port of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. Every year, a committee would organize and decide whose property was to be used for events and hoist the club burgee on the flagstaff of the member hosting the affair, ricocheting from property to property around the bay. Lee called it, “Very cozy, friendly, kitchen party-ish,”…Hmm…must be a St. Margaret’s Bay term! The SMSC Future Development Plan noted that, “The Junior Sail Program was conducted mainly from the Sunnywood Community Wharf, and from the docks of a number of very generous SMSC members. In an effort to locate a more suitable location, the Junior Sail Program was then moved to Ant Island, and then to Dockside Marina (now Shining Waters Marine).” Rexanne and Tony Lugar’s property was Sunnywood — where the sailing school started. They were a driving force behind many of the Sunfish regattas. Rexanne tallied the results of the regatta on huge boards so everyone could see the outcome of every race. Their daughter, Judy, was a former 470 world champion. Danielle Dube (2012 Olympian in Radials) and Glen Dexter (former Soling Olympian and world champion) also hail from St. Margaret Sailing Club.

Larry Doane remembers that Ant Island was provincial land, so the club leased it to run the sailing school. The kids had to sail or row their dinghies to get to the island. John Moore made a deal, buying a truckload of eight-foot railway ties. He would tie 20 of them together and drag them with his 7 hp tender to the island where the dads worked in their spare time. Over a two-year period, they built a crib around the island to prevent erosion. Then they built a shed the kids would use on rainy days and to store boats in the winter. The sad thing is that some neighbours complained about the noise (kids make noise?), and before you could make a pot of chowder, the clubhouse was actually airlifted off the island by a helicopter and they lost their lease.

Elise and Larry Doane, who moved to the bay in 1971, had a big wharf, so the sailing school ended up on their property too. Elise can remember spending countless hours mending cuts and scrapes. She also ran a canteen and served up chowder suppers to members. One particularly hot summer, their chowder, which they stored in the basement of the cottage, went bad. The pot, intended to feed 100 sailors, was literally seething when they went to heat it up. What were they to do? Someone donated a case of corn, others gave potato soup. With carnation milk and improvisation with spices and onions, they came up with an even more delicious result than the Galley Guys. The Doanes were pretty excited about this regatta, because all of their four children could sail in it — the children later grew up and became sailing instructors there. At one time there were seven Doane grandchildren taking lessons at the club. This past summer, one of those grandchildren was a sailing instructor. Most of their current instructors have graduated from the SMSC and come back and even risen to the ranks of commodore.

The area started to grow with more people moving into French Village and Mariner’s Anchorage. Steve Perrott, Immediate Past Commodore, remembers that, “There was a developer at Mariner’s Anchorage who offered them a piece of land to put up a clubhouse in 1994. This would make his development swankier and he gave it to them for free.” This moved the area of operations from the headland more into the bay. A $450,000 Capital Campaign was launched in the fall of 1994 called, “A Home for our Club.” Darned if those Senior citizens didn’t get involved again and the goal was reached on April 21, 1995. The following spring, the famous ceramic tile, “Compass Rose,” was installed in the entrance floor. By 1997, the 50-foot wharf was completed and in 1998, windows and baseboards made the finishing touches.

A new sailing centre, completed before the Laser Worlds in 2009, is now located to the east of the clubhouse and was a financial collaboration between SMSC and the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic. It also serves as one of the Atlantic training bases for the Canadian sailing and NS sailing teams.

Commodore Myrhaugen remembers that, “There was a strong debate that there wasn’t enough room in the bay for a marina and a sailing club. Then the club members finally came to the realization that although there were two venues, there was indeed room for both. SMSC was small enough that they would still be intimate and maintain their down home kitchen party venues.” In that same year, Lee designated a gentleman (the current commodore, Rod Miller) as the long range regatta planner so that SMSC could become a great regatta club. After all, St. Margaret’s Bay was the first bay south of Halifax Harbour, which was a large bay with open water where you could almost guarantee a 2 p.m., 15–20 knot SW breeze, unlike Mahone Bay which has 365 islands creating wind effects which favoured local boats. They set out with a goal to have a major regatta every year: Worlds, Worlds Masters, and Canadian Championships.

“One of our main goals is to grow the member units,” comments VC House, Warren Nethercote (who also happens to be an International sailing judge). “This year we introduced a social membership for those people who have moved into the area but who do not have access to waterfront. Until a couple of years ago, the clubhouse was usually locked. The TGIF occasional co-operative gatherings have evolved to a more traditional BBQ night and the club now has a liquor licence.”

Sounds like the good ol’ kitchen parties have returned…. Why don’t you wander down to the coast and check it out? You might even end up becoming part of the family.

French Village Harbour, St. Margaret’s Bay, NS
Latitude: 44° 38.1′ N
Longitude: 63° 55.1′ W
Phone: 902-823-1089

Photo 1: It’s a handsome and accommodating clubhouse.

Photo 2: Check out the view at the Bay Wind Regatta with what looks like a million Juniors and sailboats all coming ashore at the same time!

Photo 3: Here is the 2012 Bay Wind Regatta with a 420 dinghy start.

By Katherine Stone

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