By Katherine Stone

Kelowna Yacht Club on Okanagan Lake in British Columbia, Now 1,000 Slips

Who doesn’t love the folklore and myth of sea monsters? Some say it’s the fodder for ancient sailing logs and others fill story books with these mysterious creatures. Ogopogo, also called Naitaka the lake demon, makes its home in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia where legend tells of first sightings by the First Nations peoples. The first white settlers were not fussed by this superstitious lore until the first recorded sighting by Mrs. John Allison in 1872. To this day, the sightings persist with consistent reports of a creature some 20 to 50 feet long, with a horse shaped head and an undulating serpent like body! Okanagan Lake is deep and about 130 km long by 4-5 km wide, but the monster appears to favour an area just south of Kelowna. This, my friends, sets the stage to uncover that gem of a boating destination, Kelowna Yacht Club.

This beautiful location, set in the southern interior of British Columbia, is home to short, cold, cloudy winters which are excellent for skiing at nearby Big White and Silver Star resorts. Not wonderful conditions for ice boating though, as the last time that the lake completely froze over was in the winter of 1986.Their long, hot, dry, bug-free, sunny summer climate is actually classified as semi-arid and supports the conditions for award winning vineyards and lazy afternoons on the lake enjoying the sandy beaches and warm sparkling waters, surrounded by the fruit orchards and ski mountains.

Originally, The First Nations peoples had migrated down from the north to enjoy this valley which provided deer, fish, roots and berries. Later, according to the historical records of 1811, David Stuart, working for the Pacific Fur Company, arrived at this beautiful valley. He then established the Brigade Trail through the valley to Kamloops to allow goods to come in and furs to go out. This paved the way for three hardy Oblate Missionaries to find their way there in October 1859 and establish their mission at a site they referred to as “L’Anse au Sable” (Bay of Sand). Settlers began arriving in 1879 and by 1892 the town site of Kelowna (which is the native word for Grizzly bear) was duly registered and laid out. In 1905 when the town was incorporated the population was recorded as 600. Today, the city has seen continuous growth as the largest city in the BC interior at close to 120,000 people.

The first boats were small cargo craft and then replaced by steam-driven sternwheelers. Canoes and rowboats were enjoyed by many to get out on the lake. The all-too-human nature of a race led to the first Kelowna Regatta in 1906 with canoe, rowboat, swimming and diving competitions. By the fall of 1945 a group of power boaters wanted people to start to enjoy the water and met to discuss the formation of a club. Industrious plans came to fruition, and the Kelowna Yacht Club was incorporated a year later in 1946, with protected moorage facilities and a boat launch ramp established in 1950. The old CKOV town radio station was purchased for $150 and moved to the KYC site in 1951 to become their new clubhouse. Many members had petitioned the federal government and the original breakwater was removed and a larger, more substantial one built to accommodate the 38 slips.

As Kelowna Yacht Club marks its 68th year in 2013, they have come remarkably far, now boasting the largest marina in Canada with over 1,000 slips, more than 1,200 members, and the sod broken on April 23, 2013 for the construction of a new 24,000 square foot clubhouse to be completed in June 2014. The new clubhouse will have a public restaurant, banquet facility, offices, and a classroom on the main floor with a 2,300 square foot patio easing into Stuart Park. The upper level will be a members’ only area with another dining facility, lounge, meeting rooms, and decks overlooking the lake and park. The building has been designed with a nautical theme reflecting the masts, sails and hulls of the boats in the water. Every Friday and Saturday night in the summer, music can be heard from the downtown core.

Ken Smith, the club’s Director of Communications, is a fabulous ambassador of the Kelowna Yacht Club, extolling the virtues of the Okanagan Lake, “With almost a hundred free mooring buoys located in special bays up and down the lake maintained by the different yacht clubs, combined with the warm climate and long summer, many of our members choose to cruise. While the lake doesn’t compare to the pleasures of the BC coastline, each yacht club and bay offers its own unique scenery and advantages and many members spend their weekends and vacation time cruising from one end to the other, enjoying every community and beach along the way.”

The club is involved in the community in a big way and since 1993 has sponsored the Disabled Sailing Association with moorage spots for their fleet of specially equipped boats, facilities, and proceeds from the Commodore’s Cup sailing race to help introduce people with disabilities to the joys of sailing on the lake. KYC also helps to install, inspect, and maintain some 37 public mooring buoys between the bridge and Caesar’s Landing. All the proceeds from the KYC Boat and Leisure Show (which takes 200+ members to run) benefit the community as they are put toward maintaining these buoys. Each spring, you will also see KYC and CPSS members removing winter debris from the community lakeshore between Stuart Park and the Water Street boat launch. Free pump-out is offered to all boaters on the lake in partnership with the City of Kelowna. Free dockage is also offered to the community based services of the Kelowna Fire Department, Department of Fisheries, RCMP rescue and patrol boats, and the Canadian Coast Guard.  

They are so entwined with the community that they actually have a lot of fun at their own events. Every year, the club members volunteer their boats for the Blind Fishing Derby, which allows people who are sight-impaired to fish and have fun on the water. The Boat for Hope event for the Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs treats more than 100 children with disabilities, along with 260 siblings and parents, to a day of fun on Okanagan Lake. The members again provide their own boats so that the sailors finish off the day with an epic water battle between pirate ships off the downtown park and beach using water guns and hoses. Seriously????? …….who really has more fun here?

Getting people out on the water is a top priority for these folks. There are over 1,000 students, both young and old who filter through their sailing school. Don’t have a boat? You can rent an Optimist, Laser, Flying Junior, Hunter 17 or kayak for an hour or a day. Need to brush up your French during the summer? KYC also has the only French Immersion children’s sailing classes in North America. The club is also the home to one of the top women’s racing programs in the country and the largest fleet of Santana 525s. Not a sailor? Power boaters enjoy poker runs and the many social invasions, as well as the numerous Canadian Power and Sail Squadron courses offered. Ken recounts a story from one of the older members who claims to know the origin of the sailing school after a power boat member decided to purchase a sailboat. “Apparently this member declined all offers to teach him how to sail it after deriding sailing as a skill which was obviously easy to learn. The Okanagan Lake has only one bridge across it, which is a floating bridge. The unfortunate member managed to sail his vessel to the concrete bridge, only to end up pinned against it by the north winds that blew him there, unable to sail her away until his plight was eventually noticed and rescued.”

Take a vacation or stay for a lifetime. Come down to Kelowna Yacht Club and sit at the round table says Ken, “Where people who sit there expect to be joined by any others who may wish to join the conversation. It’s where many new members get to learn everything from the club’s history to stories about past races, discuss new events, solve world problems and generally enjoy the camaraderie of belonging with a group of really great people.”

Kelowna Yacht Club; 1414 Water Street: Kelowna, BC   250-762-3310

Photo Captions:
Photo 1 - A wonderful little bay and beach in a regional park across the lake from the city. This is a member’s wedding reception at Raymer Bay, and all of these boats are filled with wedding guests. – not your normal wedding party
Photo 2 - An historic shot from the early 1950s.
Photo 3 - Who would have known that in 2013, theKelowna Yacht Club would reach over 1000 slips!
Photo 4 - Pirate raids on sailboats are followed by the biggest pirate ship water-fight in BC, an epic battle off of City Park so that shore-based observers can enjoy the tactics. Eventually, the pirates retreat to the safety of our basin and a feast on our patio. This is a shot of three pirate vessels in last year’s battle.
Photo 5 - This pirate is Al Cotton, a Life Member and unofficial club photographer. If you’re wondering, the beard is real, those are gummy worms, and he often steps in for Santa during our annual Kid’s Christmas party.
Photo 6 - These are definitely members on the buoys at Traders Cove, a protected bay north of the city, giving the feel of a desert climate providing our valley its unique warmth and provides pest-free relaxation.
Photo 7 - Blind Fishing Derby. We work with the Canadian Institute for the Blind and our members volunteer to take people with visual impairments out for a morning of fishing, and then everyone heads back to the club where we provide an excellent lunch and awards for the best efforts.