RYC … A BRIEF HISTORY
The Rondeau Yacht Club, for more than 90 years, has earned its place as the centre of recreation, education and friendship in the Rondeau Park community.
The club was started in 1932 as a bi-product of Neville Knowles of London, winning the 1931 sailing season in Erieau. Weekly through that summer Knowles and his crew Angus McGarvah had sailed his 14 foot dinghy down the bay to Erieau to compete. At season’s end having secured enough points to claim the silverware it seemed there was a great reluctance to award it to Knowles from Rondeau. A meeting was held at the home of P.G.Piggott (who had won the trophy the 3 previous years) to discuss the sailing season and its outcome. Knowles and McGarvah (6’4”) attended the meeting and were very reluctantly awarded the trophy.
The RYC/EYC annual team race competition was born out of the sailing season of 1931, and RYC has won the event over 80% of the time. Further this annual Team Race has to be the oldest inter-club race of its kind to be sailed continuously in Canada and perhaps even North America.
Construction on the Rondeau Yacht Club commenced in the Spring of 1932. When complete the Club profile looked as it is seen today less the Sailors lounge which was added later. The original plans called for an addition to the north resembling the south wing as it exists presently, which was never built.
Founding members of the club in addition to Neville Knowles were: Fred Bates, Al Weir, Pop Weir, Tom Hedley, Don Hennegar, Judge McKinlay, Dr. Ken Crow, Fred Westbrooke, Frank Mitchell, Doc Anderson, Angus Graham, Joe Jeffery, Alex Jeffery and Edgar Jeffery.
The RYC Woman’s Division was formed in 1936 with 11 members. By 1939 an additional 15 lady’s had joined in facilitating social events run by the club.
Wooden Dinghy sailing (14’ & 16’) competition dominated 1932 through 1942 . The dinghy were quite tippy and not suited to youth sailing. Youth of the day however commonly crewed and in so doing learned from the senior dinghy sailors.
Lark sailing for youth commenced in about 1937. The Lark was stable, safe and affordable. It was comparatively economical and could be bought brand new for $275 which included a sail. Boats went up in price $25 to $50 a year, thereafter. The practice of selling a used boat was common for a few dollars less than they were purchased for and buying a brand new one was common. The lark fleet and youth sailing grew annually at both ends of the bay through the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s , thanks to the Al and Pop Weir’s building and maintenance of these boats.
In 1942, a charter was granted by the Province, which incorporated the Rondeau Yacht Club, as a non-profit organization. Under the Chart of Incorporation a board of Directors were established to to oversee the onging affairs of the Corporation.
The Incorporated RYC was formed for the following purposes and objectives:
To encourage sailing and power boating and yacht building and racing and to establish a club for social entertainment and recreation and to hold and arrange competitions in boat racing and to offer and grant prizes, awards and distinctions for winners in such competitions.
The first Sailing and Swimming lessons for youth commenced in the 1952. By 1955, there were 170 children receiving sailing and swimming instruction at the club. Major renovations were undertaken that year, including a new ceiling, knotty pine siding on the walls, 20 truckloads of fill for a level front lawn, a bay side sundeck, a new sidewalk and a new raft.
In 1958, the waterfront was broadened to include a sandy beach, and the 27 year old roof was replaced. The upper loft was built in the late 50’s and in 1961 a new dock was built which was funded by selling autographed planks from the old one. The flagpole was also erected that year.
By 1960, the numbers had continued to increase, given the 452 cottages now in the Park and in part because as yet, there were no municipal pools in either Blenheim or Ridgetown. The annual dinner program for 1961 listed 275 children enrolled for swimming lessons and 65 enrolled for sailing lessons. A seasonal family membership cost $25.00 in 1960. It was at this time that a full time director was hired to organize and supervise the daily programs. The establishment of the Junior Board in 1960 saw many new programs initiated, including junior dances, slow pitch baseball, ping-pong tournaments, progressive dinners, arts and crafts .
A decade later, the fees had increased to $60.00 for a family membership and by 1974 they had reached $85.00.
With extreme low water in the mid-60s, weed control in the bay was a major problem to the sailors. Beginning in 1965, the Rondeau Yacht Club donated funds to the Department of Lands and Forests for several years for their weed reduction program. The courses for sailboat races had to be cut like roads through the thick weeds in the shallow bay. By 1970, the government had picked up the entire cost of the weed control so the donation was no longer required.
In 1966, the club’s executive decided to purchase their own boat for sailing instruction instead of continuing to rent one.
With the Weir’s no longer around to maintain and repair the aging fleet of Larks, by the late 1960’s, newer fiberglass boats such as Sunfish became the boat of choice. The Sunfish was idea for young familys given it was economical, easily transported, comparitively safe to sail and required little to no maintenance. It was a perfect boat for youth sailing. In the early 70’s it was not unusual to see 20 -25 Sunfish in use at the Club. A few of the clubs more avid sailors at the time entered Canadian and North American Championships for Sunfish and learned many of the finer points of competitive sailing from having done so.
The higher water levels that were present between 1972 – 1974 often completely surrounded the building during this time. There was talk of a break-wall, but it was not installed for several more years. High water problems continued to worsen into the 1980’s.
Hobie Cats were popular during this time and even had their own racing class from 1979 – 1985. But they proved to be difficult for younger people to control and were expensive to maintain. The Laser became the popular boat for sailing instruction and racing. The laser while somewhat tippy was economical and easy to transport. It allowed for several tuning adjustments that enhanced its sailability in various wind conditions.
In 1982, a $5,000.00 Wintario grant was secured and a second one for $7,400.00 was received the following year. With the first grant, the club purchased an aluminum boat and motor, sports equipment, water safety equipment and a Hobie Cat. The second grant helped to pay for building renovations, including a new cement block outer wall which raised the building 20 centimetres. Also, a new roof was added that year. In 1986, with another government grant of $9,500.00, the steel break-wall finally became reality.
In the 1990’s, the Yacht Club appointed its first female Commodore – Marnie Van Steen. It was also during this decade that the Cottagers Association donated the money for the club to purchase its present vinyl siding which was put on by volunteer club members.
In 2001, our application to the Trillium Foundation of Ontario resulted in a $64,000.00 grant to upgrade the club and to purchase new equipment. The renovations to the club facilities included new windows, doors, lighting, stairs to the loft and an upgraded kitchen with new appliances. The front and rear decks were added as well as the handicap ramp. With this ramp, the new wider doors to Rondeau Yacht Club was now barrier free. The new equipment consisted of 6 canoes, lifejackets, paddles, laser sails and a Club 420 sailboat for our beginner classes.
The staff, members and executive are a dedicated group of people who are committed to the values of family and community cooperation for the benefit that only caring and friendship with others of all ages can bring.
We hope you have a chance to experience all that the Rondeau Yacht Club has to offer to you and your family.