Note from the editor: This is a gathering of information on the past history of the Thunder Bay Yacht Club. You may have your own version of the past and we would be pleased to include it also. Contact a member of the Yacht Club Executive Committee so that your story can be added to these web pages

By Jim Coslett

The Thunder Bay Yacht Club was founded in August 1945. In the beginning, a small group wished to race sailboats- snipe sailboats, to be exact. These boats required a skipper and one crew. The group gradually expanded as new sailors were introduced to racing as crew. There was a need for a large pool of replacement crew, for the boats were tippy and the skippers bold. Furthermore, the sailing area off Chippewa was on the windiest part of Thunder Bay, and some say also the coldest.

Even 50 years ago, all the shoreline in both cities was spoken for and busy, and access to open water was a must with no engine in the boats. The Port Arthur harbour inside the breakwall would have given some protection but was very busy with commercial traffic and had no available location for a club. The Club was formally organized at Chippewa Park, with Tom Corness as Commodore, and with the blessing and support of Arthur Windnall, head of Fort William Parks. The new Club, named after Thunder Bay, already had members from both the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur, and 25 years later it became the Yacht Club that had a city named after it!

Jim Coslett was not only a writer but expressed his joy of boating on Superior in his well received cartoon book 'Fresh Water’

The first meetings were held in the basement of the old City Hall- Tourist Bureau, and then later at the J.L.Black Library in Westfort. A few power boaters joined the sailors and added their support.

Art Widnall rented the Club some land at Chippewa and a clubhouse was built, complete with the necessary privy, and some small 6' x 8' cottages the park was disposing of as outbuildings. Chairs and furnishings were scrounged. W. Porter Bailey Sr. had a huge brick fireplace and chimney built on. W.R.Coslett Sr. donated windows, and Bob Prettie gave the knotty pine for the entire interior.

Entertainment at Club meetings gave instruction in knots and other mysterious boating arts. To learn more, some took Power Squadron courses and eventually formed the Lakehead Power Squadron in 1954.

Larger boats, such as 18' Cat boats with jibs, were soon added to the Snipe race fleet. Four enterprising sailors then banded together to build six Lightning class sailboats. In the name of fairness, and in order to prevent one member of the group from devoting too much "TLC" to his own boat, they waited till all six were finished and then drew lots. The extra two were sold to defray the costs.

A number of sail and power craft were also home built. These were boats with CABINS! There were, however, surprisingly few cruising sailboats at the Lakehead at this time. Due to few docking facilities, most boats other than the racers were berthed in locations away from Chippewa. Those that could not be trailered were stored for winter at Perry's Boat Yard in Port Arthur.

Sailing in the early days was somewhat primitive. I remember arriving on a breezy day to race, and seeing a member's "yacht" being used as a marker. From a distance, it looked to be a fine yawl of about 30'. Upon closer inspection, it proved to be built of 2' x 2's nailed together. At night, with a Coleman light shining inside, it looked like a Venetian blind. The mitten sail was nailed to the mast. At one point, the boat was rescued by a laker who cleaned the masts and cabin off when it took up strain on the tow rope. It was towed in and eventually moored by a patented method- they stopped pumping and let it sink in the sand! The skipper and the boat are gone now; they don't make 'em like that any more, praise be!

Cruising to Rossport was common. The Derby was a big draw. The Lightnings and other boats would sail together, but a boat loaded with cruising equipment was a different boat. Many a long run was made on the edge of disaster with the crew unable to shift position to let go lines.

Sometimes enthusiasm outdistanced common sense. There was a brand new 30' twin screw cruiser built at the Lakehead and launched just in time for one derby. It was immediately obvious that the propellers were on the wrong shafts, but there was no time to change, so she backed to Rossport, unfortunately ruining the gears. Stopping the boat was also a challenge. Thrown into reverse (forward) while docking at Silver Islet, it inhaled a towed dinghy and chopped it up.

In another incident, at Rossport, a sailor insisted that in order to save time, his boat be towed to the good fishing area by an 85' four engined yacht. The powerful boat took off with the sailboat flapping at the end of a line, water shooting up from the center board trunk, just about drowning the intrepid skipper.

Potential disasters often work into humorous anecdotes. Sailors feel helpless and vulnerable when they run aground, especially when the ground is a rock surrounded by deep water. One sailor, for instance, stuck his keelboat high and dry on ever popular Newcombe Rock near Lamb Island Light in Lake Superior. He was spotted by the tug "Whalen", who recognized the problem from the attitude of the heeling yacht, and rushed to the rescue with dreams of salvage, only to be cheated of the prize when their bow wave lifted the sailboat to safety.

Even winter had its adventures. Sailboats were replaced by iceboats in the harbour. One "sailor" broke a number of ribs when his iceboat hit an ice ridge at high speed. Another member sailed his iceboat into an open sewer in Port Arthur Harbour. His rescuer lay on the ice to pull the skipper and the boat out, rushing home to shower after the daring feat. The skipper, however, stood in the cold till the lumps froze; he then brushed them off and went back to sailing. It was, after all, one of those rare days when the ice was clear, hard, and smooth.

The fleet continued to grow, both power and sail. The Lightnings would race to Amethyst and then trailer to Loon to race, but most of the races were off Chippewa spring and fall. The water at Chippewa kept shallowing and the sea swept right through the dock, so nothing of fixed draft could stay there. Even Lightnings had to remove their rudders. The power boats were mooring wherever, many between the Harvester and Elevator D docks on the Ram River. Finally, with regret, the Club had to give up the clubhouse at Chippewa. With its large raised hearth fireplace, it became a shelter for the toboggan slide.

The last and only piece of land the City had on Mission River had become available. The Club raised funds by sale of non-interest bearing bonds to repay those who underwrote the purchase in 1957. The Club was incorporated in 1958.

Pilings for docks were first driven by hand at the Mission River property, and then using a barge borrowed from Abitibi who were still booming wood. Finally, the Club was able to buy its own skid mounted pile driver that was drawn down onto the ice by its own cables. Only two or three members knew what they were doing, but the job got done. The "experts" were hard put to prevent the rest of the eager helpers from doing themselves serious injury.

At one point, a call came to the Commodore: "Don't you know you are supposed to have a permit to move a building?" By the time the building inspector, police, and the Commodore met on the island, the 40' by 20' clubhouse building was in place looking as if it had grown there. With no evidence, there was no problem.

A ramp and marine railway were then installed, but ice was always a problem; each year the ramp needed rebuilding. Boats were lifted by self-propelled cranes for some time and stored on the property, but the bigger boats almost launched the cranes occasionally, lifting the front wheels off the ground. All boats had to go in or out on the same day because of the high cost of transporting and rigging the crane.

A proposal was made for a boat transporter on a fifth wheel. The Club decided to proceed, despite considerable opposition. The steel was cut and members assembled the machine. Lift was supplied by four chain falls. Another member provided a tandem truck used for moving everything from buildings, to boats, to earth.

For a while the machine was used on the ramp with an electric winch as backup and safety, but if the machine had drifted one way or the other it could have broken through. It was soon obvious a set of piers was needed. Sheet piling was far too expensive, so a large pair of cribs was built closed at one end, 8' high, 12' inside, and 20' long. A backhoe was used to dig a hole in the bank, and the crib was lifted into place. Again, for every member involved, there was one predicting disaster, and it almost happened! Stone to fill the cribs was delayed, ice was forming, and the hole was filing in. "I told you so's" were being gleefully shouted.

Great Lakes Paper came to the rescue with a supply of empty barrels. Al Wray and several helpers spent a day placing them on the piers and pumping them full of water. The crib sank and was held in place. Stone was added later off the ice. This whole operation required a steady head and a lot of rum. A tie back and cables were dug in, piling and decks have been added to stiffen it, and it has served us well for 25 years.

A class from the College laid out the property for increased storage as part of a project. A supplier helped out the Club with heavy armoured cable, and power was added throughout the property with members George Phillips and Jim Wheeler designing and hooking up the system. George Killins would also show up with a huge loader now and then to improve roads and clear space.

More recent improvements include a fence around the property to improve security. The Club was also able to procure an operating crane and pile driver, and used the expertise of members as operator and mechanic. This has been put to use driving piles, for bank retention, and mast stepping.

Club members have updated the machines over the years, through the design and installation of equipment, the addition of hydraulics to the machine, and the retiring of the chain falls. Members have contributed hours working tirelessly on the property, the haulout, and docking; servicing the truck and its hydraulics; supplying and spreading many loads of gravel; and clearing the snow.

By 1979, Thunder Bay was planning to host the 1981 Canada Summer Games. This prompted another major change in the focus of the Club. In order to host the sailing activities, in February 1979 the Thunder Bay Yacht Club amalgamated with the Lakehead Sailing Club and the Temple Reef Club. This amalgamation, negotiated mainly by Al Wray, George Killins, Kevin Holloway, and Porter Bailey, gave TBYC an enlarged dinghy fleet and access to the Marina facility.

After a major fire had destroyed much of the docking (and warehouses) at the Marina in 1978, Club members and delegations of other local boaters were instrumental in advising the City on the development of the new, improved Marina. For the Canada Games, a new Race Centre was built on Pier 1, still in use as a base for the dinghy fleet and a site to start and end the keelboat races. This is "The Landing" Clubhouse where, except for a short stint at Boulevard Lake, TBYC's Sail Thunder Bay Committee has operated dinghy training programs with OSA since the TBYC inherited sailing instruction from the Lakehead Sailing Club at amalgamation.

As most of the membership, both sail and power, now berth their boats at the Marina, the Club needed a facility close to the action. The CN Station became available and the Club jumped in with both feet. Under Commodore John Poleschuk, the Club negotiated a lease from the City, and organized a mammoth volunteer effort to renovate the facility. Club members volunteered their expertise, from architectural skills, electrical and mechanical engineering, to wiring, laying tile, drywalling and decorating. Members donated a bar, rugs, and cabinets. it was an ambitious undertaking for the volunteers, and it caused some frustration due to the high commitment of both time and money.

Now the CN Station is a centre for activity at the Marina. The Club uses the second floor as a Clubhouse. A kitchen has been added off "The Anchorage" Bar, and the "Upper Deck" room is available as a classroom and meeting room. A lounge and library is planned for the third floor. "The Anchorage" is opened Fridays at 4:30, Wednesday evenings, for various club affairs and other related events.

Through all the fifty years the club has continued to grow and has stuck to its credo "to further boating at the Lakehead". The Thunder Bay Yacht Club has a lot to be proud of - the facility and clubhouse on the Mission River, the racing programs, International races and associations, the assistance to sail training, the dinghy fleet, the building on the pier, and clubrooms at the Marina. The Club has been both a rewarding hobby and a challenge, but always a source of pride.