Have you ever wanted to try your hand at sailing, but didn’t know where to go? Do you want to sail but don’t want the hassle of owning a boat? Whether you harbour fantasies about tacking and gybing your way to victory in a regatta or simply envision a relaxing couple of hours criss-crossing the Outer Harbour after a stressful day at work, Toronto’s community sailing clubs are here to help. Three of the clubs—Mooredale Sailing Club, St. James Town Sailing Club, and Westwood Sailing Club—are located on Regatta Road between Cherry Beach and the Leslie Street Spit, while a fourth—Toronto Island Sailing Club—is based on Centre Island. All four offer introductory lessons and unlimited use of the club boats for less than $500 per year.
The community clubs are volunteer-run non-profits and each claims to be your “cottage in the city” just minutes from downtown. It’s a sentiment that’s easy to dismiss as marketing fluff until that first evening when you’ve come in from a fun sail and you settle down for a barbecue dinner under the stars with 30 of your newest friends while the lake laps up against the docks just a few metres away.
Don’t confuse these sailing clubs with yachting clubs; there are no captain’s hats, no blue blazers with gold buttons, and no white belts here. All of the clubs sail dinghies (small sailboats that don’t have weighted keels) that include the popular Albacore, the Olympic-class Laser, and the Hobie 16 catamaran. Many consider dinghies to be the best way to learn how to sail because you immediately feel the results of every action you take and can develop a better feel for both the wind and the boat than you could in a larger keelboat. The trade-off is that you will get wet when you go sailing. Lake Ontario can be bracing in late April, but warms up nicely by July.
Regularly-scheduled activities at each club include a full suite of highly-competitive racing, relaxing social sailing, and skill-building clinics. If you want to sail in a less organized environment, you can take a boat out with a partner and sail whenever you want.
St. James Town and Westwood are both holding official open houses this weekend, where you can meet members, tour the facilities, and go for free introductory sails. In addition to scheduled open houses, all of the clubs encourage potential members to drop in on any weekend during the season. Talk to members, check out the facilities, and take a quick spin around the harbour. The transformation from landlubber to sailor happens faster than you can say “Gybe-ho!”
Mooredale, St. James Town, and Westwood are located along Regatta Road in the port lands. Toronto Island Sailing Club is on Centre Island and is accessible by city ferry or the Toronto Island Marina tender.
Val Dodge is a member of Westwood Sailing Club.
Photo courtesy of Westwood Sailing Club.