Sailing Close to Becoming Mainstream Again at RMCC

Milestones Reached and the Way Ahead for the RMCC Yacht Club

By: OCdt P. Scotty Marshall, C.D., M1041, Commodore of the RMCC Yacht Club

One of my favorite musicians talks about how “the past didn’t go anywhere,” the idea being that history surrounds us, and is the thing upon which we have created the world we live in. The work I have done both with the RMCC Yacht Club over the past few years, along with the research I have done in writing the last three articles on sailing at the military colleges has proven this idea over and over. Whenever I have to dive in Navy Bay for some sort of maintenance function, I see the beams and stones that were once cribs that supported the old piers or the former boathouse. Whenever I rebuild the mooring cans, I find wooden bodied blocks that must have been installed before I was born. Within a kilometer from the opening of Navy Bay lie the remains of several great sailing ships that once plied the waters of Lake Ontario, some from as long ago as the War of 1812. Progress is good, but at times the best one can hope for is to live up to the principles or the accomplishments of times gone by; this is the very essence and value of tradition.

As an example of history waiting to be refound, in my third article I mentioned the former gentleman cadet (599) LCol. “Leary” Grant, and his outstanding accomplishments building the sailing program at RMC and in the region in general. Beyond his volunteerism developing CICSA and LYRA, he was a fierce competitor who won a series of awards in his day including the Freeman, Baldwin, and Sodus Cups, as well as the Lake Ontario Trophy in 1954. This was all accomplished in a boat he had built for this purpose name the Tramp Royale. When I first read the history, I assumed that like so many wooden boats of the era her design details would be lost and her fate would have been consignment to the deep or a bonfire in years past; then, I found her. It would seem she has been well cared for over the years, was most recently moored in Deadman’s Bay, and is currently on the hard at Portsmouth Olympic Harbor. History doesn’t go away. We may misplace it, it may fade or deteriorate, or we may forget, but the very bones upon which we build the present are the past.

Sailing traditions at the College have similarly been an exercise in trying to create what once was, often against claims that ‘we have never done that before.’ The old chestnut “those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it” can also be rethought as “those who forget their history are doomed to not know what is possible.” There are comparisons one could make in the wider military regarding procurement or force redevelopment as compared to at the outbreak of the conflicts of the last century, but I digress. Prior generations were smart, resourceful, and hardworking, and we bear the same collective capacities. With respect to sailing, we once had inter-squadron competitive sailing, we once raced competitively against other Canadian institutions, and we once had a matched fleet. After the lean budget years in the mid-1990s, all of these ceased to be a part of our traditions, and in most cases, our collective memory. Some twenty-odd years later, they are once again a part of College life: IM Sailing is back, has been exceptionally popular, and has been progressing well; our racing team has competed well over the last few years both against Canadian institutions and against military colleges from around the world; and, a major procurement over the past season has brought four J/24s to the College that are rigged for match racing, and an Aloha 27 has been acquired for cruising and long distance navigation training. Already we have had success with these new boats, winning first and second places in the J/24 one design class during the Amherst Island Pursuit Race, and adding to our pride in that race the fact lesser crews dared not race that day due to the extreme conditions.

I have been asked a few times over the past few months about my overall level of satisfaction with the huge advances that sailing has made at the College over the past few years. I would suppose that I associate the word ‘satisfaction’ with a conclusion, and I don’t think that we have concluded the rebuilding process. I reply that although I am ecstatic with the support from the Club, the College chain of command, the Unit Fund, the RMC Foundation, and PSP, satisfaction remains elusive. The only way I can describe my feelings on the subject is to metaphorize the process; it is as though we were lost in the woods, and have now managed to work our way up a large hill. Now that we have climbed as high as we have, we can start to see which way to go to reach our destination. The vision is simple, if profound in implication: Young Canadians will want to go to RMCC in order to have a chance at competing in our sailing program.

From the perspective of the overall organization of RMCC sports and distribution of resources, this is a logical focus with respect to return on investment. Certain sports occupy a place in our Canadian mythos which places them in a position where, if a student has not played them aggressively their entire lives, they have no real chance of competing once they arrive at the College. Sailors have an edge, in that they can go from very basic skills to real competence and international competition during their tenure at the College. Add to this the unparalleled access to waterfront that our cadets enjoy, and the pre-existing physical infrastructure that is the envy of every collegiate sailing program in the country, and we have a means to fulfill that vision. Just through the acquisition and race-readying of our J/24 fleet, we now have an asset for keel boat racing that, to my knowledge, no other university in Canada can boast.

These acquisitions and successes are a good start, but our past tells us how much more we can accomplish. Our physical infrastructure requires a great deal of attention over the coming years, such as the redevelopment of the boat ramp that is used for both RMCC and HMCS Ontario trailer launches, the shoring up of the retaining walls that hold together the boathouse jetty, the acquisition of a shore crane so that we control the length of our own sailing season and can do our own hull maintenance, improvements to the docking and breakwaters to facilitate safe berthing for our fleet, and the acquisition of a sailing center that can be used for instruction for large groups of cadets. As I mentioned in my second article, infrastructure can seem like the “boring bits,” but having the boats means nothing without the ability to care for them properly or train the crews to man them. Similarly, as the sailing community grows it may well become necessary to once again expand the fleet. The J/24s have already become so central to our operations that increasing their number to six would be welcomed. In the very long term, larger matched keelboats requiring larger teams would be an outstanding addition, and I for one would like to see some smaller craft unlike the others we have access to, such as Hobie Cats or ice boats, become a part of the resources the College has to offer.

The racing team has also been working to expand its scope, and has been assuming a wider role in competitive sailing. Aside from their own training and intercollegiate racing activities, they are the group that is training and running the competitions for IM sailing, which both increases their knowledge base, and creates a pool of people that the team can use in future years to swell their ranks. They will also be playing a pivotal role in the CICSA National Championship that will take place at RMCC over the weekend of October 24th, and for which huge numbers of universities across Canada were invited. Because they wish to expand their experience beyond competitions in Canada, they will continue to compete in internationally, as they did in Liverno, Italy during the past two seasons, and they are hoping to represent Canada in sailing at the Military World games in Korea 2015.

In the third article I wrote on sailing at the Canadian Military Colleges, I stated that “our effect on history has been disproportionate to our size.” Our student body is relatively small, and so too the resources base that sailing has access to relative to the expense of the sport. With that said, the advances we have made with our fleet and physical infrastructure have been disproportionate to the money we have spent. I would happily take sweat equity on the part of passionate people over large amounts of funds if it meant the indifference of those who participate. This is not to say that we do not require the assistance of our many benefactors, the Unit Fund, the RMC Foundation, and PSP being primary among them. It is merely to say that the gains we have made with the resources we have been given have been disproportionate in terms of the gain for the College. There remain many serious challenges that will require the dedication, innovation, and cooperation that has facilitated our current state of affairs. With that said, satisfaction for me remains elusive, because if the last three years have taught me anything, what we can be and where sailing at the College can go is far greater than our current state. There are many unknowns, but like all problems, they won’t be solved until someone tries to solve them. So too are there limits to what is practical, but as yet we have not reached them.

One day I will be sitting at work or in a mess talking with friends, and someone will ask me where I went to university. I will respond that I was a proud gentleman cadet of the Royal Military College of Canada. Unprovoked, they will respond something along the lines of “did you sail while you were there?,” or “how about that sailing team?,” and only at that point I will know what is possible now. In the meantime, I will continue to rely on the generosity of the alumni, the hard work of the RMCC Yacht Club, and try and realize a vision of our alma mater as great as what once was. History is proof of what is possible, and it is our duty to respect tradition and seek a future in which we are second to none.

Stories, anecdotes, corrections, or digitized media can be emailed to the Club at RMCCYC@rmc.ca

Images:

1. Image #1 – LCol “Leary” Grant’s winning boat, the Tramp Royale, second from the end on the St. Lawrence Pier ca. 1940, courtesy of the Massey Library Archives; the Tramp Royale afloat in Deadman’s Bay, Summer 2014; the Tramp Royale on the hard at Portsmouth Olympic Harbor, Fall 2014.

2. Image #2 – The new J/24 fleet from the bow, summer, 2014; the J/24 Obsessed under sail at sunset with a club crew, summer 2014; the new J/24 fleet from astern, summer 2014.

3. Image #3 – NCdt Derek Frank in a ‘hero pose,’ sailing back from Bath, summer 2014; the racing team prepares the J/24 fleet for a team practice, fall 2014; Cadets Yanick Barette and Stuart Clow, two outstanding workhorses on the RMC waterfront during the summer of 2014, on board the new Aloha 27, summer 2014.

Ed note: Over this weekend there was a University Fleet Racing Nationals being held here at RMCC. We were hoping for a report which is not available at press time. We look forward to providing an article for next week.

Previous Sailing articles by Scotty Marshall:

Sailing at the Canadian Military Colleges;

Sailing History at RMCC 101

RMCC: Birthplace of Both Canadian and North-American Intercollegiate Competitive Sailing

 

3 Comments

  • Christine Powers

    October 27, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    kuddos to you Scotty for turning this club around. No doubt the Chief is also a key player but without your efforts (and that of other keen members of the RMCYC) the club would be in a tough spot now. It was a pleasure working with you albeit briefly.

    All the best in your next chapter,
    Christine

  • #2944 John D. Reid - Class of '53

    October 27, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I particularly enjoyed the reference to Col. Leary Grant and his sloop “Tramp Royal” To enlarge a bit on “Tramp Royal” she lacked an engine, at least under his ownership. Col. Grant was a true sailor.

    During the summer following my second year at RMC I was stationed at RCEME Barriefield and hence able to enjoy the RMC facilities, including the sailing fleet. One fine day Col. Grant asked me if I was interested in joining he and Major MacLean, my mechanical engineering professor, as crew aboard Tramp Royal for the coming Eastern Yachting Circuit Regatta, to be held at Chemot Bay, New York. Tramp Royal was once again going to face in the regatta its long time EYC rival “Latonka”, I was told.

    On the appointed day at about 5 PM I joined Tramp Royal at the RMC docks where she was always moored, and we set off eastward under sail in a very light breeze, heading down the Canadian channel toward the eastern end of Wolf Island, where the Canadian channel makes a very sharp turn to the right or starboard. As the evening became night and Col. Grant and Major MacLean decided to seek some sleep below in their bunks the ship’s wheel and navigation were turned over to me. When doing so Col. Grant warned me of the very sharp turn required at the eastern end of Wolf Island. He explained that failure to make the turn promptly would put Tramp Royal on the rocky shoals dead ahead. I acknowledged my understanding of the navigation situation ahead. I might add that I was already an accomplished sailor, having been racing an Olympic class Star back at my family’s summer home down river in Brockville, where I now live in retirement.

    The evening wore on as I sat alone at the wheel in the darkness of the night with the wind but a light zephyr from behind, and so very little sail control needed. I simply had to steer straight ahead eastward to the end of Wolf Island. Simple! I felt as if I was the luckiest fellow in the world to be at the helm of the great “Tramp Royal” with its owner, Col. Grant, deemed the dean of Great Lakes sailing sleeping below, trusting me at the helm of his ship.

    Time went on as we drifted eastward down the channel with a very light breeze blowing us along. Soon we came upon a very bright flashing light to starboard, but I paid little attention to it, being a seasoned St. Lawrence River sailor from down river where we have lots of similar channel lights. Just as we came abreast of the bright flashing light up on deck popped Col. Grant from his bunk below. He looked toward the light and said to me, Ah, here is where we turn to starboard, Reid”. I replied, “Yes Sir”, and spun the wheel and off we headed south along the new channel path.

    Following my “Yes Sir” to Col. Grant, he disappeared below to resume his sleep. Unknown to him my heart had almost beat itself out of my chest when I heard his words, for I had failed to realize that it was then time for the turn hard to starboard. We had been headed for the rocks, only minutes away, and disaster under my command. I would have been forever known as the culprit who sank the great “Tramp Royal”.

    Our subsequent racing series in the EYC Regatta against “Latonka” at Chemot Bay was a success for “Tramp Royal” if I recall correctly, (that was very long ago). And I enjoyed every minute of the experience, feeling forever indebted to Col. Grant and his arrival on deck at precisely the right moment. Had he delayed a further five minutes or so I might never have been permitted to graduate from RMC I suspect.

  • 2859 Pike, J G

    October 27, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    It was my privilege to crew regularly for Col. Grant aboard “Tramp Royal ” (no e!) during the 60’s and mid 50’s. The name is taken from a Kipling poem, “the Sestina of The Tramp Royal”. A framed copy of the poem hung on the lower mast during the sailing season. Col. Grant could repeat it from memory.

    Tramp was designed by Bingley Benson and was built in Portsmouth. I believe she was launched in 1939. She was acclaimed throughout Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence. Members of.the Grant family are still resident in Kingston.

    I share John Ried’s memories of piloting Tramp singlehandedly through the darkness. Col. Grant had great confidence in his crews. I have heard him state “if I could not trust them they would not have been asked to sail with me”.

    He would be delighted with the return of sailing to the College.

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