High seas hijinks on the menu at Yacht Club

Open house focuses on family fun activities

Ben Wilkinson and Tim Felbel maneuver their 49-er through docked boats at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club during the club’s first open house. Visitors were given a tour of the clubhouse

Ben Wilkinson and Tim Felbel maneuver their 49-er through docked boats at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club during the club’s first open house. Visitors were given a tour of the clubhouse

A yacht club isn’t just a place for sailors.

The 120-year-old Royal Victoria Yacht Club held its first open house Saturday with a focus on drawing in new families.

The club has made several changes in recent years in attempt to make it more appealing for families to join, said Jeremy Smith, commodore of the RVYC.

This includes lowering entrance fees and renovations to make the club more family-friendly.

“It’s a really great family sport, family activity, because you can take your family out on a boat and just go day sailing, or you can come down here and work on your boat while your kids play or go sailing,” Smith said.

There’s been a big change in the interest of younger people, particularly in their 30s, joining the club, he said, noting that since December, there’s been 15 new members in that age bracket. The four years prior to that, there were two.

One of the reasons the club has been able to attract new, younger members is because it has two club-owned sailboats available to members without their own, he said.

“It makes it really easy and accessible.”

Ian Hinkle, who joined the club three years ago, is one of the younger club members.

Originally from Vancouver, Hinkle used to windsurf. He switched to sailing so he could be with his family, he said, adding that his eight-year-old daughter started sailing at the age of five.

Victoria is such a great place for sailing because there’s access to great wilderness, wildlife, and short distances between islands, he said.

“The club provides great access to the (Gulf) Islands and the ocean around Victoria that so many people don’t take advantage of,” he said.

“It’s great to get on the water. … Whether that means going out with a bunch of kids and dropping a crab trap, you can do that right off Victoria. That’s something people forget when they live in the city, that we have this amazing ocean resource at our doorstep.”

What Hinkle enjoys most about sailing is spending time with family and friends, and just getting away for the weekend, he said, noting that depending on your destination, trip lengths can vary from 30 minutes to three hours.

“There’s hundreds of little islands a stones throw from Victoria, and that’s an amazing, amazing thing,” he said. “We could leave (Victoria) after work and be on a remote island that doesn’t have any roads for the weekend, and that’s pretty special.”

There’s a misconception about yacht clubs, Hinkle said, but the club is really just a friendly community where people hang out and meet other people.

“There’s an openness there … Everyone’s not a sailor but it doesn’t mean you can’t get out on the water,” he said.

Longtime club member Ron Jewula adds that the club has a “fascinating collection” of people.

“What I realized was the Royal Victoria Yacht Club was just a club of people that enjoyed messing about in boats … just a bunch of normal people,” he said.

For Jewula, who also races competitively, sailing is about exploring the flat, smooth waters off Victoria and discovering the different harbours and beaches on the islands.

“We’re actually very lucky,” he said. “We get to do all this neat playing (on the water).”

The RVYC is also trying to attract more female members.

The club’s new Salty Sisters sailing program, aimed at women 40-plus, attempts to ease women into sailing, which is often a male dominated sport, instructor Kristine Williams said.

“It’s just a little bit more relaxed take (on sailing) for women who are just trying to ease into sailing because it can be an abrasive sport,” Williams said. “It’s a wonderful sport and it’s a wonderful environment to be in.”

Williams, 22, completed the junior racing program at the club and has been teaching sailors as young as four years old for the past six years.

“The sport of sailing could get lost very easily,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to do stuff on the water and not be afraid of it.”

For more information about the RVYC and its programs, go to ryvc.bc.ca.