A Brief History of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club
The impetus to form a yacht club in Victoria arose out of the City's annual celebrations to mark Queen Victoria's May 24th birthday in 1888. Eleven local yachtsmen decided that a sailing race should be part of the festivities. The first organized yacht race to be staged in British Columbia, the event became the highlight of the celebration, with yachtsmen from American ports on Puget Sound adding an international flavor. There was considerable interest in extending the racing season beyond just the Queen’s birthday; the solution was to form a yacht club. On June 8, 1892 forty-six yachtsmen founded the Victoria Yacht Club.
After several years of begging shared accommodations on Victoria's Inner Harbour, the Club acquired a waterfront lease, and a clubhouse was constructed. It was a two-storey frame building that floated on pontoons that turned out to be highly unreliable: on three separate occasions, members arrived to discover that their clubhouse was resting on the harbour bottom.
In 1910, encouraged by increasing membership and weary of competing for space with the whaling and sealing fleets, the Yacht Club began to search for a better location. On the Oak Bay waterfront, four miles from the Inner Harbour, the Uplands Corporation was turning a 1000 acre farm into an exclusive residential suburb. A carefully planned "garden community", featuring meandering avenues and artfully designed houses, the Uplands wanted a country club which would provide residents with healthy, outdoor recreation. Other garden communities had golf or tennis club, but Uplands was persuaded that a sailing club would fill the bill.
By 1912 negotiations were complete and the Victoria Yacht Club was possessed of a spectacular property hugging the shores of Cadboro Bay. A clubhouse, designed by well known Victoria architect William D'Oyly Rochfort, was completed in time for the official opening on July 13, 1913 where three hundred members and guests gathered for "the social event of the season". (So successful was the new clubhouse that seventy years later, in 1982, when it was suggested that the building had become outdated and inconvenient and that it should be torn down and replaced, members rose in a nostalgic tide to insist on its preservation, and the major renovation that followed, retained the charm of the old building.)
In 1911, the Club’s growth and stature were recognized when King George V granted permission for the Club to add the prefix "Royal" to its title and the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty granted a warrant allowing the Club to fly a blue ensign defaced in the fly with the Club badge (the letters VI, representing Vancouver Island, surmounted by the crown).
The Club survived the economic depression of the 1930's by adapting to the straitened financial circumstances of many of its members. Floats were built of logs salvaged from nearby beaches; younger members were allowed to work off their annual dues by performing necessary maintenance chores.
During two world wars the roster of active members shrank as younger men enlisted in the services. Records covering the years 1939-1945 show that out of a total membership of 260, more than 100 were serving overseas. Senior members, many of whom were former naval officers, offered lectures on seamanship and navigation, and organized the flotilla of grey painted pleasure boats which patrolled the coastal waters off Victoria on the look out for enemy submarines.
In 1962, the need for additional moorage prompted the Club to seek a suitable location near Sidney, and in October, 1964 the Club’s Tsehum Haven site was officially opened.
Up to the “seventies”, boats moored at Cadboro Bay had to be lifted out of the water in the Fall and launched again each Spring. A protective breakwater was determined to be the best solution to allow safe, year round, in-the-water moorage, and this was constructed in 1972.
1992 was our 100th birthday. The late Terry Reksten compiled a history entitled A Century of Sailing, a Centennial Ball was held and a stone cairn was erected on the Clubhouse lawn containing a time capsule. That year, Princess Margaret Island (Portland Island) Marine Park was placed under our volunteer park host program by the Provincial Government.
In March, 2001, members approved the purchase of the Long Harbor Outstation, which was officially opened on June 12th, 2004. This purchase complemented the slips leased for members’ use at Friday Harbor, a few years earlier. Outstation slips were leased in Shawl Bay in the Broughton Archipelago commencing in xxx
On June 16th, 2003 our Royal Patron HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, KVO, ADC, made an official visit to the Club.
In 2011, RVYC celebrated 100 years since receiving its Royal Charter.
Throughout the years, the Royal Victoria Yacht Club has acted as a regular host of the annual Pacific International Yachting Association Regatta and it has conducted international world championship events such as those for 3/4 ton yachts and the Thunderbird one-design class. Since 1930, the Club has organized the Swiftsure International Yacht Race. Beginning with an entry of only six boats, Swiftsure has become the largest annual offshore yacht racing event held in the Pacific Northwest.
Dinghy and one design class racing continue to be popular. During the 1920's, fleets of International 14's and Stars regularly competed. Six Metres, Dragons, Lightnings and Snipes were in vogue during the years following the Second World War. And today, Thunderbirds, Martin 242’s, Cal 20's, 29ers, Mini 12's, Lasers, Bytes and Optimists are common in year round racing programs.
Power boats also play a significant role in Club activities. In early years there were out-and-out-speed boat races, then predicted-log racing became popular. Now extensive cruising is commonly undertaken, particularly in the inland waterways of British Columbia, Washington and Alaska, by both cruising sailboat and power boat members.
A major Millennium cruise event was organized for 2000. Twenty eight boats from the Club, some power, some sail, travelled around Vancouver Island. In 2002 Club member Tony Gooch departed from the south end of Vancouver Island and sailed solo, non-stop around the world in a record-breaking 177 days. In 2007-08, member Glenn Wakefield attempted a solo, non-stop circumnavigation from Victoria in his 40' sloop, Kim Chow, making him the first sailor to attempt the voyage west from North America. Unfortunately, when Glenn was more than halfway through his voyage, east of the Falkland Islands, Kim Chow rolled and he had to abandon his quest.
As well as organizing and managing local racing events, the Club has been represented in world class international regattas. In 1988, a junior member was selected for the Canadian Olympic Team, and several members participated in a Canadian challenge for the America's Cup in 1987. In 1993 a Club team traveled to Barcelona, Spain to race and in 1994 three of our boats entered the Vic-Maui race.
In 1995 and 1997 our racing sailors won the Mallory Cup, emblematic of North American Championship sailing. One of our members won the silver medal at the Paralympics Games in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996.
Since that time, our sailors have had continuing successes, including a bronze medal at the Olympics, Women's World Laser Champion, and many other high placings in national and international regattas. We continue to have members (including handicapped members) who are training and competing in world class sailing competitions.
For more than sixty years, the Club has fostered an active Junior section. Each year a formal training program, open to all children in the Greater Victoria area, involves approximately 300 kids in the sport of sailing, and encourages good sportsmanship and good fellowship, along with excellent instruction.
For a detailed and entertaining history of yachting in Victoria and of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, consult the book Royal Victoria Yacht Club 1892-1992, written by Terry Reksten for the Club’s centennial in 1992. Available in the Club archives.