A Short History

By Dr. T. Rodney H. Box


Dinghy sailing was becoming increasingly popular in the late 1960’s and the Albacore was a leading contender as a small family and racing sailboat. Price, fiberglass construction, stability, safety and relative freedom from gadgetry were among its best features. In the summer of 1969 there seemed to be a surge in Albacore interest on the waters of the south part of Lake Muskoka as new boats hoisted sails. Two owners, Bill Gimby and Rod Box, happened simultaneously to come up with the idea that racing would be so much more fun than simply “going for a sail”. In fact, Rod had already joined the Kettles Sailing Club and had tried his hand at racing. Bill and Fran had a cottage on Taylor Island and Rod and Marion’s cottage was on Walker’s Point, opposite the north end of Browning Island. They agreed to canvass Albacore owners in their respective areas and find out how many would be willing to part with fifty dollars towards the formation of a sailing club in the south Muskoka Lake area.  They were surprised and heartened by the response, because they came up with fourteen names.

The Canadian Albacore Association was, at that time, a highly organized body sponsoring fleets across Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. Six fleets were already in operation in the Muskoka lakes and the Association was eager to add another. By September, Bill had applied for and received recognition of The South Muskoka Sailing Club as anew fleet, with himself as acting fleet captain and Rod as acting fleet secretary. He sent out a letter in late September to all who had expressed interest, and indicated that an organizational meeting would be held in Toronto the following spring at the Royal Canadian Military Institute. In early December Bill received a welcoming letter from the Association Vice Commodore, Mr Seymour Mugford, and by mid-March the number of sailing enthusiasts had swelled to 26.

The inaugural dinner and meeting was held on March 19, 1970 with a full agenda and 41 people in attendance, including Mr John Tinker, Past Commodore of the CAA. John showed a short movie, and answered a barrage of questions. The Club Executive was elected as follows:


Commodore                                   W. R. Gimby

Vice Commodore                            T. R. H. Box

Secretary-Treasurer                            R. Golden

Committee Chairmen:

Course Starter and Racing Committee

H. Fairfield

C. Davidson

R. Sanelli

Finance                                             R. Golden

Entertainment                                 Mrs. M. Box, Mrs. F. Gimby

Editor                                              Mrs. L. Hart

In those days the usual practice for Saturday afternoon races was for boats to arrive at a designated place and time for a skippers’ meeting, after which boats would sail out to the start line. This pattern prevailed at Kettles and at the Muskoka Lakes Sailing Club and the SMSC sailors planned to use the same system. To this end, Bill had talked to the owner of Glen Echo Lodge, Mr. Ron Sclater, about using their shore line as a club base and it was agreed that the Club would undertake construction of the necessary docks, with an expected cost of about $1,500. Several Club officers visited the site on April 4 and walked out onto the frozen lake. The Club’s first Newsletter, written by Lilian Hart, outlined all these plans and included a breakdown of fees:

$50.00   Initiation Fee

$15.00   Annual Fees for boating families

$10.00   Annual Fees for non-boating families.

The fees would be subject to change, depending on the financial situation after the summer’s operation. An instructional session was planned at Glen Echo for Saturday, June 13, when a racing schedule would be available, along with buoys, flags etc. Non-Albacore owners were encouraged to attend, along with other interested sailors from the area.

Bill’s third Newsletter of June 18, 1970 told the story of the Club’s first day of operation. “The summer sailing season was officially launched at 2.00 pm on June 13 from Glen Echo Lodge”. Fifteen boats were on hand and the invited guest, Mac McGruer, builder of the well-known McGruer Albacore, “showed very poor manners but excellent sailing by leaving all the host boats in his wake and sailing off with first place in the tune-up race”. Gerry Hart, an inveterate non-sailor, supplied and manned the committee boat. In the newsletter, Bill announced that construction of the concrete portion of the new dock had been completed and the 36′ floating extension was scheduled to be in place in the next two weeks. Membership was up to 28 and the fleet included 20 Albacores, 1 Grampian ’17’ and 1 Fireball. Because docking facilities at Glen Echo were limited, it was felt that total membership should cut off at 40. Ron presented a financial estimate that looked very positive, and Bill outlined a racing schedule of two series, running on Saturdays from June 27th to September 3rd, and a scoring system.

On looking back across the span of thirty years it is evident that the most important part of the Newsletter was towards the end, where Bill first makes mention of a sailing school. After that first race there was an informal get-together for a cold beer and other refreshments on the Glen Echo lawn and Fred Francis made the point that everyone had missed, namely, that to enjoy long life and happiness, a sailing club had to have, as an integral component, a sailing school. As parents of two qualified sailing instructors, he and Dolly offered to establish a school on their shoreline on Browning Island, with courses running through July and August, Monday through Friday 9.00 am to 12.00 noon, for member’s sons and daughter’s age 10 to 16 years. The program was to be self-supporting, with limited enrolment. Senior instruction was also to be made available, with less formal courses conducted by John Francis. The Club Executive quickly endorsed Fred’s proposal and very soon realized how wise Fred’s initiative had been. The School would soon become the tail wagging the dog.

By the time September rolled around, SMSC sailors had, in most cases, been transformed into the competitive, aggressive, sloppy-looking bunch usually associated with dinghy racing. Most races had seen about a dozen boats and racing rules were strictly enforced, often through the protest route, with Hugh Fairfield, Chuck Davidson and Bob Sinelli adjudicating. Many sailors were going directly to the start line for a race, by-passing the Glen Echo dock, and ultimately this became the format for getting races underway. A closing dinner was arranged for September 19th at Glen Echo and various Club trophies, presented by many Club members, were awarded. By season’s end there were 33 members. Start-up costs had amounted to about $2,500 and the Club had reduced its bank loan to a mere $400. Fees for 1971 were to remain unchanged.



Bill Gimby won the Early Bird Race to start the 1971 sailing season, and the calendar forecast a full schedule. In addition to all the regular activities, the Executive had arranged to host the Muskoka District Albacore Championships in mid-July, the Ontario Fireball Championship in early September and the Canadian Albacore Championship September 17th to 19th. At the beginning of the season the Club boasted 37 paid-up members with 30 Albacores, 4 other boat classes and 6 non-boating members. Several members were in the market for newer and (so they believed) faster boats.

In addition, Bill had persuaded a talented artist colleague to create the Club logo, a stylized “SMS” in blue and black, and another friend to produce a printing plate and run off 500 letterheads for the Club, all free of charge. The design appeared on the Newsletter of April 29, 1971 for the first time, with Bill’s comment that he hoped everyone liked the final result – “If you don’t, and can beat our price, feel free to submit your suggestions”. Of course, there was no response.

For the first time, the Racing Committee ran a Team Racing Championship and a Long Distance Race around Browning Island, as well as the July and August Series races. Race locations were either off the west shore of Browning Island south of Gull Rock or south of Browning Island, depending on wind direction. By July the Club had 40 members and 34 Albacores. The Junior Sailing Program flourished under Fred Francis’s direction and the Francis family also hosted a very successful apres-sail party, the first of many, after the Muskoka District races.

The Club had only one Fireball, a boat of plywood, V-bottom construction, usually made by the owner. The class liked lots of wind and in a good breeze it took off. Hence, there were a couple of dozen very disappointed sailors hanging around Glen Echo on the morning of September 10th, waiting for a dense fog to lift and allow the Ontario Fireball Championship races to get underway. The weather eventually cooperated, and although the wind never approached levels that the sailors would have liked, they enjoyed a good series of races.

The final feather in the Club’s 1971 cap was the hosting of the Canadian Albacore Association Championships, centered at the Muskoka Sands on the weekend of September 24th to 26th. This annual event attracted a huge fleet, so big, in fact, that it was divided into two fleets. The A Fleet was composed of the top ranking sailors from far and wide and the B Fleet, numbering about 75 boats, comprised the less experienced, but still highly competitive skippers. Bill Gimby had sailed in the B Fleet for three years and stated “I know from personal and bitter experience (two dunkings and one wreck) how very, very difficult it is to finish in the top 30, let alone to win”. But, after five tough races, top place in the B Fleet went to Dave Sturch, skipper and Peggy Francis, crew from the South Muskoka Sailing Club and its new School. As a reward for such stellar performance, the Club waived the entry fee for the Sturch family to join. The races had indeed been tough. The wind picked up to near gale proportions on the Saturday afternoon and sent the marker boats into a tizzy by blowing the markers off their anchors in the deep waters of the lake, south of Browning Island, and driving them down wind. Protests post-race abounded. Dave went on to be Head Instructor of the now well-established School in 1972, and later on married his crew.

The Club’s own sailing season ended on September 18th with the annual meeting and closing dinner at Glen Echo. Prizes were handed out, the Club Championship going to John Francis, with Ron Moody runner-up. Festivities were rather dampened by the Gimby’s announcement of their decision to move their residence away from Toronto to the Clairmont area, and to sell their Muskoka cottage. Bill and Fran’s influence in the Club’s early days will be long remembered. He had set the Club off on a planing reach, and it has never looked back.

His successor, Dr. Rod Box, fell into a relatively easy task. Racing schedules were well established and George Kirton had accepted the responsibility of official measurer, a chore made necessary by the CAA’s regulations for all entries into their sanctioned races. Glen Echo continued to be the focal point of social activity, particularly the annual meeting, banquet and award of prizes in September. In later years, this annual event was very often hosted by Dolly and Fred, and the sailing school’s prize giving was made part of the evening’s fun. As well, a winter party in April at the home of a Toronto member was becoming an annual fixture.

In 1973 the Executive began to consider the need for a formal constitution and the task of drawing up the required papers was given to Fred Francis. As with legal matters generally, this took much longer than anyone had thought possible at the outset, but early in 1975 the By-Laws of the South Muskoka Sailing Club were duly signed, naming Fred himself, Chuck Davidson and Ron Moody as permanent Directors. The documents listed 30 sailing members and 13 social members.

The Sailing School continued to flourish at the Francis property on Browning Island and soon developed a reputation for graduating accomplished sailors. But success began to have disadvantages as parents realized what a bargain the school offered. Enrolment had exploded, and by 1975 new quarters were essential. The Club found a central location at Walker’s Point on the former Walter Pratt property, now owned by Dr. Gerald Hart, and entered into a five year lease with Gerald, one of the Club’s Charter Members. New ramps were constructed, and a work shed was designed by Tom Box and put together in early June by Tom and a group of equally enthusiastic, and equally amateur, assistants. A building on the property was available for indoor instruction. The teaching staff, led by Peggy Francis and assisted by Tom Box, Kathy Box, Michael Hart and Michael Cossar, were soon ready to go for ready for another summer. Through the later years of the 1970’s the “Birchcliff” site proved itself to have been a superb choice.



The sale of the “Birchcliff” property in 1980 forced the Executive to do some serious thinking about an alternative site. The problem was that there was nowhere to move to. Peter Fitzpatrick, the Commodore, called a meeting at his cottage on August 24th to go over the options, and in attendance were Rod Box, Dolly, Fred, John and Sheila Francis, Jim Kapelle, Ron Moody, Peggy Francis Sturch and Ruth Sturch. Rod, Fred and Ron reported on their efforts as a search committee to find a new site and the few possibilities were reviewed. These were first, asking David Mitchell if the School could occupy a portion of his bay, adjacent to his neighbour, Mr. Sparling. Second, a minute island near Campbell’s Landing Marina. Third, a property near the former Schell Marina (now Walker’s Point Marina), owned by a cousin of Phyllis Davidson. And fourth, a piece of land near Wright’s Island. No decision was reached but the Executive agreed to continue to peruse all these leads. They need not have been concerned, for in the event the new owner of “Birchcliff” turned out to be quite content to have the School remain where it was, and it continued there for another five years. When a move became necessary in 1985, Ron Moody offered to have the School relocate to his island, off the southwest shore of Ellen Gowan, and over the next few years there were several sites, including the little cove at the north end of Old Woman Island, starting in 1986, a piece of the east shore of Stonewall Island, starting in 1988, and lastly a parcel of public land at the south end of Eilean Gowan, looking across the channel towards Browning. Regardless of location, the School continued to be to Tail Wagging the Dog, asserting itself as the best sailing school in the district by winning nearly every trophy available.

The Executive were facing other pressing problems in 1980. Principal among these was the Club’s financial situation, because membership, and therefore income, was down. Not that it was at all precarious, for Ruth stated that she had put $2,000.00 of the current balance of $3,482.10 into a high interest savings account. And Peggy stated that the School had doubled its enrolment that year and could afford to give the instructors a bonus. The Club had applied for a Wintario grant but had been told that no capital grants were to be made in 1980. However, Kathy Moody had held a huge yard sale, with many items contributed by local marinas and other merchants, and the net proceeds amounted to $1,800. At the annual meeting of the Club a week later at the Francis cottage Jim Kapelle was elected Commodore and John Francis Vice-Commodore, with Charlie Colman as Race Committee Chairman, Peggy Sturch as Sailing School Director,  Dave Sturch as Bosun, Ron Stevenson as Treasurer, Vivienne Fitzpatrick as Social Convenor, Chuck Davidson as Membership Chairman, Sheila Francis as Recording Secretary, John Bezoian as Accountant, Rod Box as Archivist, and Art Sturch in charge of Trophies. John’s fee for his annual audit was to be 1 cent per annum.

The minutes of the Annual General Meeting held at the Francis cottage on August 29, 1981 record another successful year. The Club’s finances were much improved by a Wintario grant of $7,000 matched by an equal donation promised by Ron Moody, Jim Kapelle, Fred Francis, Dave Sturch and Peter Fitzpatrick, and plans were made to purchase four new boats. Jeff Moody, Head Instructor of the School, had won the Canadian Junior title for 19 years and under, the Ontario Albacore Championship, the US National Junior Championship, the District Championship, and the MLA Race for Albacores. He and brother Doug won the Club Championship, beating out father Ron and Mike Hart who placed second, and Dave Sturch and Charlie Colman who came in third. The sailing school had a record year with 50 children enrolled. And the Committee Boat now sported new aluminum pontoons. The old plastic ones were offered for sale to members.

Jim Kapelle’s Spring 1982 Newsletter promised a busy sailing summer and sailors were not disappointed. Finances were in “the black”, partly because annual dues were now up to $60 for Senior-Family membership, $35 for Social (non-sailing) and $15 for Junior (under 19). Peggy and Dave were sharing the School Directorship “one more time”. And at the Annual Meeting Charlie Colman announced plans to include Windsurfers and Hobie 16’s in the racing activities. 1983, with Charlie Colman as Commodore, was no different,  and at the MLA Regatta SMSC sailors placed first in four of the five classes including Doug Phillips in the Catamaran Class, Fred Francis in Open Centreboards, aboard the “Raven”, and Ron Moody in Keel Boats. A big money-raising event during the summer was an auction held at the Moody’s cottage in conjunction with a dessert party, with items under the hammer donated by many local merchants.

Dave Sturch served as Commodore for three years starting in 1984. This was the first season that the Club had to get along without the efficient services of Ron Pegg, who had run the committee boat almost since the Club began, and the Race Committee had to rely on volunteers. In 1985 races moved from the area east of Montcalm Point to the north end of Browning Island, mostly because more sailors had shorter distances to travel to the start line. In addition, beginning in 1986, the start sequence was shortened from 10min-5min-GO to 6min-3min-GO. Also in that year, sailboards and Albacores were started in the same race. Little by little, the trusty old Albacore was being super-ceded. In July, Ron Moody and Mike Hart were in charge of sailing arrangements for the Ontario Albacore Championships while Kathy Moody arranged billeting for the participants.

Dave was succeeded by brother Doug as Commodore in 1987. Again, in September, the SMSC hosted the Canadian Allbacore Championships, centered at the Muskoka Sands Inn. In the Championship Fleet, Jamie Gage and Steve Phillips were 4th and Ron Moody and Mike Hart 9th. Ron and Mike won the Club Albacore Championship, and Mike was also the Club Laser Champ. For the first time, keelboat owners were joining the Club and three keelboat races were offered. Brian Hoar became Keelboat Liason on the 1988 executive. That year, the wind-up party was held at the Walker’s Point Community Centrer. It featured a huge auction, again offereng all sorts of valuables under the hammer of Rod Box, and netting about $1,500 for the Club and, more particularly, for the School. The bad news was that the School was again on the lookout for new quarters for 1988 and members were asked to write to their Councillor at the Township of Muskoka Lakes to ask for help. As noted earlier, the School did find a home at Stonewall Island. In July, a very successful Club Beef & Reel, dinner and dance, with emphasis on western clothing, was held at Kerr Park in Bracebridge, and Club shirts began coming on the market.



Ron Gage became Commodore in 1989 and the sailing schedule published in the Spring covered four pages of activities to suit every sailor and boat class. Membership fees kept pace with the times, now up to $135 for a Sailing Membership, $50 for a Social and $25 for a Junior. The early 90’s marked the end of the Albacore as the designated boat for the District Championships and a change to the Laser. Albacore builders had faded away, and clubs in Ontario were replacing their Albacores as a family boat with Laser II’s and other classes. In 1991, with Michael Hart as Commodore, the Club kept up with the trend for the Sailing School, planning to purchase two Laser II’s. The old and still usable Albacores were kept for the beginner sailors. Summer racing was to be with the Laser II, but there would still be an annual Club race for Albacores, named in honour of Don Wright, who had been a tireless Albacore contender since the Club began. The keel boat fleet was up to 10 boats and the J/22 and J/24 boats were both considered the dominant adult racing boat of the Club. A Power Boat Rally was in the works. There were 25 Sailing members, 17 Social members, and two Honourary Members, namely Campbell’s Landing Marina and Walker’s Point Marina. In the Club’s early days Earl Dunn, owner of Walker’s Point Marina, presented the Club with a double-barrelled shotgun for starting races (dubbed “Dunn’s Gun”), and Gary Campbell had for many years supplied aluminum boats for the Sailing School. And then Earl had provided engines to power the boats.

The following year two more Laser II’s were acquired for the School and eight Albacores were still in satisfactory condition. On a less happy note, the Stonewall Island property would not be available for 1993 and the Executive spent many hours over the winter looking for a new site. Good fortune and good friends in the community resulted in the Club obtaining a lease of land owned by the Town of Bracebridge, adjacent to the park at the south end of Eilean Gowan, rent free. Of course, it was a very busy Spring, getting ready for the School opening day on July 5th, and the School had another season of full participation. As far as the Executive were concerned, School location problems were ended. For keelboat sailors, Racing Chairman, Duncan Hanney lengthened the season to include an Early-Bird Series. The Club was host to the Canadian J/22 Championships, and a J/24 Regatta was piggy-backed on the main races, held over two days of a weekend in August.

The matter of School location was, however, far from settled, as Tom Tutsch, the new Commodore, was soon to discover. This time it was the School’s neighbours who were unhappy; their quiet summer days were being disturbed by noise, kids, boat traffic – you name it. The Club was required to limit registration, pool boats, reduce time spent at the site, and generally upgrade behaviour, in order to continue as tenants in 1994. Prospects for future years were dim. Vigorous efforts were planned to persuade island residents and town councillors that the School was a “good thing” and should be preserved. The cost of moving the School had been a major expense and various fundraising events were held, including a “Boathouse Sale” in 1993, and sale of a game card in 1994, challenging participants to answer skill-testing questions on health and fitness. From the sailing and racing standpoints it was another fine summer, and the Club once again hosted a joint J/24 and J/22 regatta, following rave reviews from the previous year.

Fears for the School’s future on Eilean Gowan were well founded, but all was not lost. Tom Tutsch and his cohorts were able to convince the Town of Bracebridge that the School was worth supporting, and obtained a favourable lease from the Town to land on McVittie Island, at the mouth of the Muskoka River, starting in 1995. Not only that, but the Town agreed to assist with relocation and site preparation costs. The sailing and social season under Commodore Steve Phillips was again full, and with regard to sailing, there were several innovations, many emphasizing safety. Protests were to be discouraged and sailors were expected to do 720’s promptly as penance for a foul. Life jackets were encouraged, and when the wind speed exceeded 25 knots for a race, that race would not count in the standings, although seasoned sailors could race if they wished. J Boats were to sail windward/leeward courses with an offset mark, and Dinghies would stick to the traditional triangular course.



After so many moves, it was difficult to believe that the wanderings of the South Muskoka Sailing School had ended, but McVittie Island was indeed to become its permanent home. The way to success was not easy. It began in 1996, when the Club executive decided that the Sailing School operation would be much more heavily integrated into the Sailing Club from the standpoints of managements and operations. The Tail was indeed to Wag the Dog. Sailing Club members would be entitled to a Sailing School discount, and Sailing School participants and their families would automatically be Associate Members (formerly known as Social Members).

The excellent preparations of the site prior to the previous summer season on McVittie Island had laid the groundwork for a very successful School, and the neighbours, nervous at first, appeared to have concluded that all would be well. Now they were some distance away. And the School, under the direction ofEd Jarrett, and assisted by Dave Sturch, had enjoyed a fine racing summer by winning virtually every competition they had entered. In their Spring letter to all members of the Club and the School in May, 1996, the three “Top Guns”, Steve Phillips, Ed Jarrett and George Faught, announced that the Club was now in a position to build the pavilion that it had looked forward to for so many years. It was to be open-sided, with some seating and whiteboards, ideal for rainy days, and providing shade when needed. Equipment storage would be built at the rear. The Club now had seven Laser II’s and the same eight, trusty old Albacores, three completely refurbished from stem to gudgeon. A Gold Program was again to be made available, as well a private lessons for children and adults. Ed Jarrett was to be Sailing School Director, with Bill Sceviour assisting.

The Club realized that, in affluent Muskoka, shoreline property was virtually unobtainable, particularly for a sailing school, and out of our reach financially. However, the need for permanence was great, and the possibility of having a permanent home began to take shape in 1996. In October, Tom Tutsch wrote a long and detailed letter to all members. In it he stated that, through the good offices of many friends of the Club and the McVittie family, an opportunity had developed to “buy” the McVittie Island site which had now been rezoned for our purposes. The Club held an option to obtain the 10 acre property owned by the McVittie family, of which about one acre was suitable for School use, the remainder being marshland. The actual purchase would be by the Muskoka Heritage Foundation, to which the Club, through its members, would co-ordinate $40,000 in tax deductible donations. The Foundation would then lease the Sailing School portion of the site to the School for 100 years, with a further 100 year option to the School. The School would be required to pay the operating costs for the site, currently estimated at about $700 per year. Donors of $1,000 or more would be recognized by special discounts on membership and School tuition fees.

The plan had been unanimously endorsed by the Club Executive, and the task now was to raise the necessary funds prior to the expected closing date of November 30, 1996. This goal was reached well in advance of that date and, in his Spring 1997 letter to Club Members and Junior Sailors, Commodore George Faught paid special tribute to Mr. Russ Black, Mayor of Bracebridge and a long-term supporter of the SMSC, and to Don McVittie and the McVittie Estate, and, of course, to Tom Tutsch who had guided the plan to completion. Besides its now permanent possession of the Island property, the Club now had a pavilion and a fleet of seven Laser II’s, eight (the same old eight) Albacores, and a CL14. For the 1999 season, Fred had presented the School with the “Raven’, winner of countless Open Centreboard Class prizes at the MLA Regatta. Many summers of happy sailing and social activities lay ahead, and so did the millennium.

2009 Short update

The club did secure the McVittie Island site, by 15 generous club members donating funds to the Muskoka Heritage Fund, who in turn bought the site. The Heritage Fund in turn gave the club a 99 year lease. The site has been through over 10 years of volunteer works parties led by several Sailing School Directors, including, Bill Sceviour, Marvin Magee, Michael Hart, Charlie Colman & Duncan Hannay.

The club operates regular weekend racing on Saturday’s for GC21 keelboats and Sunday for Lasers. The school is thriving with 60-80 kids per week, ages 8-16; employing 8-12 instructors per season. The school has a large fleet of boats, 13-Prams, 5-Optis, 6-420’s, 5-Laser II’s and the original Raven. The site has gone through many improvements including the addition of an open class room, storage sheds, 160’ dock, instructor work shed and boys/girls washrooms.

The rest is history.



Yesterday, I watched from the vantage point of my home at Walker’s Point, looking over to the top tip of Browning Island, as preparations were made for the Early Bird. A Committee Boat was busy laying marks, difficult because there was very little wind, and there were a mere five Lasers drifting about, waiting to start. I have no idea who won, although I would be prepared to hazard a guess. The fact is that this was the thirtieth such race and hence represented something of a milestone. Many of those of us who were around 30 years ago are still extant and retain (as they say) “our marbles”. I really do not believe that, as we sat around on the lawn of Glen Echo in June, 1970, we had any idea how things would progress and could not have envisaged the South Muskoka Sailing Club and School as they are today. I do recall addressing the Club’s annual get-together in 1972 and saying to everyone, “You’ve come a long way, Baby!”


Long way, indeed! We’d only just begun!