Sailing at the Canadian Military Colleges

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

Life at the RMC is intended to change you. Its function is to transform young, smart Canadians into future Canadian Armed Forces leaders. To this end, it educates, trains, exhausts, demands, expects, and when necessary, provides the much needed mentorship or guidance that young leaders require. It intends to make them more capable than when they arrived: as capable as an uncertain future demands in the profession of arms. Years after they have left the College, ex-Cadets will tell stories about the exhaustion of the obstacle course, the sleepless nights spent trying to stay on top of academics, the snap inspections called at the worst possible times, and finally, the triumph of graduation and commissioning. But, these are just half of the stories. Mixed with these, and arguably as important, are the tales of what we did to regain our perspective or simply blow off steam.

Some of the ways in which Cadets regain perspective are nearly legend. Skylarks, the Balls, or the occasional pint downtown are as much a part of this formative experience as the brightly polished oxfords or the pith helmets. Sport, in my opinion the most useful and constructive leisure activity, is institutionalized within the four pillars. Some cadets have the talent and dedication to play on a competitive or varsity team, balancing the demands of their sport against an already intentionally busy schedule. I came to RMC as a UTPNCM candidate after spending much of my adult life as an Aircraft Structures Technician; I lack the knees and back to participate in sports at the level of the ROTPs. Given my background in aviation maintenance, I volunteered to help operate the RMC Yacht Club as a way to contribute, and I am currently serving my second year as the Club’s Commodore.

Throughout the colleges’ history, sailing as a sport has occasionally come close to disappearing from college life. When I first found the Club it was experiencing one of these cyclical downturns. What was once a part of the public infrastructure at RMC had long since been relegated to a NPF club, and as such, had become entirely dependent on volunteer time, effort, and resources. Competitive Cadet racing also died out for several years; only recently has it been revived again by Cadets, and is now being actively promoted and pursued. Around the same time that I became involved, the Club experienced an influx of other energetic new members. My maintenance skills were soon put to work restoring the Club boats to service, other members began actively recruiting and organizing activities, and together we have had a great deal of success: membership has increased tenfold, the fleet of boats has been expanded, regular year-round activities have been founded, infrastructure has been acquired or allocated, and competitive sailing has once again become an official part of the RMC sports program. We have had incredible support from the College Chain of Command, PSP, and our many volunteers, and we continue to work towards ensuring that sailing will continue to be a part of RMC for the foreseeable future. The stories Cadets tell decades from now will include those of sails stretched tight and hulls heeled precariously in what is arguably some of the best freshwater sailing that Canada has to offer.

Much of the sailing history of the Canadian military colleges has been lost. While preparing a recent proposal on the Club’s behalf I came to the realization that I had no idea of where we had come from, and I began uncovering a history as old as the College itself. This research has been furthered by several other members, and we have come to the conclusion that what history we can find should be collected and preserved. Many official records have been kept, and these tell much of the story; however, there are many gaps concerning the experiences of the Cadets themselves. We request that anyone who has had experiences sailing at any of the Canadian military colleges please write to us about your experiences. If there happens to be photos or film that you can share, please scan it and send us a copy. Our intent is to build a part of the Club website that will celebrate as much of this history as we can find. It is our sincere hope that, with your help, we can preserve the stories of this proud tradition.

I would like to offer to you one of my own memories that will stay with me for many years to come. Another UTPNCM Cadet named Steve Lays volunteered extensively at the Club last summer, and with our combined skills we managed to get a particularly obstinate older boat working again after much effort. In spite of heavy winds, we decided to take her out for a test sail, more to enjoy the fruits of our labors than to test the rigging in any meaningful way. We shortened sail as much as we could, and started our normal trip to and from Wolfe Island. Rollers were moving in from Lake Ontario that calmed to a mere 3-4 feet in height as they entered the bay, and they broke every so often in the gusts so that a mist was covering the surface of the water. In spite of flying little canvas in the heavy but warm summer wind, and in spite of pointing as close to the wind as we could, we were heeled over enough that the stanchions were throwing up a spray of their own as the water flowed over them. From where I was sitting in the cockpit I could look though the cabin windows and below the water as they submerged in time with the crashing of the rollers over the rails. Time and again we were nearly blinded with the spray coming over the fore-deck, our vision preserved only by the sunglasses we were wearing in the full blaze of the midsummer sun. We were cheering and yelling to each other to keep the old girl stable, and I can honestly say that I smiled so hard that day I thought my face might break. When we made it safely back to the leeward side of the St. Lawrence pier, there were several carpenters, club members, and College staff watching us come back in. They shook their heads as if to scold us as we passed, but so too were they smiling from ear to ear.

When I leave RMC I want those who follow to be able to find my stories, both the good and the bad, and I want them to know what can come from the camaraderie forged in sport. I would ask you to contribute your stories so that this fine tradition of sailing at all of the military colleges can be preserved.

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

This article will be followed bi-weekly with three subsequent articles describing the history of RMCC sailing, the boats at the College over time, and the challenges that remain for the preservation of this proud RMCC tradition.