Sail of the century
Toronto’s best-kept secret is a
10-minute ferry ride away
I am here to meet Laura Vanek from the RCYC — my chaperone for the day. Members have their own ferry to, well, ferry them to the 23-acre RCYC island. The boat runs every 30 minutes to and from the island.
Unlike the ferry to Centre Island, this boat is small, calm, not crowded and just plain enjoyable. There is no lineup.
“Wait until you get over there,” says Vanek. “You can’t help but fall in love.”
She’s right. Less than 10 minutes later, when the ferry docks, I’m walking on the boardwalk toward the gorgeous Southern-style clubhouse where we will have breakfast.
Apparently, Prince Edward laid the cornerstone for this clubhouse in 1919. It is love at first sight. This is a clubhouse I can get used to with a beautiful veranda that just calls out for summer cocktails and flowing white dresses.
All my Toronto stresses fade away. Today, on this beautiful Friday afternoon, as the sun beams down, I believe the RCYC is one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets. It must be.
For one thing, they still take members (as opposed to other private clubs with multi-year waiting lists.) For a $21,000 initiation fee for a family, and less than $3,000 in yearly dues, this could work out being more affordable than buying a cottage (and you don’t have to worry about traffic and threehour drives). Do the math.
RCYC was founded in 1852 as a recreational yachting club, but also as an unofficial auxillary to the Royal Canadian Navy. Apparently, they guard Lake Ontario or something.
But, I’m not sure what these guys will be guarding with grounds that are like a playground for adults—pleasant diversions abound. As I eat my breakfast on what is called the Veranda, I take in the surroundings. It’s so lush and green. The flowers are so colourful. It smells good! What can I say, except it’s stunning.
The grounds are home to a huge outdoor swimming pool, a lap pool, squash courts, tennis courts, full-day care and camps for children (Yay!).
A bulletin board at the restaurant — which has an adults-only section to boot — lists all the social events for summer. There are wine lunches and dinners with high-profile chefs pairing wines. It’s a different world.
Here, there are sailing camps (more than 50 per cent of Canadian Olympic sailors have been members here), lawn bowling, cruises, spring dinners, barbecues and frog races for kids.
Members can also borrow bikes, already on the property to get around, so they don’t have to bring their own. The RCYC is connected by ground to the other islands, so members can take leisurely bike rides and explore at their own pace. Maybe even sneak down to the nude beach at Hanlan’s, if that’s your thing, or over to Centreville with the kids.
Belly full, it is yacht time. Vanek takes me over to the Maggie Kelly, a Beneteau 40.7 boat. It sleeps eight, has a kitchen (the fridge is usually filled with beer, but not today) and is owned by a member named Chris Steer.
Although Steer is at work, today’s pampered princess crew is made up of his good friends Dale King and her husband John Golding, who met while sailing, as well as a 21-year-old Olympic hopeful named Billy Gooderham (Yes, those Gooderhams).
Yes, I have my own crew! King, Golding and Gooderham are racing sailors, but today they’re taking me out on what is called in the yachting world a “pleasure sail” or “pleasure cruise.” (This princess is all about pleasure.)
“Being on the water like this,” says Golding, “is like looking into a fireplace. Your mind just goes somewhere else.”
At least I think that’s what he said. I was too busy sun tanning and relaxing to the point of sedation to really pay attention.
I’m woken up when I learn that we have just diverted some sort of disaster. “We almost ran into that,” says Vanek, pointing out a massive tank ship. (I knew Billy was running around me like crazy … but, hey, I’m on a pleasure cruise. And that’s why I have a crew!)
Sailors and yachters have they own little society. After a good sail, they meet at the clubhouse for food, beer and discussion. No one knows each other by their last names. They only know each other by their given names or by the name of their boats.
And how do they feel about cottagers?
“We get into little arguments with friends who own cottages,” says Dale. “They’ll invite us up, and then we’ll say, ‘Come on our boat!’ Why should I drive three hours when I can take a 10- minute ferry and be on my boat?” I pull Dale aside.
“So, if I become a member, but can’t afford a boat, how do I get an in with the boat owners? Like, now that I’ve been on Chris’s boat, will he lend it to me?” Dale laughs. “Oh, yeah. He’ll for sure let you take out this $400,000 boat, no problem.”
Though the RCYC island is only open from May to October, they have a second indoor location on St. George where members can play squash, work out or swim in the pool. It turns out that I am a yachter. I’ve made friends who can introduce me to other friends, and before you know it, I’ll be “pleasure cruising” with the best of them.
After all, there are more than 300 boats docked at the RCYC. Surely, one of them wouldn’t mind a petite sidekick coming along for a pleasure sail. Who knows, maybe I’ll even learn to hoist the main sail or two.