Officially formed in 1903, Shelburne Harbour Yacht Club (SHYC) has always and continues to foster a prestigious association with yachting in Shelburne, Nova Scotia.
The original two-storey clubhouse used to be located on the Shelburne waterfront on the corner of Dock and George Street before being lost to Hurricane Edna in 1954. For a time after the loss of the original clubhouse, the group was effectively homeless.
“The club was washed away in a hurricane and for many subsequent years the club was pretty quiescent,” said SHYC Commodore Andy Blackmore.
“Then, in the early 80s, really came back together. We operated basically without a home for a number of years and then acquired a property just outside of town. We, more recently, have moved into town.”
Since 2002, the SHYC has been located on Shelburne’s Water Street in a building they share with the local performing arts centre. The SHYC’s location houses three entities under the same umbrella — the club itself, the local marina and the SHYC sailing academy.
The marina features 48 slips, over 15 mooring balls, gas and diesel fuel services, showers and laundry services. There is also a plan to expand to 50 slips in 2023 to accommodate more seasonal and transient sailors to the SHYC. With travel restrictions lifted post-COVID-19, more international and interprovincial sailors have been making their way to Shelburne for a taste of SHYC’s hospitality.
“Visitors that take a slip or mooring ball are more than welcome to basically have a guest membership of the club,” said Blackmore.
“We work hard to make sure people have access to what they need for shopping and guidance to restaurants… We’re very centrally located right in the historic district of Shelburne, so we’re within walking distance to museums, entertainment, restaurants and we’re a very short trip to the grocery store. Our approach is to welcome visiting boats as members of our family.”
As “the gateway to Nova Scotia,” Blackmore notes that Shelburne’s location and marina provide easy access to visitors of all stripes to take advantage of the amenities provided, whether they’re just passing through or making an extended visit. Shelburne, given its geography, also provides a lot of shelter from the open ocean.
“Whether you’re coming in or jumping off, it’s really a perfect location for easy access into the marina, and fuel, and staying overnight and provisioning, or just visiting,” said Blackmore.
The sailing academy offered by SHYC is designed to foster an appreciation of sailing for people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. The club is unique in that it’s in possession of a number of 15-foot Albacore dinghies formerly owned by the Canadian Navy, which were acquired by a group of passionate volunteers.
“They had all these 15-foot, two-handed training boats. They had a slew of them, I think like 50 of them,” said SHYC Sailing Director Rob Stork.
“Someone got wind that was the case and organized a convoy of trucks to go up there and for some nominal fee, take them all off of the Navy’s hands. When they got them back here, they basically culled the best 10 boats that they could with the best 10 rigs and then sold off the remaining to townspeople.”
This spirit of volunteerism has become a defining characteristic of the academy, the club and the marina, according to Stork.
“The way the club came about, the amount of contributions in kind and various volunteer efforts to originate the club in its current location, to keep it there, to grow it and to begin the sailing academy and grow it that to what it’s become today — that’s all come about through a lot of sweat equity and a lot of volunteer effort,” said Stork.
The sailing academy, which still uses some of this fleet of Albacores among some newer purchases, offers a variety of CANSail-certified programs, ranging from the “Wet Feet” program from ages seven and up through advanced sailing programs, as well as an adult learn to sail program. The small, scrappy, volunteer-based sailing academy on Nova Scotia’s south shore has seen a few of its graduates go on to become competitive sailors, many of whom go on to teach the younger generation.
“We put two sailors into the Sea Cadet Nationals, and they won two years in a row, and then one of those sailors went back and won the third year,” said Stork.
“The pipeline here is that students become coaches, coaches become head coaches and then they might continue to teach elsewhere or compete elsewhere. That’s kind of the pathway in their teenage years.”
Another SHYC sailing academy alumni, Savannah Taylor, has distinguished herself at Chester Race Week, earning the honours of female skipper and winning the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet Distance 1 Division as well as being crowned Sailor of the Year by Sail Nova Scotia.
SHYC also features a “Women on Water” program to give women, who may not have traditionally been given a chance to sail, an opportunity to learn the ropes.
“We have quite a few gals that have been social members who participated in the Women on Water program who are now avid dinghy sailors and are now attracting their sister to come and join,” said Blackmore.
Besides the classes provided by the sailing academy, SHYC hosts a number of regattas over the course of the season, with the proceeds looping back around to fund the academy. Due to the academy’s large Albacore fleet, Shelburne has attracted many dedicated Albacore racers to not only race locally but to live there full-time. The SHYC hosts both a local Albacore championship, the Eastern Canada Albacore Regatta, as well as hosting the Albacore Worlds in 2019.
“Typically, an Albacore regatta would be held in Kingston, or in Toronto, or in Toronto or in Toronto,” said Blackmore. “We were able to attract that away, and people realized they probably had the best Canadian regatta that they ever attended in Shelburne.”
Shelburne also hosted the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) Master Atlantic Coast Championship, a single-handed racing event divided into age classes for sailors aged 30 and up.
“That was a somewhat smaller event but again, very well received,” said Stork. “We’re hoping to do more work with ILCA and doing Laser Masters in the future.”
For those visiting Shelburne for some leisurely activities, SHYC also features The Upper Deck — a full-service pub with a wraparound deck that offers a panoramic view of everything the Shelburne harbour and yacht club has to offer. Beyond this, SHYC is also starting a sea kayak rental service for anyone who wishes to take to the water without a boat of their own.
With the summer starting in earnest, Stork and Blackmore invite visitors from near and far to visit SHYC to experience what they describe as, “one of the friendliest clubs in the Maritimes.” Stork, who was not originally a sailor, came to Shelburne from New York with his wife, where the welcoming of both the town and the yacht club convinced them to settle down on Nova Scotia’s southern shore.
“When cruisers from our club go south, that’s the reputation,” said Stork. “If you say you’re from Shelburne Harbour Yacht Club, whether you’re down in the Caribbean or any of those places, people know what that is because they’ve had a taste of it.”