by Jodie James Elliott
Originally posted January 2013.
Published in Shackles and Cringles Sailing Magazine by The Canadian Albacore Association Spring 2013.
No one has ever called this the Toronto Sailing Show. It is the Toronto Boat Show. And if you are a sailor, you will have to navigate a city of towering bridge boats, shiny accoutrements and a fleet of disembodied outboard motors before happening upon the object of your affection. Unlike the rules of the water, the tradeshow rule for right-of-way favors powerboats. Sailing-related exhibits are pushed aside, hidden away as if their devotees are the acolytes of some esoteric cult. Well, it is true that sailing requires unique skills and knowledge of secret rituals. It has its own language. We prefer a challenge. Very well, I shall take the long way.
I arrive via the Heritage Court Entrance on the west end because I prefer what’s left of the Arts & Crafts architecture of Ricoh Coliseum to the dehumanized glass façade of the Direct Energy Centre that overlooks the barren parking lot, exposed to the icy infinity of Lake Ontario in January. It also brings me to the Boat Show’s pièce de résistance, the World’s Largest indoor lake. It is host to about a dozen visitors paddling around. Or water-cycling. The Doobie Brothers crackles over the PA system – as something one might hear on the docks in summertime – interrupted occasionally by the announcer vainly urging the scant assemblage of sightseers to queue up for a turn on the water. I decide to pass on this opportunity and carry on.
The premium aisles are devoted to chrome-plated throttles and joysticks, tempting the idle hands of non-sailing boaters. Instead of conversations about optimizing sail trim or rig tension adjustments, one hears proclamations of horsepower and torque. But further down, among the retro speedboats, I find my attention consumed by a restored 1957 Aristo-Craft Avalon, presented by the Antique Classic Boat Society of Toronto. There’s something familiar about its curvilinear lines ending at the speed fins that adorn the stern. For some reason, I want to climb in, roll up my sleeves and enjoy a whisky sour. And then I realize where I’d seen this boat before: it appeared in a Jonny Quest cartoon when I was a kid. Amazing how an image like that burns itself into the psyche. Any boy who grew up wanting to be Race Bannon will know what I mean.
The booth for the Canadian Albacore Association is located near the back. There, they display the new Ovington, courtesy of J-Town, and hand out brochures on behalf of the sailing clubs. Apparently, there is a cooperative program through which you can score four Albacores for eight grand. This has already launched a new fleet in Port Perry, Ontario. I want to ask the CAA’s volunteer attendant more questions about this but am interrupted by a pair of septuagenarians dressed in some kind of yachting uniform, adorned with ribbons, pin insignias and badges. They accost the young woman with a series of aimless questions. I can tell by the way she glances in my direction, silently pleading, that she could use a diversion, but far be it for me to interfere with the flirtatious endeavors of decorated sailors. She’ll be fine.
And besides, now that I’ve finally located something related to sailing, I want to see more. Fogh Marine is just around the corner and yeah, okay, they have a Laser. But they’ve colonized the majority of their real estate with things like the Hobie Wave Catamaran. Have you seen this thing? If Fisher-Price ever got into mass-producing boats for toddlers, it would look like this. The hull construction is a rotomolded polyethylene. That’s the same plastic used to make that orange and yellow “Little Tikes” car your kid abandoned in the backyard five years ago. I suspect this cat will someday suffer the same fate.
Standing here, disheartened, in the centre of this brochure-wagging concourse, I plan an escape route that will at least allow a stopover at the Nautical Mind Bookstore in the neighboring hall. And as I am about to flee, I spot something beautiful and unexpected. Her gaff-rigged mast peering nobly above the clutter of commerce that threatens to shoulder me out. It’s like stumbling upon a charming girl at a 905-infested nightclub; it simply doesn’t happen. Determined to meet her, I dive back into the crowd to make her acquaintance. Mesdames et Messieurs, je vous presente le Bras d’Or 11, a catboat plucked from the designs of Charles Wittholz and represented independently at the Toronto Boat Show by her manufacturer, Richelieu Boat Works Inc. of Montreal.
It was Louis Ducharme, founder of Atelier Nautique Richelieu who brought Wittholz’s drawings to life with the help of Cape Bretoner, Keith Nelder. Together, they knocked off a few prototypes and commissioned HTM Composites near Quebec City to produce the fiberglass hull. The finished boat, with its mahogany features, is assembled on the south shore of the St Lawrence near Montreal. The Bras d’Or 11 is a very nice dinghy. A happy ending to a glum little stroll.