OHCC is now home to the biggest fleet of Contenders in North America with at least 15 boats, half of which race regularly during the season – on Tuesdays and Thursday there are typically more Contenders than any other boat from the club. Every year the Canadian Championships are held in Kingston or Toronto, a trip is made to Ottawa for the Skiff Grand Prix and to Florida for the mid-winters, and the fleet has brought in trainers from other countries. It is only likely that the fleet will continue to grow as more and more sailors realize that hiking is for suckers.

A Brief History of the Contender Fleet at OHCC

The Contender, a single-handed trapezing dinghy, was invented in 1967 by Australian Ben Lexcen (ne Bob Miller). This little Aussie boat must have had some obvious appeal, because it wasn’t very long after its creation that it emerged on various lakes throughout Canada, some 10,000 miles away. By the early 1980s, there were over 67 registered Contenders across Canada, both homemade and imported. Canada has now hosted three World Championships in 1981, 2001, and 2008, with the 1981 edition happening at OHCC…

The First

The Royal Canadian Yacht Club, located in Toronto, on the north shore of Lake Ontario, is one of the oldest yacht clubs in Canada. Established in 1852, it was and continues to be known as the training ground of many great Canadian sailors. It is also said to be the club where the first Contender in Canada was imported and sailed. KC1 was purchased by the Stinson family, members of RCYC, from a builder in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was sailed by the father, the daughter, and the two sons, one of whom, Trevor, went on to race it quite successfully. The Canadian Contender Champion in 1976, he also served as president that year, when the Canadian Contender Association moved its operations from the West Coast of Canada to Toronto.

The Outer Harbour Centreboard Club (Toronto, Ontario)

Tucked away at the end of Cherry Street in Toronto’s downtown is the outer harbour, a gift for small boat sailors. This sheltered inlet provides relatively flat water in most breeze, and easy access to Lake Ontario for the more adventurous sailor. For the racers, fixed markers are placed around the outer harbour making regattas easy to run. Originally pegged as a potential container port in the early 1970s, the Toronto Harbour Commission had concluded it was not a viable plan, and offered over 200-plus hectares of property to small boat sailors on a temporary basis. Several community sailing clubs were formed which offered sailing schools and a place to socialize by the waterfront. One of the clubs that was founded at this time was the Outer Harbour Centreboard Club, which became a club for private small boat owners. OHCC’s fleet included CLs, Flippers, and Wayfarers, and the sailors were a mix of families, novices, and pros. A self-help club, it was (and remains) inexpensive. The Contender has been a fixture at the OHCC since its debut in Canada.

Interestingly, the first single-handed trapezing boat to sail out of the OHCC was not, in fact, a Contender. That honour instead went to a souped-up Flipper, owned by Hans Kofod (KC46, KC63). After seeing Trevor Stinson sailing his Contender out of RCYC, Hans imported his own from Performance Sailcraft, a company in Quebec. When he had joined the OHCC in 1973, Frank Whittington (KC 47, KC62, CAN 82) had been the owner of an Enterprise and Albacore; but he tried out Han’s Contender, and was hooked (literally and figuratively). In 1977, he sold his Albacore and purchased KC47 from Performance Sailcraft. Joe Holdenreid (KC43) and Konrad Widmaier (KC44) were also OHCC Contender sailors who went the do-it-yourself route. They began building their boats in October 1975, completed them in October 1976, and launched them in 1977.

The same year Frank picked up KC47, Joe’s fame attracted Brock Munro to the fleet. Previously a Thunderbird and Shark sailor at the Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club, Brock had been looking for a single-handed boat to sail, and Shark teammates told him about Joe sailing the Contender out of OHCC. Brock went to see Joe, who took Brock out for a sail. He recalls of that day, “I was tucked into the cockpit and watched what Joe was doing.” When he got back to shore, Hans Kofod offered his boat for Brock to try on his own, and Brock cheerfully remembers that, “I sailed out in into the middle of the harbour, and was flat out on the wire. I got ready to tack, but didn’t let the main out enough. I got in, got around the boat, and capsized.” Undeterred, Brock ordered his own Rondar Contender from Performance Sailcraft (KC57), and he, Colin Strangeway (KC55), Joe Holdenreid(KC43), Hans, Konrad Widmaier, and Frank formed the core of the Contender sailors at the OHCC. They would also become instrumental in the organization of the 1981 Contenders Worlds in Toronto.

The 1981 Worlds (Outer Harbour Centreboard Club, Toronto)

The story is that the 1981 Worlds landed at the OHCC courtesy of the hand-standing Contender sailor Trevor Stinson. In the late-70s, Stinson had competed in a Contender Worlds in the United States, and promised the ICA that Toronto would be an excellent host for a Contender Worlds. And then he conveniently dropped out of the Contender scene, leaving the CCA with a number of correspondences from the ICA asking how the work towards the 1981 Contender Worlds was going.

Kingston, Ontario, was first batted around as a venue for the 1981 Worlds, but the CCA could not guarantee the Kingston race organizers that 30 boats would attend, and Kingston was no longer an option. Thus, the OHCC sailors stepped up to the challenge of hosting an international event at the OHCC – no small feat for a tiny self-help club with only one crash boat at their disposal- but (with the special ingenuity that only Contender sailors can muster) they pulled it off. Many of the international competitors were welcomed into the homes of the OHCC sailors, and a race committee was cobbled together from friends and family of the Canadian fleet. The sailing conditions for the regatta were outstanding (or terrifying, depending on who you talk to). Frank Whittington recalled 10-foot waves on the last day of racing, and Bert Pike remembered being in the troughs and unable to see the tips of the competitors’ masts. Kiwi sailor Pete Newlands won the championship, with Brit Tony Smith and Richard Parks placing second and third, respectively.

Contender on Wikipedia

Stephanie Mah – January, 2013