By Lewis Jackson
Shelburne, Nova Scotia has had a lengthy and prestigious association with yachting. From her storied shops and yards were launched the Roseway Yacht, an eight-ton Schooner, which in 1786 made a 28-day passage across the Atlantic to London, Alba, a prodigious trophy winner during the early years of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. Mistress, second place finisher in the Newport to Plymouth race as well as the Royal Yacht Club Regatta at Cowes, Waterwitch, triumphant in the Miami to Nassau race, Malay, two time winner of the Newport to Bermuda Race, Little Haligonian, three time victor of the St. Petersburg to Havana race and Svapp which carried internationally renowned yachtsman W.A.Robertson on his 32,000 mile round the world voyage.
In addition to her acclaim as a distinguished building centre, Shelburne also came to be the home of the Shelburne Yacht Club. Although an informal club consisting of locally built yachts was active as early as 1877 and invitational regattas were held as early as 1898; the original Shelburne Yacht Club was not formed until 1903.
In that year the club was incorporated and the following year a building committee engaged a local contractor to construct a two story club house set on pilings near the water’s edge on the northwest corner of Dock and George Streets.
From the outset the SYC established a general program of activities and continued the annual regattas initiated in 1898. The 1905 Regatta was one of the more noteworthy, with fishing sloops from across Shelburne County racing locally and then going on to win top honours in Halifax against Tancook Schooners from elsewhere in the province. The club also hosted an International Race in 1907 where locally constructed Swampscott Racing Dories competed against entrants from the Massachusetts Racing Dory Association for the Lovitt-Wagner Cup. Success of the American craft at these races prompted return matches in the United Stated the following year.
In the mid 1930’s several club members embarked upon a program of Snipe Racing and more than a dozen such craft were built by local groups. They were rewarded for their efforts in 1947 when Shelburne Yacht Club’s ‘Rascal’ won the Dominion Snipe Boat Championship, an achievement which sent her crew forward to represent Canada in the International Races held at Geneva, Switzerland the same year.
The original club was disbanded after the clubhouse on Dock Street fell victim to the effects of Hurricane Edna in 1954.
It was revived again in 1983 when eighteen local yacht owners formed the Shelburne Harbour Yacht Club and hosted the Nova Scotia Schooner Association races as part of Shelburne’s Bicentennial activities. At first functioning out of rental rooms, in 1992 the SHYC purchased a property to serve as a clubhouse location at Sandy Point on the Eastern Shore of Shelburne Harbour. After operating this site for more than a decade, in 2003 the SHYC moved to a new location on Shelburne’s Historic Waterfront, within the Muir-Cox Shipyard Museum Complex. Housed in a building formerly used by Harley S. Cox and Sons to construct large vessels undercover, the club features wrap-around balconies overlooking Shelburne’s majestic harbour and shares space with the Osprey Arts Centre and Theatre, Shelburne Harbour Marina Association, and Shelburne Sailing Academy. Now boasting over 300 members SHYC has become a favoured stop for boats travelling the across the Atlantic or up the eastern US seaboard.
In recent years SHYC has embarked on an ambitious campaign to re-start dinghy sailing in the harbour. Shelburne Sailing Academy began operating in 2006 and to date has put over 600 children and Adults through it’s learn to sail programs. In 2008 and every year since, SHYC has hosted the East Coast Albacore Championships, the largest open International Class Dinghy regatta in the whole of the Province of Nova Scotia.
UPDATE: In 2019, SHYC in partnership with the Town of Shelburne, hosted the International Albacore Championship, with some 47 sailing teams and several hundred of their family members from around the world descending on Shelburne Harbour. These events alternate biennially between North America and Europe in world class locations and the SHYC event has been widely cited as one of best ever of its kind. It was named Regatta of the Year by Sail Nova Scotia and Sail Canada. In 2020, SHYC was voted Sport Organization of the Year by Sport Nova Scotia.
Plans are in the works to host more major regional, national and international dinghy regattas in 2022-2025.