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Whistler Sailing Association unveils green plan

Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Envirofund supports initiative

July 19 2018
PHOTO SUBMITTED - Electric feel The Whistler Sailing Association is replacing its gasoline engines with electric engines.

  • ELECTRIC FEEL The Whistler Sailing Association is replacing its gasoline engines with electric engines.

Sailing is one of the most environmentally friendly sports around, but the Whistler Sailing Association is looking to eliminate its carbon footprint entirely.

The club is in the early stages of replacing the gasoline motors in its coach boats with Torqeedo Cruise 4.0 rechargeable electric motors in order to help keep Alta Lake healthy and safe for decades to come.

Head coach Francois Hebert credited local Lennox McNeely and his wife, Mei Liu, for helping to spearhead the project.

“One of our team members was really interested in helping us with this project so we were looking at ways to make the club more sustainable and more environmentally friendly,” he said. “Sailing is already a green activity, using wind power, but we do have small engines for the small boats, for the coach boats that are used.”

The WSA currently has five coach boats that will need new engines. The project actually started with replacing the motor on the detachable dock section that motors around Alta Lake as a barge.

“We got one (engine) last year for the barge and that exceeded our expectations of what it could do and how well it worked. It served as a test for us to see if it would work for our coach boats,” said Hebert.

The club has raised roughly 75 per cent of the necessary funds for an engine for one coach boat. Each engine costs $12,700 and the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation’s Envirofund has given the club a grant for $3,800, roughly a quarter of the total.

McNeely and Liu have contributed the other $7,600.

Hebert said the cause is important since it will reduce the club’s emissions to zero when all the coach boats have the electric engines, while it also prevents the possibility of gasoline leaking into the lake. As well, with rising temperatures and more people enjoying Alta Lake, its carrying capacity is strained, making it all the more important to take action.

Hebert explained the batteries hold their charge for between six and seven hours at higher speeds, though he said the club will be operating at lower speeds more often than not. In those cases, the batteries can last for nine to 10 hours.

Hebert said a fundraiser is slated for Aug. 15 at 5678 Alta Lake Rd. from 4:30 to 8 p.m.

“We’re going to do boat rides by donation if people want to go out on the water,” Hebert said, adding there will also be snacks and prizes as part of the evening.


Whistler Sailing Association to host first local disabled sailing camps

Partnership with WASP garners regional interest

 Martin 16 sailboats
 The Martin 16 sailboat is designed for stability, allowing disabled athletes to safely pilot the watercraft.   Photo by Disabled Sailing Association of Victoria

Vince Shuley / Whistler Question September 21, 2015 06:56 PM

Whistler Adaptive Sports Program (WASP) runs camps and clinics for around a dozen sports over the course of the year, but through a partnership with the Whistler Sailing Association (WSA), for the first time it will give its members a chance to try sailing on Alta Lake.

“We hosted a pilot day last year with the WSA for some of our local youth and they had a blast,” said Chelsey Walker, executive director of WASP. “That led us to wanting to do a more expanded camp. These types of partnerships where we can work with sport-specific clubs and bring our clients into a new sport, works really well for Whistler Adaptive because it allows us to expand into areas where we may not have the staff or volunteer support internally.”

The camp — which runs as two separate two-day camps from Sept. 24-25 and Sept. 26-27 from Lakeside Park — is open to children or adults with physical, cognitive or sensory disabilities and sailing experience is not necessary. Participants will be piloting the 5m (16 foot) Pirate dinghies as well as the specially designed Martin 16 sailboats.

“The Martin 16s have a lead keel under the boat that makes them very stable and they can’t tip over or capsize,” explained WSA head coach Francois Hebert. “The sailor can control everything with just their hands without having to be mobile on the boat. They’re also made to have a coach on board so you can have someone behind them giving guidance.”

Hebert added that Martin 16 sailboats can even be modified with sip and puff technology to allow quadriplegic sailors to pilot the watercraft.

While WSA has 12 Pirate dinghies available for participants with cognitive disabilities or visual impairments, the Martin 16s had to be loaned from the Disabled Sailing Association (DSA) of B.C. in Vancouver.

“I picked up the phone and started calling around and eventually got speaking with the DSA in Vancouver,” said Hebert of organizing the event this past spring. “They got back to us two weeks later saying they could help us out by loaning us two of their boats. We had to transport them up here to Whistler, but they said we could use them for the duration of the camps. Once we had that sorted by late June, we moved ahead with WASP to book in the dates.”

There are currently 12 participants taking part between the two camps, with the majority of them coming from outside Whistler. Both WASP and the WSA hope to grow the event next year.

“We want to make this a part of our regular programming and offer it every year,” said Hebert. “Obviously (whether) we move forward with this the equipment is a factor; if we establish our own program in the future we’d have to look into buying our own boats.”

For more information or to register for the camps head to

Whistler Regatta sets sail

B.C. Circuit event gaining momentum in regional sailing community

Whistler Regatta

Vince Shuley / Whistler Question  August 24, 2015 06:36

Alta Lake was a hive of activity this past weekend (Aug. 22 – 23) with 74 sailors taking part in the annual Whistler Regatta. Over two days, a total of 10 races took place with windy conditions in the early afternoon making for excellent competition sailing. “The wind came in right on time,” said Whistler Sailing Association (WSA) head coach Francois Herbert. “The amount of sailing that happened in a short time was very good. It was by far the biggest event we’ve ever had. We have that ability in Whistler to run a lot of races very efficiently.”

Each race took between 20 and 45 minutes depending on the wind and class of boat, with the majority of the 70 boats in the water being the single-handed Optimist dinghies with some larger Laser dinghies participating as well. Sailing clubs travelled from Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria, with some clubs even coming from as far as Ontario to train leading up to the Canadian Optimist Dinghy Championships in Squamish this weekend (Aug. 29 – Sept. 4).Around 13 young Whistler sailors participated with more than half of those kids participating in their first sanctioned sailing event.

“It’s a great learning opportunity for (the kids) to have all these other clubs come to them,” said Herbert. “One weekend of racing like this is like doing two weeks of camps. It brings the sailors to a whole other level. It’s also affordable because you don’t have to travel. We don’t have a full-fledged travelling race team here. If we’re lucky we do two events a year and one of them is the Whistler Regatta. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re moving closer and closer every year.”

Herbert said parents of members of the WSA are beginning to ask about the next level of racing and how the club can begin to travel to other events. The logistics of moving sail craft from one place to another makes it quite cost prohibitive, but the more support the club gains from parents the more likely the WSA will be able to attend other regattas on the B.C. Circuit.

For now, the club is happy to grow steadily and generate more and more interest from the community. Earlier the spring, Mike Douglas from local action sports production company Switchback Entertainment, came out to film a promo video for the club in hopes of growing membership and getting more Whistlerites out in sail craft.

“We’ve had our best season ever,” said Herbert. “Our club is growing rapidly and all our courses and camps for both kids and adults have been filling up. The video by Mike was shared on all of our social media and a lot of the visitors at the regatta saw it before they came to Whistler. It’s putting us even more on the map.”

The sailing season begins to wrap up in early October, but one more event will take place before WSA packs up for the winter. Partnering with Whistler Adaptive and the Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia, three 16-ft. boats designed specifically for disabled sailors will hit the water on Alta Lake from Sept. 24 – 27 for an adaptive sailing camp.

For more information or full results from the Whistler Regatta go to


Volunteer of the Month: Maya Christensen

The 14-year-old keeps busy lending a hand with the Interact club, at the Whistler Sailing Association and she’s about to head to Denmark on exchange

 Maya Christensen

Alyssa Noel / Whistler Question
July 20, 2015 07:51 PM

Maya Christensen has only lived in Whistler for around two years, but already the 14-year-old is making a mark on the community.

She has been an active member of the Interact youth rotary club, volunteers regularly for the Whistler Sailing Association summer camps and helped start up the toy lending library, an initiative spearheaded by her dad Thomas Christensen, who is also a Rotarian.

This week Maya will head to Denmark on a Rotary exchange for one year. She hopes to continue her volunteer efforts while in that country.

The Question: Tell us about some of your volunteer efforts.

Maya Christensen: I started to volunteer when my dad joined the Rotary Club. I volunteered with the Rotary pancake breakfast at the last children’s festival. I was in the Canada Day parade last year. My dad started up a toy lending library for kids zero to six years old. We had to do a lot of the labeling and cleaning and all of that stuff, just getting the toys prepared.

Q: You’re also involved in the Interact club.

MC: It’s the high school version of Rotary… we made a film for the 72 Hr. Filmmaker Showdown about random acts of kindness. We also did a few other fundraisers.

Q: And you’re involved in the sailing club?

MC: I was actually there today! Patrick McCurdy is one of the senior Rotarians and (serves as commodore of the club). Most weekdays last summer and most this summer — and the year before that —I’ve been volunteering at the sailing club. We do a lot of the stuff the coaches do and help out with the kids and teach them to sail.

Q: It sounds like your dad is a big motivation for your volunteering.

MC: When he started doing community work through the Rotary, I just got roped in. He called me to help with Rotary dinners and fundraisers to get me involved and bring me along. He knows I’m ready to give a helping hand.

Q: He might have helped get you started, but what motivates you to keep volunteering?

MC: You meet a whole bunch of people and it’s a whole bunch of fun doing different things. I’ve never done a pancake breakfast before. I didn’t think I was a decent sailor, but apparently I’m decent enough to help kids. Helping the world is something I strongly believe in. I love being around kids at the sailing club. It’s so much fun.

Q: How has volunteering affected your life?

MC: For sailing, it’s increased my skills. It’s just a great experience. You get a lot out of it and through the Rotary you meet so many amazing people. The Rotarians are a group of amazing people… Then there’s the Rotary exchange students. There was just a dinner for them that was so fun. There were people from Europe and Asia and from all over the place and they were amazing.

Q: And you’re about to become one of them. Will you keep volunteering in Denmark?

MC: My grandfather is part of the Rotary Club in Denmark. He loves it. I hope to work with him over there. My school in Denmark is based around being social, just being around other people. I hope we do some volunteering through the school.

Q: Do you have any advice for young people who might be interested in volunteering?

MC: Just ask around. Ask your favourite camp if they need help. There are camps all over the place and I bet they could use a helping hand. There are so many amazing things you can do.

Silver Linings: Sail away with the WSA

 Whistler Sailing Association


Victoria Crompton / Whistler Question
July 6, 2015 07:05 PM

My interview with commodore Patrick McCurdy of the Whistler Sailing Association (WSA) had gone well. Then there was the unexpected, and seemingly rash offer: “So would you like to go for a sail?”

I’d had no experience — didn’t even know any nautical jargon other than “ahoy matey” and a few salty phrases appropriate for “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” Although I’m familiar with the terms jib, boom, spinnaker, keel, tiller and rudder, I had no idea to which bit of the boat each referred. However, reassured that nothing was expected of me beyond a little directed rope pulling, I accepted Patrick’s offer.

Barbie Walker kindly volunteered to take me out. She was the skipper and I her crew — not “passenger” or “observer,” but “crew.”  That made me feel pretty good — even potentially competent. Barbie, in her late 60s, leapt gracefully into our boat — one of WSA’s fleet of pirate-class dinghies. I followed awkwardly, praying I wouldn’t capsize us before we left the dock. When the wind caught our sail we surged forward and flew towards the other side of the lake.

Though faintly terrified, I was hooked. My job was to tend the jib. On skipper Barbie’s command I would let go of one rope, dive under a horizontal pole — possibly the boom — grab for another rope, pull hard and jam it into a cleat.

Barbie showed me how to hook my feet under a nylon band and lean way out to counterbalance the boat as the opposite gunwale almost went under. It was thrilling — even though I got a charlie horse the first time I tried it. We operated like a smoothly oiled machine thanks to Barbie’s patience and calm instructions.

You too can become an old salt through the Whistler Sailing Association. It’s a great group of people — dedicated and very welcoming. Lots of the members are seniors. In fact, Patrick said last year an 84-year-old woman turned out regularly to race.

Several of the seniors have impressive sailing credentials. Barbie herself is a three-time world champion and sailed for Canada. But there are also those like me with little or no experience. One fellow I spoke with hadn’t sailed for 20 years and was looking forward to getting back at it. The WSA welcomes all — its mandate is to “reach out to the community and make sailing accessible and affordable.”

If you are interested, a good starting point would be to show up for the $15 drop-in session on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for an introductory lesson. From there, you can enrol in one of the adult Learn-to-Sail programs usually held on weekends or evenings. Wednesdays at 6 p.m. is race night followed by a barbecue. It’s a great opportunity to hone your skills, connect with other sailors and socialize. Members who have passed an assessment and paid their dues have open access to the boats and equipment.

Sailing is a great way for seniors to stay fit, have fun and meet other active people. Alta Lake is a perfect place to sail. The winds are predictable and reliable. The water is relatively warm. There are few motorboats around. It’s big enough to get up ahead of steam, but small enough so you can’t get lost. And, of course the views from anywhere on the lake are spectacular.

Barbie said, “I’m so happy when I’m out on the water.”

After an hour with her, I know what she means. Together, we harnessed the wind — it’s a great feeling!

Locals GO Sailing during festival

Regatta, sailing clinic draw solid crowd

 Sailing clinic

Vince Shuley / Whistler Question
May 18, 2015 06:47 PM

The Whistler Sailing Association (WSA) once again had a sizable presence on Alta Lake last Saturday (May 16) as part of the 2015 GO Fest.

The morning saw 28 people take part in the GO Sailing clinic, an introduction for non-sailors looking to try their hand on the rudder for the first time in two-man Pirate dinghies.

“It was a really good turn out for us,” said WSA head coach Francois Hebert. “We had a lot of really positive feedback. People were pretty excited for the clinic. We had a barbeque afterwards and people, mostly locals from Whistler or Vancouver, were really keen to come back and do some more sailing.”

The afternoon saw the horns blare for the GO Sailing Regatta, in which seven boats with teams of two competed in a there-and-back dash across the length of Alta Lake. Hebert said the conditions for the day could not have been more favourable.

“It was excellent conditions yesterday,” he said. “It was a little bit lighter wind in the morning, which was perfect for the clinic with the learners. The wind then picked up for some exciting sailing conditions for the afternoon. We missed the thunderstorm by about a half hour, which was perfect. Everyone was off the water when the lightning started.”

Hebert added that the WSA received great support from the GO Fest organizers in promoting the events.

The WSA has a fundraiser for the club at Creekbread on May 28 and will be hosting a BC Circuit Regatta on Aug. 22 – 23.

Whistler sailors make strong showing at home regatta

ack of racing experience didn’t stop young members of the Whistler Sailing Club from posting strong results at the Whistler Sailing Regatta this past weekend, a BC Series event that drew young sailors from across the province.

“It went really well actually, it was a fantastic event,” said head coach Francois Herbert. “We had amazing wind conditions the whole weekend and a great regatta.”

In the Laser Radial Class, Ren Bennett placed seventh overall with 56 points, placing fourth in the opening race and racing consistently.

In sailing, rankings count as points and a boat that finishes first in five races would finish with five points, while a boat finishing third in five races would score a 15.

“That was a pretty strong finish for him, it was his first regatta in this type of boat and he did really well,” said Hebert.

There were two other Bennett brothers in the event, with Neo and Leo placing eighth and ninth overall in the large Optimist Class.

At that age the competitors race together, but in the Blue category for their specific age group the brothers placed fourth and fifth respectively, with Neo missing the bronze medal by just two points. Neo also finished third in one of his 10 races.

Severin Nelsen placed 16th in Optimist in only his second race, finishing in the top 10 twice.

Nicola McDonald was 18th overall, but did not race on the second day due to illness.

Hebert said the next race for most of the younger athletes, plus adult members of the club, is the annual club championship in September. All of the ages and classes will race together.

“That’s the fun thing about sailing, age doesn’t matter too much and you can go out there and have a good time.”

The club’s summer is busy with camps, including learn-to-sail programs for kids and adults, and Hebert says the club’s new home at The Point Artist-Run Centre is working out well as a home base. While it’s not perfect — the club would like its own dock, a more permanent boat launch and somewhere to store tools and work on boats — Hebert says the access to the water is actually better than a lot of other clubs.

“We cooperate with the artists here and have a very good relationship,” he said. “We had our regatta dinner in the old hostel on Saturday night and have been able to use it for special events, which is really nice, and it’s really nice, really easy access to the water for us. It’s so convenient to have your boat 20 feet from the water.”

Hebert says the club’s long-term plans are coming together, but they’re pleased with how the club is developing.

“It’s working, and there’s lots of interest and a lot of people sailing, which shows that there is a demand for this, and we just think it’s a great thing for the community to have this kind of access to the water and boats. Things are good.”

Complete results from the regatta, as well as information about club programs, races and camps, can be found


Seattle Boat Takes the Win in Whistler’s First Sailing Regatta

Sailing Association hopes event will boost interest
By Clare Ogilvie
Taking the win in Whistler’s first sailing regatta was no easy feat for Seattle’s Mike Karas.

“It was really gusty, shifting,” said Karas who with Molly Jackson raced a Tasar sailing dinghy dubbed the Honey Badger on the waters of Alta Lake last weekend. “It was a really challenging race.  It wasn’t really windy but the wind direction was changing all over the place, so it was challenging.”

Throughout Saturday and Sunday the Tasars could be seen with their signature clear plastic and red sails sprinting up and down the lake. As the wind changed the boats would suddenly find themselves bunched up, then just as suddenly a gust would scatter them forward.

Second went to the Vancouver team of Julian Hannabuss and Carol McMillan. In third place was Seattle’s Chuck Asper and Annette Sommer.

The Tasar is a 4.5-metre high performance sailing dinghy, designed to be sailed and raced by a man and a women. A light weight, low drag, planing hull, a rotating mast, and a jib and fully battened mainsail with efficient sail controls means exhilarating sailing without the need for a trapeze, though on the weekend many a sailor was seen leaning way out over the water to cope with wind conditions.

The Tasar class competitors raced in several races over Saturday and Sunday coming from Washington State and across B.C. to compete.

The racers were joined by youth competitors in the Optimist class of dinghy, a small single-handed sailing dinghy usually captained by under 15-year-olds.

North Shore Sailing Team’s Edward Coleman, 12, took that set of races with second place going to his brother Alec, 10.

Whistler’s Ren Bennett took third.

Sailors had to race between marked buoys on Alta Lake multiple times. Points are awarded according to the position the boat achieves in the race. The dinghy with the least points over the series of races wins.

Whistler’s Sailing Association started about three years ago and while it has been hosting a successful Wednesday race series this was the group’s first weekend regatta. “It is the first one and we are excited,” said the association’s head coach Francois Hebert, who is nationally certified and who has competed internationally at the Laser World Championships. “Most of the racers came from Vancouver or Seattle. All of the racers brought their own boats and we do have three of our junior members participating in sailing as well.” Hebert noted that the conditions were challenging this weekend for racers. “It was variable and gusty, a little bit more than usual but it was a nice day out on the water,” he said. Hebert and other association members hope to hold more regattas in the future.

It’s true, said Whistler Sailing Association Commodore and president Patrick McCurdy, that Whistler may not be the first place you think of when you think of sailing. Nor would you expect to find international level coaches living here – but along with Hebert, Michelle Brodeur is also coaching now. A competitive sailor, she taught at the Glemmore Sailing School.

“Both of them have made their homes here so it is quite an opportunity for us,” said McCurdy. “It is Francois’s hope that talented competitors will come out of Whistler.

“In the winter Hebert is a heli-ski guide and ski instructor, while Brodeur is on the Canadian Development team for snowboarding.”It is quite amazing,” said McCurdy.

“You wouldn’t expect it in Whistler.” The regatta, said McCurdy, is a way to celebrate the achievements of all of those who have been learning to sail over the last few summers as well as drawing attention to the fact that Whistler is a good place to sail.

That’s what drew Shane Bennett and his family to the sport. Three of his sons now sail.
“They are doing really well,” he said.”…I used to sail and I just wanted a sport that we could do locally and the club is just getting going and it is really a fun atmosphere.

Posted by permission of Clare Ogilvie, editor Pique News Magazine. Originally published in the Pique News Magazine.

August 17, 2011.