by Lawrie Neish

In 1968 I arrived on Saltspring Island, via Langley, from the Gareloch1 on the Clyde to teach in the Gulf Islands Secondary School. For the past year I had been exhibiting withdrawal symptoms caused by a lack of sailing in anything other than a B.C. ferry. This was to continue for a further year while we wrestled with the problems of a young and growing family. To pass the time and relieve some of the symptoms I resumed a long standing hobby, the building of model racing yachts. Students in the School caught the virus and started building Marblehead (50/800) class model boats2.

In the 1969 - 70 school year, with two students, Allan Jackson and Roy Rozzano, I built a Sabot, which was bought by John Buitenwerf. It was built to prove a mold. The plug was sold to Florence Hepburn as a rowing dinghy. The Sabot caught the attention of the model yacht builders who quickly worked out that they could have a real boat for the same cost as a model. The result was the abandonment of the models in favour of the Sabots. During the building period the sabots and boats in general were the subject of a conversation between Barbara Toynbee (who was a school trustee) and myself at a school open house. The result was an advertisement in the "Driftwood" inviting any person interested in sailing to meet at the Toynbee home. At this meeting great enthusiasm was displayed by all and a small group of officers was chosen. But nothing happened! After a month or so a second meeting was held, this time at the home of Dave and Carol Rainsford, and a slightly changed group of officers was resuscitated, once again to languish in the warm Island sunshine.

Meanwhile, back in the Industrial Education Shop of the Secondary School, fifteen Sabots had reached completion by the Woodwork 9 class. Having built the boats with the students I then faced the problem of teaching the builders to sail. The problem was eased somewhat by one or two students having been members of the Sea Scouts. The teaching of sailing to 15 or so raw beginners was accomplished by giving all the budding sailors an hour or two of sailing time in small keel boats. The boats used were "Sonsy", owned by Marshall and Nora Sharp, and "Clarion" owned by Aileen and myself. "Clarion" had been built in a crash program when I realized the way we were headed.

After their initial experience the embryo sailors were put in their Sabots and pushed off. Aileen sailed round like a mother duck followed by her brood, while I circulated in a Sea Scout Lightning. (For the loan of the Lightning I had to spend the next winter rebuilding it.) While Aileen demonstrated, I told the 'saboteurs' what they were doing wrongly. We had a great time; marks were laid to give direction to the sailing, and before we realized it we were racing.

At this point Warren Hastings and Harold Dibnah of the Boatyard offered a trophy to the School District for sailing. A third (and to me final) meeting was held by the previously mentioned sailing group. At this meeting I suggested, for want of anything else happening, that they might like to sponsor the Sabot racing and an open regatta for the trophy. This suggestion was not greeted with enthusiasm: "some one will be drowned" and "they will be luffed up the beach" were some of the comments. Obviously our sailing efforts were not held in high regard or had not been seen.

Faced with such enthusiastic support, we just had to hold our event, but it was a strictly local affair. It was also cold and wet. Jim Pringle won the four-race event and we met a little kid from the Elementary School for the first time - Mike Cannon3. "Racing" continued through the fall and sixteen more sabots were started. The cost ($100 complete) perhaps helped their popularity.

In the spring of the following year we decided to go big time. We joined the Canadian Yachting Association and thus recorded the name "SaltSpring Island Sailing Club" (the name I had given the school club), for the first time on an official document. The name sounded more imposing than some of the alternatives. Naturally we then had to have a constitution and a burgee4. The constitution was simple but the burgee was more of a problem.

After scratching around and finding most of the simpler designs already being used, I hit upon the idea of loosely adapting the crest of the H.M.S. Ganges and the coat of arms of the County of Dumbarton, changing the colour of the elephant of the H.M.S. Ganges crest from gold to white and removing the howdah from the back of the Dumbarton elephant.5 "White elephants" and starting and underwriting the running of a sailing club seemed, in my mind and wallet, to produce the same result - poverty. Jeanette Larson sewed a prototype for us and for a number of years made them for club members. The originals were also painted on the Sabot's quarters. Most of the Sabots, at that time, sported major works of art on their transoms. These paintings helped relieve the boredom of Sabots and El Toros belonging to other clubs while following our Sabots round the racing course.6

To feel out the opposition Aileen and Robert, my older son, sailed in the Royal Victoria Yacht Club's Inter-city regatta and took first and second places respectively, in the Sabot class, without being "luffed up the beach." This event led to a long and happy relationship with R.V.Y.C. members and the girls of Strathcona School. The next event was held at Elk Lake Sailing Club - everybody went - but the ferry ran late and the event started without us. We had to settle for Aileen and Jim Pringle finishing in fifth and sixth places. Not bad with some forty boats racing and one race over before we arrived. Since that event, except in one regatta, a Saltspring Sabot won every Sabot-event we entered.

In the balmy days of the early seventies Sabots carried the name and burgee of our small club off-island to some fourteen or more regattas a year, hosted by clubs all over B.C. The sailing standard became incredibly high. Our main transportation device was a trailer which carried six Sabots and their gear. This became the terror of many a B.C. ferry crew and the nemesis of at least three cars I owned or fell heir to during that period. At the Secondary School, Sabots came off the line like liberty ships, the total reaching eighty7 at the last count and we branched into Flying Juniors.

All of this sailing and boat building by students started to attract shady characters who lurked at the Industrial Education Shop door, noses twitching in the polyester scented breeze or else they slipped from piling to piling on the docks on sailing afternoons, trying to be as unobtrusive as a Saltspring deer, looking for the last rose bush in a Scott Point garden. (Most were parents and friends who formed a loose supporters group.) It also produced a character who went about trying to buy up these fast Sabots and sell them off Island in a market similar to that commanded by early nylon stockings.

The friends, parents and associates eventually prompted me to try the idea of a sailing club other than in its existing format. Another conversation with Barbara Toynbee produced another advertisement in the "Driftwood" and another meeting in the Toynbee house. The group met with representatives of the Saltspring Island Sailing Club, myself (as Commodore) and Arthur Buitenwerf (as Fleet Captain) present. After much discussion, the people present decided to form a sailing club. Various names were suggested, Saltspring Island Sailing Club being the most popular. I pointed out that the name was already in use. After some more talk the group voted to ask the Saltspring Island Club to expand their membership to adults other than the Commodore and his wife. Arthur and I were asked to conduct negotiations on the group's behalf and report back. Saltspring Island Sailing Club, after much discussion on the dangers of adults in clubs, voted to accept the members of the group en-mass provided that all active juniors, as they would be, retained their full voting rights. Arthur and I reported back the results to the group and the conditions were accepted. Along the road to the club this condition disappeared.

The Club at this point entered the second phase in its development. I declined the Commodore's position, preferring to be secretary and thereby not lose track of the mail should the Club fold. The second Commodore was Dave Smith. The club was very much a family orientated affair. This was reflected in the second constitution drawn up by Bill Hood and myself with much borrowing from the R.C.Y.C. and R.V.Y.C. etc. It was still junior- and sabot-based. Picnics were common and attended by the whole Club. The ladies of the Club decided to learn to sail. Wednesday evening classes were arranged for them.

Cruisers showed a decided reluctance to race with the exception of Marshall Sharp and myself who would race any boat that appeared in the harbour whether the other boat realized it was racing or not.
Phone conversations tended to run - "Marshall, there is a really interesting boat going down the harbour"- "Lawrie, I will be there in five minutes". There were a lot of 5.00 handicap boats in those days.

When Marshall finally lost the battle with his heart, myself and other friends of Marshall, Peter Graill, Cliff Ratch and Gus Reuter, decided to put up a trophy in his memory. When I heard that "Sonsy' was being sold, I suggested that her name board would make the basis for a good trophy. Cliff asked Nora on our behalf, and Gus and I donated the shield /transom to mount it on. The trophy was originally intended for a Sabot event award but I asked Nora to open the entries to all boats. The result was the "Round Saltspring Race" in its present form, which did more to get cruisers out racing than anything else.

The third stage in our Club's development was triggered by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club's purchase of the Scott Point Marina, where most of our Club cruisers kept their boats. From this point on most members will be aware of the Club's progress.

As a postscript the first Sabot, John, Jeff and Arthur's "Aeolius" is now buried along with its second owner under the ash of Mount St. Helens at Spirit Lake - perhaps the ultimate Viking Funeral.8

The above essay by Lawrie Neish appeared in TELLTALES February 1989. I made minor editorial changes, as well as adding emphasis by way of bolding and/or italics.


1. Gareloch, sometimes (mis)spelt Gairloch, runs roughly north and south, a few miles west of Loch Lomond. Gareloch opens onto the Clyde. Helensburgh, the main center on Gareloch, lies on the east side, near the entrance.

2. The classic Marblehead model yacht was introduced by Roy Clough in 1930. The model is 50" on the deck, and has 800 sq. in. of sail (hence 50/800). Marblehead lies on the Atlantic coast, about 15 miles north of Boston (Massachusetts).

3. Mike Cannon went on to become the sailor-to-beat in numerous regattas.

4. The origin of the term 'burgee' is obscure. Some think it is derived from the Fr. bourgeois. Alternatively, it may have roots in heraldry.

5. The three italicized clauses, which are significant to understanding the provenance of our burgee, were apparently edited out when the original draft was revised for publication in TellTales. I have reviewed this curious story in my addendum to Wayne Pearce's account of the Club Burgee. A howdah (Arabic) is a seat, often lavishly decorated, placed on the back of a camel or elephant for the convenience of bipedal Homo sapiens. On my two trips by elephant, I found such a seat quite comfortable.

6. "Following" is exactly the right term, as the SISC sabots were usually well ahead of their competitors. The Sabots and El Toros were both 8' sailing dinghys. The SISC sabots were distinguished from the Sabots and El Toros of other clubs, in that they had arched booms.

7. About 100 sabots were constructed at the SaltSpring Island Secondary School before the program was prematurely halted (by yet another utterly silly bureaucratic snafu).

8. Lawrie received this story from John Buitenwerf. John, perhaps like many of us, was inclined to embellish such accounts. The actual events, as nearly as can now be reconstructed, are as follows. John Buitenwerf purchased the Aeolius, the club's first fiberglass sabot, and the only one ever painted red, for his two son's Jeff and Art. John subsequently sold Aeolius to James Tute, a mate for RivTow Straits Ltd., who lived at Mission City, B.C. It seems likely that James found out about the sale of the Aeolius while on a visit to SaltSpring to see his sister, Dorothy Sloan.

James Tute and his wife Velvet, both free spirits, were last seen, as far as anyone knows, on May 17, 1980, by a freelance photographer Jesse Welt, on Forest Road 3500, a few miles west of Mt. St. Helens. She recommended that James and Velvet take their VW camper and dog to a camping site a few miles further west. Most of the areas immediately around Mt. St. Helens had already been evacuated, but for Harry Truman, another free spirit, who adamantly refused to leave his lodge on Spirit Lake. But it appears that the couple opted to camp closer to the mountain top, probably by skirting the hastily erected road barriers. They were visiting Mt. St Helens so that Velvet could paint and James do photography.

At 8:32 AM on Sunday, May 18, Mt. St. Helens blew up with a force estimated at 500 times that of the atomic bomb dropped by the US Air Force that destroyed Hiroshima resulting in the deaths of an estimated 140,000 people. The explosion of Mt. St. Helens blasted tens of millions of tons of ash 60,000' into the atmosphere. My wife and I both heard the explosion of Mt. St. Helens, in Seattle, about 90 miles away. It is likely that James (age 56) and Velvet and their dog and camper were buried under tens of meters of ash and mud. Their names can be found on websites giving the names of those 57 people believed to have died in the explosion. (Google ' victims names Mt. St. Helens May 18 '; one such site is

Mary Thompson, James' other sister, who lives in Vancouver, recently informed me that James and Velvet did not have the Aeolius with them on their visit to Mt St. Helens. It is unlikely we will ever find out its fate. One other rather sad note to this melancholy tale. James and Velvet had previously purchased a large steel sailing-boat hull, estimated at 42' in length. James had mostly completed construction of a sailable boat. The couple planned to retire, sell their Mission City home and sail around the world. After their untimely deaths the boat was apparently trashed.

I thank Art Buitenwerf, Lawrie Neish, Dorothy and Randy Sloan and Mary Thompson for providing details of this story. My wife Joyce also lent a helping hand at a key juncture (sometimes the obvious is not so very obvious).This revised account is accurate as far as I know. But if there are errors the responsibility is mine alone.

John Prothero, April 2007



With hindsight there is, sometimes, seen to be an unyielding logic in the course of human events - the very stuff of tragedy or farce. But here, in a more prosaic temper, this abiding sense of the inescapable has to do with the seemingly humble origins of our sailing club. Lawrie Neish, Industrial Arts teacher at the Gulf Island Secondary School (GISS), had his students building small-scale model yachts. There followed, some would say inevitably, the construction (in 1969), by two students, under Lawrie's tutelage, of a sailing pram, specifically a Sabot (Fr. wooden shoe). The rest is history, as the scribes might say. The next year (1970) 15 Sabots were constructed in the secondary school shop, at the grand cost of $100 each - for everything.

The proud builders of these spanking new Sabots next needed to learn to sail. Initial lessons were given in the basics of sailing by Lawrie and Aileen Neish in their keel boat "CLARION" and by Marshall and Nora Sharp in "SONSY". That was quickly followed by the students sailing their own Sabots. Aileen led the way in her Sabot, Lawrie following nearby in a Sea Scout "Lightning", calling out instructions.

The idea of forming a sailing club appears to have been first voiced in a conversation between Lawrie Neish and Barbara Toynbee (a school trustee) at a school 'open house'. Later, the SaltSpring Island Sailing Club (SISC) was indeed formed, and subsequently wrapped itself into the welcoming arms of the Canadian Yachting Association (1970). Markers were put out in Ganges Harbour, and sailing races were shortly underway. Inevitable.

It has long been the practice that one-class sailboats, such as the Sabot, are made from a mold, so that all hulls, at least, are essentially identical. Likewise the Sabots, 8' sailing prams, formerly made of wood, were here constructed of fiberglass according to the specifications given in blueprints. (See Photo 1). These blueprints allowed for tolerances in some of the dimensions, of which Lawrie Neish skillfully took advantage in order to tease out an improved performance, a factor which no doubt contributed to the striking success of the nascent sailing

The first outside venture was the 'Frostbite Regatta', held at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, where Aileen and Robert Neish took first and second places. In the following years, the SISC sabots entered in 14 regattas, widely disbursed around the waters of B.C., and with one exception, took first place in every one. Club members won the B.C. under-13 category races for 10 consecutive years. In addition, club members did well in national competitions.

In 1973 the club accepted a group of adults (mainly parents and supporters of the student sailors) into its membership. This marked the transition, perhaps also fated, from a solely school-based club into a public one with junior and senior members. Before the Sabot chapter of the club's history ended some 100 sabots were constructed at GISS.

It is worth here reflecting on the fact that the Sabots sailed by SaltSpring sailors were built on SaltSpring, that the students were taught how to sail and then to race here, that adults, including especially Lawrie and Aileen Neish, arranged for the transportation of boats and students to diverse locations in B.C., that provisions were made for the junior sailor's health, safety and welfare. It is a record of achievement and success and healthy fun that, so far as I know, has never been equaled by any other junior sailing club in B.C.

Although Sabots are no longer raced in our club, they still compete actively in annual regattas elsewhere, especially in Australia. Meanwhile, a junior program continues in our sailing club, one of excellence, following a prior history of which we can all be justly proud.

In preparing the above preamble I have freely looted various historical documents in the club's possession, including Lawrie Neish's invaluable account (see above) of our club's early history. There are variations among these documents as to the actual dates on which various events are said to have taken place. Accordingly some of the above figures may not be strictly accurate.

John Prothero, April 2007



Photos were kindly provided by Audrey Cannon and Lawrie Neish. Identifications of boats, places and persons are owing to Jeanette Larson and particularly Lawrie Neish. I am especially grateful to Lawrie for his generous and cheerful expenditure of much - perhaps too much - time in the production of the following photo album. Individuals are identified clockwise (from left to right), unless otherwise noted.

Attendant on computer 'enhancement 'of the (often fading) original photos there have been shifts, in some cases considerable, in the color balance. Due to this factor, and the fallibility of human recall after three decades or more, there may be some errors in the various identifications. Few of the photos are dated. Names followed by a question mark are uncertain or unknown. Stand-alone question marks denote persons for whom no identification is presently possible. Note that a given sail might have been employed on different boats at different times. However, Sabots from the SISC may be distinguished from others by their curved booms. Your comments, corrections and suggestions for improvements to this photo album will be welcome.



Photo 1. Portion of the Elevation View of the Sabot Plans. Taken from the
'White' sheets kindly supplied by Lawrie Neish (a copy of which are - somewhere - in the club archives).

Photo 2. See Clarion, upper right. Lower right are two second generation Sabots. Clarion's mast protrudes out on the lower left. The figure in the upper right is Perry Booth, a GISS student. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).


Photo 3. GISS. Lawrie Neish rigging a Fireball built by Alan Menzies. (The Fireball is a high performance sailing dinghy,(a one-class 16' boat with
mainsail and jib weighing 175 lbs, still widely sailed. The 2006 Fireball 'Worlds' were held in Victoria in May, 2006). (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).

Photo 4. GISS. Peter Hughes, Lawrie Neish, Art Buitenwerf, Mike Cannon (topside only), Jeanette Larson (note burgee image on sweater), (? receiving award - probably a visitor from another club). (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).
Cowichan Bay

Photo 5. Mixed fleet. Probably Jeanette Larson sailing 'H'; Mike Cannon sailing '1X1'; Doreen Neish sailing 'T'. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).

Photo 6. Sabot race. Photo taken from dock. Art Buitenwerf just behind 'H'. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).
Elk Lake

Photo 7. Second year of participation in the Elk Lake Regatta (1974). Recipient of award for third place is Art Buitenwerf. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).

Photo 8. Mike Cannon (right-hand side) placed first. (c. 1973).


Second Sister Island

Photo 9. Sabot Club picnic at Second Sister Island. Sabot on the
far right is that of Doug Truscott. The center boat with sail number '782'
may be 'Hot Pants'. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).

Photo 10. Another Sabot Club picnic at Second Sister Island. Lady in
blue swim suit to right is Aileen Neish, sitting beside her grandson Alan
Dennis. Note elephant image on crest of side wall of sabot. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).

Shawnigan Lake

Photo 11. Mike Cannon (in Phantom (777)), Aileen Neish (in Hot Pants '774', at wharf). (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).

Photo 12. Aileen and Lawrie Neish (side-by-side). (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).


Photo 13. Ganges Harbour. Jeanette Larson (in Pink Panther (778)), ? in
Hot Pants (774), Karen Truscott (Rang O' Tang (781)), Robert Neish (in Drookit Breeks (1X1)) (Some readers from the older generation may recall that Rang-o-Tang was an answer to the frivolous question 'what do you call a monkey who can't hear the telephone and who has a wife called Tang!). (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).

Photo 14. Ganges marina. The SISC's first regatta. Mike Cannon in middle boat with solid-colored sail. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).



Photo 15. Elk Lake. Robert Neish (1X1) Mike France (Vancouver),
Lawrie Neish, Mike Cannon's boat (777). (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).

Photo 16. Elk Lake. Karen Truscott (seated), Aileen Neish (seated), Art Buitenwerf (seated). Mike Cannon (legs only) (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).


Photo 17. Nicola Lake (a few miles N.E. of Merritt, B.C.). Mike Cannon, Alex Neish and Art Buitenwerf. (1975) National Championships. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).

Photo 18. Karen Truscott in Rang O' Tang (781). Robbie Neish in Drookit Breeks (1X1). Jeanette Larson in Pink Panther (far left). Note 'footprints' on side wall. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).

Threesome and Twosome

Photo 19. Ganges Harbour. Mike Cannon is sailing '1X1', Sid Jones 'X' and Aileen Neish 'H'. Note arched booms. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).

Photo 20. Possibly Elk Lake. Alex Neish, Mike Cannon. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).


Photo 21. Mixed fleet of Sabots and (mostly) El Toros. Jim Williams (of Victoria) is sailing '8322'. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).

Photo 22. Ganges Harbour (Goat Island in Background). Jay Rozzano and Lawrie Neish in Clarion. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).


Photo 23. Elk Lake. Aileen and Alex Neish. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).

Photo 24. Mouth of Ganges Harbour. 1974 or 1975. Sabot race. Frans Beyk is in boat '801' and Karen Truscott is in boat '781'. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).


Photo 25. Elk Lake? Art Buitenwerf (foreground); Scorcher (785).
(Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).

Photo 26. Elk Lake. Lawrie Neish, Art Buitenwerf. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).



Photo 27. Vancouver. Alex Neish (winning in the under 13 class (for his first time in an Optimist)), at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. (Photo courtesy
of Lawrie Neish).

Photo 28. Ganges Harbour. Alex Neish in 'Scorcher'. Note elephant crest on side wall. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Cannon).



Photo 29. Near where our clubhouse is located. Lawrie Neish in an International 10 Square Meter sailing canoe. (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).

Photo 30. Near where our clubhouse is located. Sailing at its very best. Lawrie Neish hiking out on an International 10 Square Meter sailing canoe. (The world-wide speed limits for mono-hulls have been set in these boats). Lawrie was able to outpace a power boat in this sailing canoe! He described the west wind that day as 'very squally.' (Photo courtesy of Lawrie Neish).