A Canadian Sailor’s Unlikely First Year at the Helm of the Cruising Club of America

RCYC Sept 2020 Sally and Bob

Mar 25, 2021

In the first week of March 2020, Toronto sailor Bob Medland was elected Commodore of the prestigious virtual yacht club, the Cruising Club of America (CCA), which boasts 1400 members cruising the Seven Seas. On its 2020 schedule, the CCA had the 635-mile Newport Bermuda Race co-sponsored with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, several safety-at-sea seminars, and a members’ cruise in Majorca.

Within a month, Commodore Medland in consultation with the Fleet Surgeon, Dr Jeffery Wisch, and the CCA Governing Board cancelled all of that and would subsequently move Club meetings planned for Seattle and New York to a virtual format online.

Medland, a retired corporate financial officer who sails with his wife Sally out of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club on their Niagara 35 Aphrodite, has done thousands of ocean miles aboard friends’ boats, including the ARC transatlantic race and the China Sea race. Now, on account of Covid-19 he has reefed down the Club’s sails and is waiting for the weather to improve. Forgoing a Commodore’s typical ceremonial trips to places like Bermuda, Spain, and Ireland last year, Medland, working closely with his fellow officers and board members, coast to coast, has plotted the Club’s course from his home in Toronto.

The CCA has no clubhouse and is organized into 11 Stations and three Posts spanning the U.S., Canada, and Bermuda. Most Canadian members belong to the Great Lakes, Pacific Northwest, and Bras d’Or Stations, although Medland says it’s not uncommon to join other stations simply depending on which sailors you have met and sailed with.

NYYC March 6 2020The Club has a long history as being inclusive of Canadians, and three Canadian sailors were among the group that founded the club in 1922, including former RCYC Commodore and successful Canadian financier AEmilius Jarvis, who among other exploits cruised his 60-foot Herreshoff schooner, Haswell, from Toronto to the Caribbean and back in 1920-21
Another was Casey Baldwin, who co-invented the hydrofoil with Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, and took part in originating the notion of the club, along with William Nutting, editor of The Motor Boat magazine, and Gilbert H. Grosvenor, editor of National Geographic. Baldwin oversaw construction of Nutting’s 45-foot ketch Typhoon in Baddeck at Bell’s Boatyard and sailed it transatlantic with Nutting in 1920-21. In England, they received a warm welcome from members of the Royal Cruising Club and returned home to start a club of their own.

For well over a decade now, Medland has helped grow the Canadian presence in the CCA in the Toronto area, but he is quick to give credit to others, including those who introduced him to the CCA and welcomed him once he was a member. In particular, he names Robert D. Grant and David Matheson of Toronto; Jim Binch of New York (the first Canadian Commodore of CCA, 2016-17); and Ken Campia and Bob Knight of Chicago. He also points to Toronto CCA shipmates with whom he has shared many miles of ocean sailing—Donna and Mike Hill, Les Crane (Bermuda), Arthur English, Andy Jones, and Jock Macrae.

2020 July Aphrodite CN Tower by LisaMedland is a people person, and when asked why he got hooked on blue water sailing, he talks first about the friendships developed. After that, he waxes poetic about experience: “It’s the adventure, the challenge, the beauty. The majesty of the night sky. The magic of the waves. The fury and serenity of the sea.”

In speaking about leading the legendary club, Medland expresses a sense of wonder: “I feel honoured and grateful. I grew up sailing on the Lakes with the CCA being something off on the horizon and now here I am. In a sense, it is the brass ring of sailing. I was humbled to be considered, and it is with a great sense of pride, Canadian pride, that I say, ‘Yes, a freshwater sailor can participate in this club!’”

Reflecting on his first year as Commodore, Medland says, “Our goal has been to ‘Stay together by staying apart’. Many dedicated members have pitched in to engage other members at the local and club levels through virtual gatherings and limited on-water activities.”

Club membership has continued to grow overall in recent years. Medland points to the club’s core mission of bringing together sailors who are passionate about sailing, inclusive of men and women, cruisers and racers, invited to join purely on merit as individuals who have proven themselves as offshore sailors.

Medland is hopeful of spending more time on the water in the year ahead but points to one good outcome of a year of club Zoom activities: “Members were able to meet more members and interact with them more than any other year of membership. I count that as a plus.”

-John Burnham

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