Eight Bells: Cameron Cochrane “The Admiral”

SinC Cameron Cochrane

October 5, 2022

Cam Cochrane, Commodore of Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club, multi-time C&C 34 fleet champion at the height of Lake Ontario Racing Council’s 50-strong Saturday one-design races and mentor to many racing sailors passed on September 11. When advertising his 34, Rikki Tikki Tavi, for sale he dryly added the epithet “never cruised” to the ad. Hardcore to the end.

Nigel Cochrane, son, crew and Canadian National Team member in 470 at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics shares his memories of his father.

It is with great fondness and love I mark the passing of my father Cameron Cochrane, also referred affectionately as the “Admiral” within the club at ABYC. My dad was a sailor for the people and loved being hands-on at ABYC. Although he loved getting dirty, from my perspective most of his help seemed to be free psychiatric services to the members rather than “pushing on ropes” during haul-out and launch. 

He was my first sailing instructor and instilled a love for the sport that remains strong to this day. My first memory of sailing with him was in his Shark “Mehitabel” (he always had the best names for his boats). 

In the early days at Ashbridges Bay YC, all the boats were on moorings in the inner bay. I just cherished the row out to the boat with my dad. His strong arms propelling us with amazing acceleration towards our upcoming sailing adventure. One time on the Shark we were setting off on a cruise and just after we cast off the buoy and heading out of the harbour, I looked at my brother Rob with a devilish grin I threw his full carton of cigarettes overboard (they were supposed to last the trip). He watched them float away calculating whether he could retrieve them before they were soaked through, he looked back at me, was about to completely blow his top but before he could say anything I just said innocently “Dad, you said they were bad”. Not a word was said, he switched to a pipe, and I never saw him smoke a cigarette again.

Early on, my first sail alone occurred on a camping trip in northern Ontario, he pushed me off in our little sailing rowboat. I had great fun sailing downwind to the bottom of the small lake but when I tried to turn and go back, low and behold the boat would not sail directly up wind. I got the paddle out and I was desperately paddling on one side trying to coax the boat back up wind, terrified I would be stranded forever at the bottom of the lake, when a soft-spoken voice came out of the scrub and guided me back upwind without a paddle. Dad’s intellect could be terrifying at times, but he also could be so gentle and caring, this was one of those caring moments I will always cherish. That was the only sailing lesson I remember receiving from him, everything else it seemed we learned together, and he just let me absorb the lessons of the sea and wind organically without judgement.

SinC Cameron Cochrane 4 400It was the vastness of the Great Lakes that pulled him over from England and he was determined to explore and discover as much of them as possible. After what seemed a brief venture to a farm north of Toronto to help my sister’s Susan and Sally with their pursuit of riding, we were back in Toronto again, the proud owners of a new CS 22 “Tarka”. An amazing little boat that allowed us to trailer it up to Georgian bay and sneak into the smallest of rivers, coves and bays. We also started racing together just the three of us, my older brother Rob and my dad. I was only 12 years old at the time and bow duties were assigned to me. I just loved it. Going up to the bow in strong winds gave me a feeling of adventure, this was my job, and I fully embraced the responsibility knowing, without me up there, my Dad and brother could not get around the racecourse. A petition started forming within the CS 22 fleet to set an age limit for some of the racing as it was deemed too dangerous for my dad to be racing with two young boys, but we had a history of adventure together on farm tractors, exploring dumps, canoeing, and camping. This was just another regular outing for us, and we quickly became the boat to beat and all the whispers of us not being up to the task were quickly silenced.

We moved up the fleet trading in our beloved CS 22 for a C&C 27 named “Karma”. Now we had entered the big leagues and our crew expanded. My dad meant business and everyone at the club new we were going to keep moving up in size as our experience grew. After winning many races and series in Karma my Dad got sold on a radical ¼-ton design. The boat was enormous and was built as a rule beater. She had a huge pinched in stern, massive freeboard and her beam would have fit nicely on a 40-footer. Dad fittingly called her “Moby Jane” as she looked like a whale, and he always said it was bad luck to have a male name for a boat. 

Moby Jane turned out to be a complete failure as far as performance was concerned as we only had speed in flat water 6-8 knots downwind. We just got hammered in any sort of waves or wind, but Dad was not a quitter and what could not be made up with speed he made up with sheer determination and participation. We won because our competition quit or did not show up which was a very important life lesson for me and much more important than if our “rule beater” beat any rules. On one long distance race our rudder snapped off and disappeared into the night waves while we were in the middle of Lake Ontario. Having just learned to sail Albacores without a rudder at ABYC I leapt out of my bunk and took over crew direction and with main and jib alone we sailed all the way back close enough to shore where we hailed a rescue boat to tow us in. This was a triumphant moment in sailing for me and made me feel I could accomplish anything in the sport.

On many long-distance races my dad, being the hypochondriac that he was, seemed to be determined to prepare us of his impeding heart attack that would happen at any minute. He would tell us that if he was to croak while racing, we should put him on the high side and finish the race. For some reason, as dumb as it sounds, I would re-assure him that we would absolutely do that but only if we were in the top three.

SinC Cameron Cochrane 3 400The crew ~1985 / Rob Cochrane, Gord, Kevlar (Kevin), Ian Rutherford, Cameron / Top row: Jim Turbitt / Bottom Row: Nigel / Very bottom: Graham

Rikki days

Having been battered and bruised on Moby Jane it was such a relief to join the C&C 34 fleet with our brand-new boat Rikki Tikki Tavi. It was like weights were lifted off us and we won our very first race in “Rikki” and never looked back winning five season championships with only one blip when we came 2nd behind “Rocking Horse”. 

My job was to start the boat and then hand off the help to my dad once we were clear of the fleet. In one epic start we took out half the fleet at the committee boat end and the first boat we took out was named “Snow Goose” and my upstart brother in the most Kramer of voices he could muster yelled out: “Your Goose is cooked!”. These were stories we would share together right until the day before he passed.

I remember on the dock after a great day of racing, one of my dad’s competitors commented on the fact that both his son’s sailed and raced with him and wondered how he managed to do that as he had no luck with his kids. He kind of shrugged with a little twinkle in his eye but we knew that deep down he just wanted to stay being a kid without any privilege that comes from being an owner. He cared for every member of his crew like they were his own kids no matter their age and my dad just had a knack of letting us be ourselves no matter how crazy or dangerous that seemed.  =He let us party like hell on the boat and was always sure to knock loudly when he came with fresh coffee for us the next morning.

On one occasion towards the end of our tenure on Karma I was still doing bow but chirped in that we were going the wrong way. I was quite determined to let everyone know on the boat that our tactician at the time was making a mistake. Clearly, I was out of line. After the race our tactician came to my dad and explained that I was stepping out of my lane, and he could not do his job properly and either he had to tell me in no uncertain words to shut up on the racecourse or he would have to find another boat to sail on. My dad held out his hand to him and said: “It’s been great having you on the boat and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours”. After that I moved to the back of the boat and took over as tactician and alternate helm and the rest was history. When it came time for me to explore sailing on my own, he bought me a used Laser knowing that it was a mutual benefit to us both. When I was concerned about the cost he said:” Don’t worry, boats don’t eat”.

Nigel (l) and Rob with Cam

He loved being commodore of ABYC, a real working club where the members participated in all manners of club operations and maintenance. It gave him great joy to be able to provide guidance and leadership to so many very capable members.

After sailing he “retired” to country life which he embraced fully in the same manner he did with his sailboat racing and cruising. He was so supportive of all those who came into his orbit and was a great listener.

My dad was my primary supporter and motivator in my sailing career. I would call him almost daily with every adventure that happened with details of my racing. I loved to make him smile and knowing he was proud of me just filled me with meaning and purpose. Thanks for everything dad, rest assured you are now on the high side, and we will finish this race for you.

Love Nigel

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