Eight Bells: John Weakley

SinC John Weakley

Mar 2, 2022

John Weakley’s posted obituary:

In order to avoid another date with the discipline committee at the Port Credit Yacht Club, JOHN ROBERT WEAKLEY passed away in Mississauga on February 14, 2022.

John was predeceased by his parents John James and Mary Myrtle Weakley and his brother Paul William. He is survived by his son Scott, Angela and two bratty grandchildren, Keira and Olive. He is also miraculously survived by his loving little brother David who he often referred to as Nod. 

John was born December 13, 1943, at an RCAF airbase in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on a cold snowy Sunday morning. After a quick stint in the Royal Canadian Navy, he attended the University of Manitoba, Rochester, Illinois and eventually received a master’s degree from Texas A & M. 

As a past commodore of the PCYC, the love of John’s life was organizing Competitive Sailing Regattas. He was well known all over Lake Ontario for his “pith hat authoritarian manner”. He was an incompetent boat handler. 

He is most probably at St. Peter’s gates arguing about his accommodation.

In lieu of flowers, charitable donations to the Junior Club in care of John Weakley at Port Credit Yacht Club.

In 2006, Canadian Yachting published this column on John Weakley’s significant contribution to sailing:

“Ladies and Gentleman, boys and Girls, children of all ages. We are five minutes from the gun, I trust you will all have a lovely day.”

Huh? The race committee is talking? We have seen the future of boat racing and, while there may be others, it’s John Weakley on the VHF with a quiet revolution. Make that a noisy one.

Crossing the Line - April 2006As an RC guy, there are two ways in which Weakley has stood the race committee world on its ear. Unbelievably, he talks to the participants. The traditional committee sees you, yet they do not. Say ‘hi’ and you are greeted with stony silence. If you contact them by radio, some perfunctory, stilted conversation is about it.

Weakley not only offers his trademark cheery ringmaster greeting, he doles out useful information and…. please take a deep breath before reading further…  he counts down to the start on the VHF. All the way from 5. So everyone can hear it. His communications skill and his Port Credit Yacht Club crested pith helmet are fixtures in one-design and youth fleets as well as the occasional big time regatta.

Young John joined PCYC with his parents and their Lightning, back when Toronto sailed dinghies. Returning from university in the States, he took on running the youth program for the club. That led him to the Ontario sailing Association and a long string of major youth regattas where, without much guidance, he developed effective ways of running successful regattas.

This was pre fiberglass revolution, pre mass keel fleet racing. It was even pre Laser, the intro of which in the late 70s surged youth fleets from ten to 100 boats. There was no handy precedent for race management of fleets of this size, so John made them up.

The owner of a Luders 36 John crewed on acquired an 8-metre and presented it to PCYC for youth sailing. John and his friends took the 8 to LYRA, Lake Ontario’s senior racing series. Maintenance of the big boat was trying so Venture was sold into the RCYC fleet and John was sold into foredeck slavery with it.

He sailed there, and elsewhere – even owned his own 8 for a while. Affection for race management dragged him back to the RC boat increasingly often: more youth regattas, LYRA, and Youngstown where the feel-good mood of that wonderful regatta precipitated the now trademark ringmaster greeting. “With all the action on the big boat course, it felt like the circus”. Talking on the radio keeps the mood upbeat. “All clear because you’re all late!” may sound cheeky, but Weakley has been on the racecourse and knows what’s what.

A morning of confusion led to John Weakley’s second trail blazing innovation. Due to miscommunication, John ended up on the RC boat alone! But the show must go on, so Weakley attached the flags to poles and ran the whole RC himself flailing signals, stopwatches and guns. “The 8-metre fleet knew me, so it worked,” John recalls. The result was the Committee of One principle that lives on today.

Here’s how it works: Weakley sets a start line with tetras, he counts down and starts the race, then revs up his whaler and boots to windward to set a weather mark. On the downwind, the start line at the bottom becomes the off wind gate. For leg Three he relocates the upwind mark for shifts or shortening if necessary. He then bombs down to the finish and parks the committee boat in position for a square finish line. Bingo – on to race two.

“This really only works if the fleet trusts me,” John confesses. He has been running them this way for J24s for several years with little but raves.

“I have made a few mistakes, of course. Even brutal ones. But we learn”

This flying approach to RC work may not be suited to the Olympics where pride and sea lawyers rule but for weekend warriors, it is just the ticket. The J24 fall series attracts all sorts of guest hotshots who love the torrid if informal action.

Once in a while a spontaneous innovator makes a huge difference. For example, 20-odd years ago Don Finkel invented and made a sailing institution out of the party hearty Youngstown Level regatta. Now every club on the lake wants to capture that spirit. Years of dedication and a sense of humour have enabled john Weakley to point the way forward for a new breed of race management creating high energy, fun for all racing. Watch as it catches on and spreads.

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