Friday, August 5, 2011


As an introduction to Shellback, I can do no better than reproduce an article from the October November 1968 Issue of Gam of Yachting by that great nautical magazine's founder, publisher and editor Karin Larson.With the end of the sailing season members of the Shellbacks Club will again take voyages of fancy at Thursday Luncheon meetings at the Lord Simcoe Hotel in Toronto.Actually, the Shellbacks Club is not really a club at all. There is no constitution, no initiation fee, no annual dues, no clubhouse, no membership committee, no Board of Directors and no executive. All it consists of is a group of men who like to get together once a week to hear a yarn and sing a sea shanty. For over thirty years this non‑club has continued. Throughout this time traditions have developed and at some time a bell made its appearance. Each summer Al Rae, an early Skipper, disappears with the bell and in the fall returns it with the name of the last Skipper engraved upon it for the only records the club keeps.In the early days meetings mustered only a dozen or so. Attendance now usually numbers somewhere around fifty men. Through the years a time schedule, which is strictly adhered to, has evolved. 12:20 Hands to Stations 
12:30 Hands to Dinner
 12:45 Toast to the Queen and Sailors Everywhere
 12:50 Introduction of Guests
 12:55 Sea Shanties
 1:05 Introduction of Speaker

 1:30 Pull up AnchorAnyone who smokes before the Toast to the Queen is required to contribute 25~ to the dory. Long winded speakers are cut off with four clangs of the bell and the only way one can show he is a member is to become a yarn spinner and be awarded a lapel pin in the shape of a miniature square rigged ship.Yarn Spinners are shanghied from anywhere‑‑anyone with an interesting waterfront tale, whether of sailing in square riggers around the Horn at the age of sixteen, International competition, or of building a dream boat. Past Yarn Spinners would, together, present a notable collection of talent as many outstanding national figures have had their turn.P.S. It's strictly stag.NOTHING MUCH CHANGESExcept that for many years Shellback has met on Wednesdays instead of Thursday, and, yes, thanks to the changing times and the persistance of Karin, it is no longer strictly stag.SHELLBACK CLUB 70 YEARS OF TRADITION
By. Robert B. Townsend
For some hearty Canadian Sailors, the season never ends. SHELLBACK CLUB is an organization of sailors that has, for over 60 years met for mutual refreshment once a week, when the regular sailing season is over. The club has no constitution, no rules, and no debts. Membership is open to all sailors who can afford the price of the meal (2004 only $11.00) aboard Captain John's Jadran at the foot of Young Street at Toronto's Harbour. For many years the club met at Mugg's Landing, a venerable old dining room in the Victoria Hotel in downtown Toronto, which had been specially decorated for the club; its walls covered with pictures of sailing ships and the sea.The club was officially founded in February of 1934 with its motto "In all respects ready for sea", but the traditions of Shellback dates back to 1924 when Gerry L'Aventure, Gord Francis, Wm. Hearst and Howard Griffin started to sail together in a series of famous yachts, out of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club: including the famous "P" Class boat "Caramia", a true virgin (no engine) 50.16' L.O.A.The crew bank met on Wednesdays at Eileen Bradley's Tea House on Adelaide St., for lunch, and to organize for the week‑end races. "P" class boat had a crew of about 12 and a crew bank of about 20, so organization was essential. The lunches became so popular, they continued throughout the winter months. To maintain the flavour of the occasion, it was decided that only dyed‑in‑the‑wool nautical buddies were to be invited. The table talk was restricted to the one subject: sailing.Gerry L'Aventure was the organizer of the Shellback club, as such, giving the group its name (which means "old sailor" amongst other definitions). At the first official meeting of the club, lunch cost $0.35. There were only 2 commandments: (1) ‑ no business talk (2) no smoking before the toast to the King of the Dominion of Canada and the toast to "Sailors everywhere".Gerry L'Aventure was the clubs first skipper. Since then, skippers have changed when the present one could find someone to take his place and not before. More often than not, a temporary absent member has been "elected" (read shanghaied).Membership is restricted to those who have been introduced as a guest at a regular luncheon. Once inducted by the skipper, membership is forever. A Shellback is a Shellback. There are no dues, membership lists, or records. At each meeting, guests and their introducers lead in the singing of an old sea shanty: to keep the old tunes alive, and to recapture the spirit in which the old Shellbacks sang on sailing ships. This is followed by a yarnspinner telling a tale of the sea.The first yarnspinner was William Hearst whose topic was "Pirates I have Known, ‑ present company excepted" Bill repeated this most interesting talk at the clubs 35th, 40th, 45th, and 50th Birthday parties. Yarnspinners have included many world famous sailors. All have an interesting story of the sea or sailing to tell. In the day's of wooden boats, very few ladies were active in sailing boats in the Toronto area. Dame Niaomi James, Bridgette Aubrey, and Patience Wales were all speakers at the clubs major yearly event, the annual boat show dinner where since 1967, ladies have been invited. Since 1984 ladies have become very much a part of the clubs membeship, reflecting their increased interest and participation in the sport, and in ladies sailing, reflecting the outstanding achievements by many ladies in the sailing fraternity.In 1938, Bill Hearst advised the club should have an insignia. Richard the Lion‑hearted was the first to conceive of a Coat‑of‑Arms, and Bill followed Richards tradition by conceiving a Coat‑of‑Arms for sailors, which was built by Al Rae. A rope mounting extends below the shield to hold a plaque on which is inscribed the words SHELLBACK CLUB. The first quarter of the shield is white with a fork and spoon to signify a luncheon; the second quarter, an anchor on a yellow background; the third quarter, a ships bell; and the fourth quarter, 3 waves.The clubs Bell, on which is inscribed the names of all the skippers over the nearly 60 years of the club's existence, was taken from a famous old ship, and is used to call "all hands to lunch" promptly at 12:20 hrs, and again to "out pipes" at 13.45 hrs.With its loosely formed executive (refered to as the bridge) and consisting of the Skipper, a Mate, the Purser or Master at Arms, some people are amazed that the club continues to exist, year after year. But such is the interest in the traditions, and in sailing. Shellback look forward to many more years of packed houses at their weekly lunches, between October and April, forFun, Fellowship and the Sea.
SHELLBACK COAT OF ARMSThe Coat of arms was presented to the Shellback club during a talk by Bill Hearst on the 25th of January, 1939 at the clubs regular meeting at Ellen Bradley's Grill on Adelaide Street.William Hearst, who was one of the founders of the Shellback Club, is quoted as saying "Richard the Lion Hearted was the first to conceive a coat of arms and it was felt that the Shellback Club needed an Insignia, so we had to invent one." It was generally conceded that the club's coat of arms was the brainchild of Nik Beketov, F.N. Fairhead, Al Hearst and Al Rae but none of them were prepared to take credit for it at the time.The coat of arms had a rope mounting which extends below the shield to hold a plaque on which was inscribed the words "Shellback Club". The first quarter of the shield was white with a fork and spoon to signify the luncheon . The second quarter a Black anchor on yellow, the third quarter a bronze coloured ships bell on a red background, and the fourth quarter three waves which separate a blue sea and a green sky.
1946 HOTEL CARES‑RITE1947 MUNICIPAL HOTEL1948 HOTEL BARCLAY1950 COLONIAL TAVERN, 209 YONGE STREET1957 PRINCE GEORGE HOTEL1967 LORD SIMCOE HOTEL1968 MAPLE ROOM, UNION STATION 1971 (NOV. 3) MUGGS LANDING, 56 YONGE STREET.1988 NAG'S HEAD TAVERN, YORK STREET1989 CAPT. JOHN'S ABOARD THE JADRAN1999 NATIONAL YACHT CLUB.2000 CAPT. JOHN'S ABOARD THE JADRANSKIPPERS OF SHELLBACK AND THEIR MEETING PLACESThese are based on the listing in the Shanty book, the skipper's name's on the bell and the recollections (a few years back) of Bob Bleasby andCharles Leggatt all updated by Al Rae Jr. and vetted by BB and CL. Shakespeareland ‑ 1936/37 Gerry L'Aventure; Laura Matilda Tea Room ‑ 1937/38 Gene Sorsoliel; Ellen Bradley's Tea Room ‑ 1938/39 Johnny Hobbs; 1939/1940 Eric Blencairn; 1940/41 Bill Hearst; 1941/42 Ernie Grundy; 1942/43 Ian Armour; 1943/44 Jim Hyland; 1944/45 Trevor Hawgood; Hotel Carls‑Rite ‑ 1945/46 Al Rae Sr; Municipal Hotel‑ 1946/47 Laurie Muir; Hotel Barclay 1948/49 Doug Armour; 1949/50 Paul McLaughlin; Colonial Tavern ‑ 1950/51 Jim Mitchell; 1951/52 Arn Gorman; 1952/53 John Mason; 1953/54 Bill Gooderham; 1954/55 Gord Brown; 1955/56 Murray Crawford; 1956/57 Bill MacRae; Prince George Hotel ‑ 1957/58 Paul Phelan; 1958/59 Lew Pickett; 1959/60 Ed Lawless; 1960/61 Lew Pickett; 1961/63 Arnold Ducklin; 1963/65 Bill Good; 1965/66 Dave Morris; Lord Simcoe Hotel ‑ 1966/68 Peter Van Buskirk;The Maple Room ‑ 1968/71 Peter Van Buskirk; Hotel Victoria ‑ 1971/72 Norm Donaldson; 1972/74 Harry Roman; 1974/75 Harry Roman/Gord Proctor; 1975/76 Gord Proctor; 1976/79 Chuck Peterson; 1979/80 Chuck Peterson/Bob Townsend; 1980/81 Bob Townsend; 1981/82 Bob Townsend/David Kerr; 1982/83 David Kerr;Nag's Head ‑1983/84 David Kerr/Charles Leggatt; 1984/85 Charles Leggatt; 1985/86 Richard Birchall; 1986/88 Richard Birchall; 1988/89 Don Stark/Bruce Anderson; Captain John's ‑ 1989/90 Bruce Anderson; National Yacht Club ‑ 1991/92 Bruce Anderson/Al Rae Jr; 1992/2000 Al Rae Jr. Captain John's2000/02 Al Rae Jr.; 2002/03 Don Gallagher;2003/03 Michael Sutherland; 2003/2004 Noel Lien.
This editorial appeared in Gam on Yachting when I was Skipper of Shellback. It was prompted (I believe) by a discussion I had with Karin Larson, founder, editor and publisher of Gam on Yachting when I made the statement there were some people in our society that still believed in the old saying that THE ONE THING THAT MEN AND WOMEN HAVE IN COMMON IS ENJOYING  THE EXCLUSIVE COMPANY OF MEN.
gam on yachting
Editorial February 1980
The corruptive presence of female sailors is compounding like a plague throughout the Canadian yachting communities. It is obvious that a high proportion of their male counterparts actually enjoy the companionship of women and consider them people. These characters go so far as to take pleasure in competing with women in their own yachts in events such as the Marblehead‑Halifax Race and competing with them as crew members in a number of series, including the East‑West match races instigated by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.
Such lax, undisciplined men have succeeded in opening the sanctity of yacht club memberships and wardrooms to women and will certainly do nothing to prevent the resulting deterioration to the moral fibre of our society. Even worse are the men in the industry, like Charlie Smith Sailmakers, who are now offering to accept females as apprentices and trainees.
But hold, all is not lost. The forces of evil and moral degradation have not effected a complete conversion.
Lo, in Toronto, Toronto the Good, a small but determined luncheon group holds out as a bastion of purity. By standing firm in its resolve not to be penetrated by the advances of the female sex, the Shellbacks Club has made a telling conquest in the name of decency.
Female sailors are finally convinced that they will never be admitted except as occasional (very occasional) guests to this club and they have gracefully retreated to form a luncheon club of their own. (A rude Nova Scotian sailor, ignorant enough to be amused by the proceedings, has wryly dubbed the yet unnamed group 'The Squackbacks'. The expression will be carefully ignored by sailors with taste.)
Meanwhile, the fortitude of the Shellbacks may be an inspiration for ever new conquests. For instance, rather than allowing females to disrupt the courses sailed on by the males of the human species, they might be relegated to a course of their own. Some may argue that space will be difficult to find on a busy Toronto regatta day. Such talk is not realistic. There's a fine duck pond in High Park and that, for the ladies, ought to be perfectly adequate.

And this is only the beginning of possibilities in holding the line. Carry on Shellbacks! Long live Toronto, the Good.
There were some replies to Karin's editorial in the next issue, all from ladie sailors, and all very supportive of Shellback. I have been instructed not to print them in this web page.
I can say that one comment was
If the sailmakers were to take all the women off their employment lists the wonderful racing sailors would not have any sails to fill.
And another from a Lady skipper of her own boat:
I wish to send you this letter of complaint. Not only did this article treat female sailors with disrespect and disregard, you also insulted the many males who have accepted females (whether as crew or skipper) as an integral, acceptable facet of sailing.
Prior to the above editorial Ladies had, albeit very infrequently, attended shellback. It was a sign of the times. In fact when the writer was skipper shellback he introduced female speakers to Shellback, one who had sailed a motor sailer singlehanded to the east coast, and one who in my mind was one of the great sailors of all time, Bridgette Burdett, who competed in the Mini Transat. Also I arranged for the main speaker at the Shellback Boat Show Dinner in January of that year, Patience Wales, who later became editor of SAIL magazine in the USA The next year the speaker was Dame Niomi James, the singlehanded around the world sailor of some fame.


  1. Being a boat lover and past live aboard myself, I am glad that I found your blog. The details allows me to really vision the events. Makes me miss the water a great deal. Thanks!

  2. R.I.P. Rob... Fair Winds and Following Seas