Collin Young, owner and operator of Georgian Bay Sailing Coach, with students Mitch McIver and Chris Schmidt. 

Learning the Ropes

by Joanna Nicholson | photography by Clay Dolan 

As sailing academies set sail once again, they do so with the community’s spirit at the helm, promising a bright future for sailing on Georgian Bay.

It’s a bright Saturday morning, the air buzzing with excitement as sunlight ricochets off the water, casting shimmering reflections across Georgian Bay. Madison Boyce, President of the Collingwood Sailing Academy, stands at the dock, her smile beaming, as she watches young sailors scuttle around, preparing their boats for a day of adventure on the water, their faces alive with anticipation. The energy is infectious, and the vibrant scene of boats, sails, and enthusiastic sailors reminds her of the joy and purpose that sailing brings to this close-knit community. 

Since 2019, the sport of sailing in our country has surged by ten percent, according to Sail Canada, the national governing body for the sport. This exciting trend is mirrored right here in our own region. And it’s no wonder—sailing is the perfect way to build community, stay active, and connect with nature. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or just starting out, Georgian Bay’s irresistible waters promise an unforgettable adventure. 

Boyce is a Sail Canada-certified sailor, and practically grew up navigating these waters. “My mom signed me up for a week at age eight, and I was instantly hooked,” Boyce recalls with a smile. “Every summer after that, I was enrolled for almost every week of the season.” As Boyce progressed from beginner levels to Bronze levels (now known as CANSail 3 and 4), she would spend half the summer volunteering and the other half taking lessons, until she eventually became an instructor—working both locally and abroad. 

Recently, she came back to her roots to launch the Collingwood Sailing Academy, a new not-for-profit operating out of the Collingwood Yacht Club. The academy is a revival of the beloved Collingwood Sailing School, which sadly closed its doors in 2020 due to the pandemic. Fast forward four years, and thanks to a labour of love, endless persistence, and a whole lot of elbow grease, Boyce and her partners have made the 2024 sailing season a reality. “Teaching and watching my students follow the same path I did is incredibly rewarding,” she says proudly. “It’s a special place where everyone’s passion for sailing creates a unique bond.” 

Students August Muller and Jonathan Cooke from the Collingwood Sailing Academy. 

Whether you’re a seasoned skipper or just dipping your toes in the water, the Collingwood Sailing Academy welcomes everyone. From fun-filled youth camps to engaging adult lessons, it’s a place where friendships are born and essential skills are honed. “Sailing offers incredible benefits for youth, teaching them valuable life skills such as teamwork, responsibility, problem-solving, and resilience,” she says. “At the Collingwood Sailing Academy, young sailors learn to navigate not only the waters but also life’s various challenges. Programs like our Volunteer in Training initiative help students over the age of 12 develop leadership skills, preparing them for future roles as instructors and fostering a sense of community and responsibility.” 

Collin Young also discovered his love for sailing at an early age. As the owner and operator of Georgian Bay Sailing Coach (GBSC) and a seasoned sailor and instructor with 20 years of experience as a paramedic in the region, he brings extensive expertise to his role. He fondly recalls his first sailing experience in his youth: “I spent a few summers at a remote camp in the Peterborough region where one of the activities was dinghy sailing. Learning how to steer by trimming sails, using a rudder, and balancing my body weight to keep the small vessel from capsizing gave me a real sense of autonomy and adventure as a young camper. Sailing became my favourite activity to look forward to daily.” Through his business, Young aspires to ignite the same passion for sailing in others, sharing the thrill and joy that have shaped his own journey on the water. 

Now in its fourth year of operation, GBSC provides charter agent services, flotilla consulting, as well as coaching and sailing preparation courses. “Coaching is a bottom-up approach to adult learning, where courses are individualized to a sailor’s goals,” he explains. “I enjoy sharing the learning process with novice and advanced sailors alike. GBSC will meet you where you are in your sailing journey—both on our floating classroom, or your sailing vessel.” 

A group of students line up to race their Laser Picos. Photo by Tjalling Halbertsma. 

Sail Georgian Bay Coaches Ilian Halbertsma and Nathan Brand. Photo by Tjalling Halbertsma.

As a not-for-profit organization, Meaford-based Sail Georgian Bay is passionate about introducing as many kids as possible to the joys and benefits of sailing, even if they don’t live on the water or own a boat. “Sailing is an opportunity for youth to not only acquire character-building skills but to have so much fun along the way,” says Liesbeth Halbertsma, Chair of the Board at Sail Georgian Bay. 

Sail Georgian Bay is also proud to offer Sail Canada’s national Learn to Sail program, CANSail, with levels one through six for youth aged eight to 18. “CANSail programming means lots of time on the water in a safe, fun, and active learning environment,” explains Halbertsma. The programming is designed to get—and keep—sailors excited about sailing for life, and Halbertsma has witnessed this, year after year, with her own eyes. “There are many heartwarming stories, most involving sailors who changed in a summer; who would come to the sailing school sad after a difficult year with challenging experiences, and whose hearts and eyes grew bright after a summer of fun and wind in their hair,” she says. “Hearing the kids laugh and play, not afraid to jump in a boat and roam the water, always lights up my heart, and this is the reason I am still doing volunteer work for sailing schools for almost 17 years.” 

In an effort to make sailing more inclusive, Sail Georgian Bay and the Collingwood Sailing Academy strive to break down traditional barriers. With a fleet of their own boats, Sail Georgian Bay makes it easy for people to learn and advance through all levels of the CANSail program without needing to join a yacht club, own a boat, or live by the water. Thanks to grants from the Town of Meaford and their affiliation with JumpStart—a national charity that helps financially disadvantaged kids get involved in sports—sailing remains affordable and accessible for residents. 

Students August Muller and Jonathan Cooke from the Collingwood Sailing Academy. 

Meanwhile, at the Collingwood Sailing Academy, inclusivity and accessibility take centre stage. Boyce and her team are charting a course to launch the region’s first Able Sail program, ensuring that everyone, regardless of ability, can get aboard and say “ahoy!”. “We aim to create a hybrid program where children with physical disabilities can learn alongside their able-bodied peers,” Boyce explains, showcasing the academy’s commitment to inclusivity. And it’s not just for kids—these adaptive programs will be available for adults too, making sure that sailing is open to everyone. By next season, the organization plans to have two fully accessible Martin 16 sailboats, proving that the love for the water truly knows no bounds. 

Georgian Bay is more than just a sailing destination—it’s a place where traditions are cherished and new ones are forged. On the docks, the camaraderie is tangible as sailors gather to share their stories, laughter echoing across the bay. Young, with a contented smile, observes the bustling activity, embodying the spirit of this tight-knit community. “The sailing community is notoriously social and helpful to one another,” he says. “Whether you invite a fellow sailor for a sundowner at a quiet anchorage or find yourself in trouble on the waters and need a hand, sailors tend to be there for each other.” 

Madison Boyce receiving a cheque from Brian Bailey. 

Sail Georgian Bay’s Wednesday night racing. Photo by Tjalling Halbertsma. 

In the same vein, Boyce describes how a community centered around a sport like sailing creates a strong sense of connection and shared passion. She credits Greg Twigg, Commodore of the Collingwood Yacht Club, for providing the foundation to rekindle the local sailing program. “Our pilot program is aimed at keeping sailing alive, available, and accessible to the residents of Collingwood and its youth,” Boyce reflects, her enthusiasm evident in her voice. Twigg shares this vision, expressing confidence that the community will be there to support the Collingwood Sailing Academy in its early days. “It’s important that people are introduced to sailing at a young age, and they’re doing that,” Twigg says, noting that Boyce’s determined spirit will make it a success. 

The future looks exceptionally bright for sailing enthusiasts, with the community’s support and passion steering the course. “We have a tremendous amount of sailing activity in southern Georgian Bay, and we’re going to see Collingwood become even more of a destination with the town’s redevelopment work on the quay and terminals,” predicts Twigg. As someone who knows the region’s waters like the back of his hand, Young also predicts that with the area’s excellent resources and natural beauty, more and more people will be drawn to sailing. It’s an activity that’s on many bucket lists, and there’s no better place to tick that off than here. 

As the day draws to a close at the Collingwood Sailing Academy, each boat slowly returns to the dock carrying stories of the day’s adventures. Boyce, still beaming with pride, watches as the young sailors disembark, their faces flushed with pure bliss and accomplishment. The camaraderie and shared passion for sailing are palpable. It’s in these moments, as the bay settles into a peaceful evening, that the true essence of this vibrant community shines through. Here, in the heart of Georgian Bay, every sailor finds not just a place to sail, but a place to belong. E