North Sails LOFT NEWS
Story Contributors: Louisa Bobyk
FROM FLOUR SACKS TO NORTH SAILS
Dave Courtney’s Journey To Sailing
There are few men in this world who are as genuine and as hard working as Dave Courtney. From humble beginnings, Dave has never forgotten where he comes from or meaning of hard work or the importance of giving back. Growing up on Woody Island, Newfoundland, Dave was the son of a lumberjack and homemaker who believed in using everything – nothing went to waste. His mom sewed his first set of sails out of flour sacks and the rudder was a piece of wood from the forest.
Dave began sailing at the young age of 4 with his earliest memory being the wooden boats hand-made by his father out of pine from the lumber yard. They were “probably 30, 35 inch models and they were generally schooner models. ” Dave shares. His father hand carved each boat – nothing fancy – just enough to have some room to sit, put in a mast or a rudder. He recalls, “He [his father] would get a piece of pine and he’d carve it out, then he’d carve out the center of it and everything. He made it as light as possible, and then he’d put on deck on it, and he’d make some masts and everything.” From there, they’d sail it across the pond and in the open bay.
“The other kids in my generation that lived in cities, were playing with little dinky toys and building roads and cars and trucks. We didn’t have any of that, so what we would play with was just a piece of wood chopped out in shape of a boat.”
His first boat was a punt, as they are called in Newfoundland, which he bought for $10 and was similar to a rowboat. “It was built out of just timbers, timbers and plank. Almost everybody in Newfoundland had at least two or three.” He spent that entire winter in his parent’s basement cleaning it up, smoothing it down and painting it. In his younger years, no one really taught tactics or strategies or general basics of sailing to Dave and his friends.; “Nobody showed us how to not tip it over or not rip the sail and the mast, and everything straight out of it, so we used to put the sail up and kind of drift downwind.” Many people assumed they were just kids on the beach having fun, it wasn’t like today when it comes to teaching kids sailing. He recalls, “I had an outboard motor, I had a boat, I had sails. So I would motor upwind, and sail downwind….I didn’t know I could sail upwind.”
After moving to Toronto in 1979, Dave still had a desire to be on the water and explore. Not one to sit around or stay still for long, Dave has always been one to seek adventure and grow his skills. He was driving down Steeles Ave. one morning and saw people windsurfing, thinking to himself he can’t afford a sailboat, but he can afford that Dave stopped by on his way to work the next morning. He took lessons, which were around $5 at the time and took to it like it was second nature; he was a natural. That entire summer he spent going up to Wasaga beach and windsurfing. From there, every chance Dave could get on the water he did. Renting boats and windsurfers at cottages up North to exploring the local sailing scene in the city, he was always seeking a way to be on the water.
Fast forward a couple years, Dave and his wife Kristin got married and his mindset shifted to owning some form of a boat, “I was willing to buy a 16-foot anything, just to get out on the water.” They met neighbours Herb and Beth who were members of Mississauga Sailing Club and took them out sailing. From there, they kept sailing with Herb and Beth who moved up to a 26ft C&C and after Kristin gave birth to their youngest, they decided they could make a family thing out of sailing. Enter the C&C 27, Dave’s first real keelboat. After about three or four years, they moved up to the Elite sailboat, Better Still, which is how Dave got into solo sailing. “The kids would want to go over to Port Dalhousie, and they’d want to go over Saturday morning and I wanted to go over Friday night, so I would stay over on Friday night by myself.” His first solo race was out of Lakeshore Yacht Club years ago with Better Still. It was 22 miles to the middle of the lake and back, requiring him to use navigation skills, of which he’d never taken any formal lessons for. Dave shares “We didn’t have any electronics, there was no chart plotters or any of that stuff, so I had to learn how to read… All the chart stuff, I kind of figured that out by myself.”
His first Lake Ontario 300 and Susan Hood Trophy Race wasn’t until 2004 with his Wednesday night crew; ” My Wednesday night crew started to get pretty good and we were starting to win some races, and we were flying the spinnaker and we were getting good at that.” They learned how to rig a spinnaker at the dock by fellow LSYC member Sharon Nielsen. The crew honed their skills and put them to the test on their first Lake Ontario 300, where they flew the spinnaker all night because they didn’t know any better to take it down. the dumb luck paid off for their first race and they finished top of the pack behind veteran racers. Fast forward to 2008 and Dave discovered the Halifax to Saint-Pierre race and applied to enter. He spent the better part of 2009 better it ready to pass safety regulations and then took the boat out there to race. Once there, he found a new love affair: the Archambault 40.
It needed some TLC however Dave being Dave was up for the task. With some wise words from his wife – “Just buy the boat Dave”, he purchased the twin wheel boat and thus began the long road home for Aarrow. I remember being a committee meeting with Dave hearing how he had just bought the boat – he said it so casually like he was picking up the morning paper. My mind was blown, thinking he was one-part crazy and one-part genius, all I could think was “Only Dave”.
I had no goal that I was going to be 60 years old sailing an Archer boat, it was nothing like that, I just wanted to go sailing.
When Dave arrived with the sail inventory that came with Aarrow at the loft, Hugh and Joel began a thorough inspection of what was usable and what needed some TLC. From this, Hugh and Dave began working on the sail plan for the boat – what were his goals, where he want to sail, etc… The North Sails mainsail that came with the boat was well loved however we a good face lift from Kid and Joel, she was good to go for another season. This lead to a new Profurl furler and 3Di Raw furling jib with battens. Dave had an amazing season on the water with the new jib, finishing 4th in the single handed division for the Lake Ontario 300 and 2nd in the LOSHRS series to name a few.
Reflecting on how he got into sailing Dave shares, “In hindsight, I didn’t know it then when it was happening, but in hindsight, I made efforts and did things and went places to look at boats and to stick myself in a place where I could go sailing even when I didn’t know what sailing was going to do for me.” Now a 15 year participant of the Lake Ontario 300, Susan Hood Trophy Race and LOSHRS series, Dave has given back to sailing in a way most people couldn’t imagine. He focuses on the Great lakes Single Handed Society which helps solo sailors on the lake, his company Access Abilities sponsors the sail give-away for the LOSHRS series every year, which the North Sails Toronto teamed up with them to do this year; not to mention the countless hours he puts in to helping those on the dock or race committee.
Here’s what I, along with most of the people who know Dave, love about him: his spirit. One who is always laughing, sharing the latest story from sailing that weekend, seeing how you’re doing and inquiring how your latest boat project is going. He’s the first to offer his help and the last to leave an event. His mind is always tinkering, thinking of ways to bring more people into sailing, to give back to the community or gain that extra knot of speed. His desire for adventure and to be better is infectious.