One of the Surrey Sailing Club's (SSC) popular racing dinghies is the 'Osprey'. The class association for the Osprey, located in England, published an article in its December 2003 magazine about SSC, SSC's Ospreys and their owners.  

While the National Osprey heartland may be England, the North American Osprey capital is undoubtedly the Surrey Sailing Club located at Crescent Beach on the shores of Mud Bay in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. As far as we know, we are the only active Osprey fleet in North America. If there is another, we claim to be North America’s largest.

Here are some quick facts about our locale:

The province of British Columbia is about three times the size of England and is located on the west coast of Canada. The city of Surrey (http://www.city.surrey.bc.ca/default.htm ) has a population of about 365,000 and an area of about 317 square miles. It is located on the US/Canada border, a 40 minutes drive from Vancouver and a 2 hour drive from Whistler where the 2010 winter Olympics will be held.

Crescent Beach is a small community with a sandy swimming beach fronting onto a portion of Mud Bay at the mouth of the Nicomekl and the Serpentine Rivers. When European settlers first came to this area in the 17th century, the Semiahmoo and Kwantlen ‘First Nations’ People had already been present for more that 6,000 years.

Mud Bay empties at low tide exposing extensive mud and sand flats and the fairly narrow channels of the Nicomekl and the Serpentine Rivers. At low tide there is over one mile to deep water and boat traffic is confined to the narrow river channels. The sand and mud flats are covered with water between half and full tide, and only then can we sail in the whole bay. Regardless of the tide, the river channels in the bay can be quite busy with power and cruising boat traffic heading to the Crescent Beach Marina and other locations upriver from our sailing club creating some interesting conflicts during our races.

Our racing schedule is designed around the tide table to take advantage of available water. Depending on the tides a race may start as early as 9 am one day and as late as 3 pm the next. We use a fixed start line with one end being the tower on our club house and the other being a buoy placed in the river channel, with a spacer mark at the inshore end of the line.

There can be a four or five knot tidal current in Mud Bay with the strongest flow in the river channel, so the winning strategy is to stay in the channel when going with the tide, and out of it when opposed to the tide. This can be challenging when the tide is not full. Our most important control lines can be the rudder and centerboard uphaul and downhaul when sailing over the mud and sand flats. You can forget sailing at the Surrey Sailing Club with a fixed rudder!

Our average summer temperature is 22C (+72F) and the average winter temperature is 5C (+42F). We have an average annual rainfall of 1050mm (41in.). The shallow waters of Mud Bay warm up considerably in the summer and it is seldom necessary to wear anything more than a shirt and bathing suit from June to September.

Surrey Sailing Club

The Surrey Sailing Club was established in 1970 and provides facilities and lessons for sailing and racing. The club site at Crescent Beach is less than 100 feet from Mud Bay where we launch off a shallow beach into the river channel. Members store dinghies inside the club compound on dollies for convenience and security throughout the year. While humble in appearance the club is a jewel to its members offering a club house and barbecue facilities and frequent private or club sponsored social events.

In addition to our Osprey fleet, the club has a number of Fireballs, Albacores, 420s, 470s, Enterprises, Lasers, Tasers, Bytes and a couple of Wayfarers and Flying Dutchman, and various lesser known boats and one-offs. Racing is held every Saturday and Sunday, tide permitting, from April to October, and Wednesday night racing is held during the summer months.

Races are conducted under either the Portsmouth handicap system or our club handicap system which also takes the sailor’s skills into account based on their performance in previous races. Main events attract over 20 boats with 10 to 20 boats being an average. There is one start for all classes and all boats sail the same course so there is always good competition.

Our Osprey fleet is the club’s premier fleet and its members receive the lion’s share of the trophies. This domination is helped by the fact that the Ospreys are the fastest fleet and can overcome the adverse currents, or at least this is the reasoning often heard from the club’s other fleets.

Dick Clift, an émigré from the UK midlands and one of the club’s founding members, brought the first Osprey (209) to the club in the early 1970s. 209 is a Plycraft Mk 2 built in the late 1950s and was bought in North Devon from the North Devon Yacht Club. 209 has changed ownership many times and a number of club members can point to their innovations on that boat having owned and worked on her previously. 209 is still at the club and is now owned by Ross Mullen and is sailed for pleasure with his family and friends and actively in the races, with his regular crew, David Olson.

The Clift’s respect and fondness for the Osprey led them to bring a number more from England. When club Osprey came up for sale they would buy them and resell them to assure they stayed. These efforts helped to retain the current fleet of 8 National Osprey at the club. There is hardly an Osprey at the club that has not been owned by a Clift at one time or other.

Dick Clift, now deceased, was the secretary of the Canadian Osprey Class Association, which unfortunately no longer exists. His son, David and David’s family own Osprey 1014 and can be found sailing her at the front of our fleet.

Osprey Hybrids

We have a wooden Mk 2 at our club, owned by Dave Snell and built in the province of Alberta, Canada, in 1989. She has an Osprey hull. However, while she has the rear buoyancy tank like all MK 2s, her side buoyancy tanks are narrow like the ones found on the MK 3s. I am told that this boat has never been officially measured. Despite this, she is welcome to race at our club with the same Portsmouth handicap as the Osprey. Unfortunately, Dave doesn’t race this boat, so we don’t get an opportunity to see her perform. She was built with attention to detail and is a real beauty. Her sail number is KC89 to reflect the year in which she was built.

Small Craft of Canada, a company located in the province of Alberta, built a number of boats called the SC18 (often called the Flying Osprey). They have the Osprey hull and a variation of the Mk2 interior layout. These boats were built under a different name, reportedly because Ian Proctor would not approve their narrower side, buoyancy tanks and the addition of seats along with the use of the Osprey name. Owners of these boats chuckle because the narrow buoyancy tanks later adopted for the Mk 3s where a Canadian innovation. Small Craft went bankrupt in 1972. Glenmore Boats Ltd. of Alberta purchased the license to build Osprey hulls and the molds and made a number more SC18s. Production of SC18s has been discontinued.

Norm Cooper owns one of these SC18s and is in the process of renovating her at his home. The boat has hull #701. As the hull and sail plan is the same as the Osprey, we will happily race against her at our club as though she were an Osprey.

Another SC18 is located in Lethbridge, Alberta and owned by John Gascoyne. He says she was built in 1965 and is currently for sale. When I contacted John, he told me he also has Osprey 403. 403 is a kit boat built in Lethbridge that John has now stripped down to bare wood for restoration. 403 is in his garage and is for sale to anyone wanting a winter project. John said he sailed these boats out of St Mary’s Sailing Club in Lethbridge where a number of Osprey once sailed (along with SC18s). There is no more Osprey at this club.

Fiberglass Mk 2’s

In addition to our two wooden Mk 2s (209 and KC18), we have three fiberglass Mk 2s at the Surrey Sailing Club. They are 877, 945 and 950. Colin Hugget owns 877 and Al Oliver owns 945. I own 950.

Colin and Al have stiffened their hulls by adding bulkheads and have modified their rig for inboard sheeting and other arrangements to make their boats faster. Their renovations must have improved the performance of their boats as both Colin and Al can be found at the front of any of our races in these boats, more often than not beating the Mk 3s.

950 is original and unmolested. The Construction Certificate for 950 is numbered 28927, type 453. She was built in July 1973 by J.L. GMACH & Co. Ltd. and, according to her measurement form, was named Inverkip. She was first owned by James Muir of Surrey, BC. The original sails were made by Rockall and have found a home in the crawl space at my home along with another set of Osprey sails. 950 now has 2003 North Sails made by our local loft.

Currently 209 and 950 battle for position somewhere mid-pack in the club races. I usually race 950 with my daughter, Georgia Stephens (11) as my crew.

877, 945 and 950 are almost identical and have similar flaws in their fibreglass craftsmanship that leads me to believe they were all built by J.L. GMACH at around the same time.

Wooden Mk 3s

We have three wooden Mk 3s at our club. David Clift owns 1014, Rob Hall owns 1173 and Rob Dyck owns 1174. These are all beautiful, loved, well maintained and routinely raced boats.

1014 was the first Mk 3 in Canada. Dick Clift brought her to Canada in 1974 as a bare hull. She is a Westerly boat that has stayed in the Clift family. Dick’s son, David Clift owns her now. His older brother, Rick Clift, now living in Ontario, Canada, sails a Fireball. However, his winning sailing skills were gained on the Osprey. David has been sailing since he was a kid and the whole exercise is second nature to him. I saw David single-hand 1014 in a race in September. He did everything including fling the spinnaker and crossed the finish line first…incredible to watch from mid-pack. David and his wife, Beverly handily won the Clift Regatta trophy this year, repeating a Clift tradition.

Not currently at the club, 1052 is owned by Ted Taite and his daughter and is stored in a garage somewhere in Surrey. 1052 was raced constantly at the club, but hasn’t been sailed for about 5 years when Ted hung up his sails and took 1052 home. Ted tells me 1052 needs some minor restoration before she is returned to action by his daughter. Ted is steadfast in his resolve to keep 1052 in his family. We hope they return 1052 to the club soon!

Both 1173 and 1174 were built in Richmond, British Columbia, by a local builder named ‘Lightfoot’. Rob Dyck tells me that Lightfoot only built the 2 finding that the wooden Osprey was too difficult, hence too expensive, to build. They are both beautiful examples of wooden Mk 3 and are sailed at the front of the pack in all of our races. Rob Dyck races regularly on the weekends with his crew Len Hanson (Len used to crew for Ted Taite on 1052). They then race on Wednesday evening in Len’s Taser with Len calling the shots. Rob Hall, the Commodore of the Surrey Sailing Club, sails with his regular crew, his wife Candy or Sandra Colp . When not racing their Osprey, Rob and Candy sail their Fireball or Candy sails her Laser.

So with 8 of the boats at our club and two more in the neighbourhood close by, we have a respectable fleet of 10 Osprey. While there may be a few more in North America, to our knowledge, the boats mentioned in this article are about it over here. With no one building them here and no one prepared to sell theirs' used, we can not supply boats to the many interested sailors or spectators who show interest. This is particularly unfortunate since their grace, beauty and performance attract interest and attention.

Please visit our website at http://www.surreysailingclub.bc.ca/ for more information about our club or to contact any of our members. We would love to hear from any other Osprey fleets, and especially from any on our side of the big pond.

Ken Stephens