Wednesday, May 29, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Nepean Sailing Club approaches 45th anniversary remembering 3 significant members who have sailed on

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By Martin Cleary

Volunteers are the lifeblood of amateur sports.

If adults and teenagers didn’t step forward to coach, officiate or sit on administrative boards, there would be no sports competitions.

So, it was fitting that the third week of April was National Volunteer Week, a time when community teams, clubs and groups could say thank you to the people who dedicate their free hours, talent and energy to specific causes.

The Nepean Sailing Club is one such organization, which has been powered by volunteers since it officially opened July 29, 1979.

Unfortunately, the club was confronted with the passing of three significant volunteer members in their community during a seven-week stretch from late February to mid April.

An extensive sailor in international waters, Bruce Macdonald served many roles at the Nepean Sailing Club during his 37 years of membership. He died April 13 at age 77.

Gerald Gravelle was a member of the club’s first executive committee and held the position of commodore for two years. He passed away April 4 at 90.

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Cathy Kayser was forever active at the club, whether it was organizing regattas or being a dependable teammate. She died Feb. 24 at 60.

Bruce Macdonald. Photo:

Macdonald grew up on a farm and spent his free time fishing and hunting before he discovered sailing. One season, he became a national champion in the 420 class, finished second in North America and was 33rd out of 160 boats at the world championship.

While he enjoyed the competitive aspect of sailing, he equally favoured the recreation side, taking his boats through the Caribbean and Mexican waters, across the Pacific to Hawaii and through the North Channel in Georgian Bay.

His 50-plus years of volunteering included 37 years at the Nepean Sailing Club. He was involved on the harbour committee for decades as well as other committees.

Macdonald’s death notice said he experienced “a life of volunteering and sailing, which was his passion.”

“Luckily, Bruce was able to pursue his love of sailing for the rest of his life. That and skiing were Bruce,” long-time friend James Brown wrote on Macdonald’s obituary guestbook.

When sailing season finished, Macdonald snapped on his downhill skis and served as a member of the Canadian Ski Patrol Gatineau Zone for more than 50 years at Edelweiss.

He spent thousands of hours patrolling the hills, promoting safety and injury prevention, providing first-aid and building friendships. The Gatineau Zone is the third largest ski patroller group in Canada with more than 300 members.

“You created an environment of friendship, happiness and a unique sense of humour, when socializing with your friends,” Ian Joyce wrote. “All those moments created an unbroken friendship, which I will never forget.”

There will be a Celebration of Life for Macdonald on May 26 at the Nepean Sailing Club from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Gerald Gravelle (left) and Ben Franklin. Photo:

When the club started almost 45 years ago, it needed a commodore to lead the executive committee. Gerald Gravelle seemed like the natural choice, since he had been mooring his boat in the Graham Bay waters from 1976-79 and had sailing experience in the area.

Gravelle, who built his own trimaran called Late For Dinner, served as commodore in 1979 and 1980 and became past commodore in 1981. In his first year, the club had a membership of 125 families and 350 individuals. Annual membership fees were $50 for a family and $25 for seniors.

When the club opened there was “no breakwater, no yacht basin, no docks, no compound, no clubhouse, nothing,” according to Michael McGoldrick, who wrote a story about the club for its 15th anniversary in 1994.

But Gravelle saw the club and city of Nepean build a harbour in 1983, a yard in 1985 and a proper clubhouse in 1990. The first clubhouse was an ATCO trailer in 1981.

Years later, he said he was proud of what he had accomplished with his peers and preferred the early years, when the club was smaller in numbers. He also was grateful the club was successful in providing members with easy access to the Ottawa River and the opportunity to take sailing courses.

Cathy Kayser. Photo:

Cathy Kayser was considered a reliable crew, teammate and regatta committee volunteer.

Raised in Vermont and a 1985 graduate of the University of Vermont, Kayser moved to Ottawa in 1986 to work at the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre as a radiation therapist and medical dosimetrist for 37 years.

But in her free time, she was always active, whether it was sailing, skiing, running, coaching or organizing events and regattas.

Her death notice summarized some of her many talents: “She was a tremendous volunteer … a hockey mom, an extraordinary ballet costume fabricator and the ultimate 29er (yachting class) sailor mom.”

“Cathy was a person who loved family and (was) always willing to lend a hand to help, support, organize, participate in,” Helene Vanasse wrote on Kayser’s obituary guestbook page.

Matt Davidge added: “Cathy was always so sharp, fun and easy going. She was integral to Nepean Sailing Club (playing host to) countless major regattas. She was an amazing runner.”

Between 2001 and 2017, Kayser competed in 13 local road races, which were timed by Sportstats. Her last race was her first half-marathon during the 2017 Ottawa Race Weekend. She completed the 21.1-kilometre course in two hours, 33 minutes, 51 seconds.

The Rattle Me Bones 10-kilometre race appeared to be one of her favourites as she raced it three different times. The autumn race raised money for the Ottawa Hospital.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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