At the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club, it’s business as usual — almost.
Ed McIlroy, general manager of the club, is having to handle situations arising from the high lake levels, but as home owners and Town staff dealing with similar issues have said, the experience of two years ago has made it easier.
Club staff continue to launch boats, although it takes a little longer with the launch ramp under about two feet of water — but then many club members aren’t in a hurry to get their boats in the water, says McIlroy. “We are having to be very cautious, because the ramp is under water, but we have an experienced crew who knows what they’re doing.”
It can be a challenge to get to them, with the docks under water — although risers are being used to raise them to make boats accessible — and there is no hydro available.
“We’re doing everything we can to get boat owners to their boats safely, and we email them daily so they’re not blindsided.”
He’s anticipating having to add a third and even fourth set of risers on the docks, if the lake level continues to climb.
Motors from the gas pumps have been removed — one was damaged in the 2017 flooding, said McIlroy, and they are expensive to replace.
The racing season has started, and so far none have been cancelled because of the weather — although one was because of ice in the Niagara River — but participation has been lower, he said.
“We were much better prepared for this than we were two years ago, and I don’t see that we can be hurt by it, as far as our facilities go. We’ve done everything we can to prevent that.”
He has photos from 2017 to show how close the water got to some of the buildings behind the club — the yard office and the boat repair, and said he hopes it doesn’t go any further.
He also has photos from 1973 and 1993 that indicate high lake levels were experienced before the recent flooding of two years ago. “It seemed that this was a 20 or 20-plus year cycle, so for this to come along just two years later was a real shocker. But we won’t be devastated by it. We’ll just have to clean up afterwards and move on, doing what we do, putting boats in the water.”
He expects the learn-to-sail program to continue as planned.
If the water level stays elevated, as predicted, or if this becomes the new norm, as some have said, it will significantly affect club revenue.
NOTL is a desirable location for visiting sailboats, but in 2017, the club had to close the docks to visitors until August. McIlroy says he’s already cancelled all of the reservations until June 22, and expects he might have to continue that at least through July. In a typical season the club sees between 700 and 900 visiting boats, he said.
It’s easier for clubs with floating docks, he said, but that’s not the case in NOTL.
“I can’t discount how it affects our business. It does. It significantly affected revenue in 2017, and it will again. It’s an important part of our revenue that’s been there forever and is factored in to our operations.”
Without a crystal ball to predict what will happen to the lake, he adds, “I guess we just wait and see, and pray for no rain. We’re all trying to wrap our heads around what’s happening, and what causes it — the large snowfall, the snow melt, the rain. Maybe it will be another 20 years before it happens again, and maybe it won’t. One thing for sure, we can’t predict the weather.”