Sailing boat

Bill Cheek

Inducted by Don Green  
  • Ships and the sea were ingrained in Bill Cheek’s DNA. He was born in Bristol, England in 1926, the son of a ship broker. He soon developed proficiency as a radio operator, and still in his teens during the war, served on merchant ships in the North and South Atlantic, Egypt, and following the war in Asia and Africa. At that point he requested a transfer back home, and serendipitously on the voyage home, met Hela his future wife.
  • With conditions in England being less than ideal, and now contemplating marriage, Bill set out for the New World, arriving in Hamilton in 1948. Hela soon followed, as did marriage and establishing a home and raising a family.
  • After completing a number of Management and Industrial Engineering courses, Bill started his 30 year career with Stelco in 1957, retiring as Superintendent of the Canadian Drawn Works in 1986.  
  • Like so many others who arrive in Hamilton, Bill too was “drawn to the Bay”, and he became Commanding Officer of the Hamilton Navy League Cadets, and from 1960 to 1972 he was a Lieutenant in the RCN Reserves at HMCS STAR, becoming Commodore of the RCN Sailing Association Squadron.
  • And also in 1960, Bill joined the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club.
  • Bill and his three children, Chris, Gerri and John, sailed 420s out of HMCS STAR with Canadian Forces Sailing Association, and raced in Ontario and Quebec with Bill being ostensibly the crew, but, as Gerri remembers it, usually “calling the shots”!
  • Bill would go on to represent Canada as a member of the RCN at the World Naval Sailing Championships in Spain, Sweden, and Argentina, sailing 420s, and later as Team Manager.
  • Bill’s long involvement with Race Management started while Bill was Commodore of the RCN Sailing Association.  It soon became apparent that Bill was the only one qualified to operate the small tug that was being used to start the races. That, by default, made him the Principal Race Officer. So Bill studied hard to master all the responsibilities of that exalted position. 
  • In 1973, in preparation for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Livius Sherwood was named Director of the sailing events to be held in Kingston. There were to be three courses, with the management of each course assigned to teams from Montreal, Ottawa, and the Golden Horseshoe.  Bill volunteered to help, and soon found himself as Executive Officer on Paul Phelan’s Bravo Course.
  • Bill was responsible for training the volunteers into a superb race management team. His organizational skills were so well recognized that for the next eight years Bill was charged with organizing and conducting the week long CORK/CYA Race Management Seminars.
  • At the same time, Bill and Ted Chisholm from RCYC conducted Race Management seminars at CYA and Provincial Sailing Association AGMs.
  • In 1976, I challenged for the Canada’s Cup on behalf of RHYC in the radical C&C designed and built Evergreen. Bill was asked, and agreed, to chair the RHYC Canada’s Cup Committee.
  • Bill was intimately involved in all the politics and bureaucracy of both the contentious selection series with RCYC and the aggressive Canada’s Cup racing against Bayview Yacht Club - in their own home waters. Ultimately, Evergreen emerged victorious, bringing the Canada’s Cup to RHYC for the first time in the 82 year history of the event.
  • However, we should not underestimate the challenges that faced Bill as RHYC’s point man in these often protracted and sometimes contentious negations with RCYC’s and Bayview’s Canada’s Cup Committees, and the Flag Officers of RCYC. These negotiations addressed such issues as the mysterious Black Box favoured by Lowell North, the nationality of the helmsman, and the structure of the elimination series and trials with RCYC to choose the official challenger. We didn’t win all of those battles, but Bill was in the thick of them all.
  • If it wasn’t for Bills patience and diplomacy, and the personal relationship he developed with David Hague at RCYC, things may well have gone off the rails early in the process. Bill’s contribution to Evergreen’s ultimate victory cannot be overestimated. He was as important to that victory as any member of the crew or the design team. Indeed, Doug Hunter in “Against the Odds”, officially recognizes Bill’s contribution to the writing of that book in his introduction, and has three separate Chapters through the book all entitled “In the Land of Legalese” each devoted to Bill’s involvement and contribution to the Evergreen program.
  • Keep in mind, as well, that during all these intense and protracted Canada’s Cup negotiations, Bill was also President of the Ontario Sailing Association from 1977 to 1978, a full time job in itself, and he was also still running a plant at Stelco!
  • Bill was Commodore of RHYC from 1981 to 1982. This was during the turbulent years of the building of the new clubhouse in a period of stagflation, bank loans, lawsuits, bankruptcies, enduring more challenges than any one man should have had to endure.
  • However, despite these challenges, Gerri tells us that Bill always derived great pleasure in helping to organize the club’s Annual Regatta, the Easter Seals Regatta, and his hands-down favourite, the season closing Turkey Regatta, now named in his honour.
  • Bill became Vice President, and then President, of the CYA Race Division, introducing in 1982 a formalized Official Development Program for the training and certifying of Race Officers and Judges. From 1983 to 1985 he served as President of the CYA, now known as Sail Canada.
  • In 1986, upon Livius Sherwood retirement from the IYRU Race Management Subcommittee, Bill was selected to be his replacement. In 1987 the IYRU appointed Bill as Race Consultant to assist the Korean Yachting Association in preparation for the 1988 Soule Olympics.   Bill spent many months of 1986 and 1987 training the Korean Race Committees and volunteers. He ultimately spent three days as the Bravo Course PRO during the Olympics in the absence of his Korean counterpart!
  • In 1989 Bill was certified as an International Race Officer. In the same year he was also certified as an International Judge. This double certification gave him a unique insight into the relationship between Race Officers and Judges.  
  • Over the years Bill trained Race Committees for multiple Canada Games and other International and National events, with his last Olympic involvement being to train volunteers in Savanah as part of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Bill continued to provide help and advice to whoever might ask, as recently as the Chinese Organizing Authority for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
  • In 2002 Bill organized the “on the water” aspects of the very successful Europe Worlds hosted by RHYC, and served as the Principal Race Officer for the event.
  • While an International Judge, Bill also served on both the CYA Rules Committee and Appeals Committee. He was appointed Member Emeritus on both in 2003.  In 2008, Bill was asked back to Chair the Rule Committee during the illness of its chairman.
  • After retiring from Stelco in 1986, Bill worked as a volunteer with Canadian Executive Services Overseas, starting in Jamaica in 1987, followed by six assignments to Colombia in the late 80s and early 90s and one in St Vincent.
  • After leaving CESO, Bill volunteered with the Federal Business Development Bank for 16 years, advising scores of small businesses in southwestern Ontario.
  • Throughout all this business related volunteering and tutoring, Gerri tells me that in his later years, what gave Bill the most satisfaction, and what he was most proud of, was being part of the RHYC Race Committee and mentoring others at the club.
  • So, it is more than fitting that we recognize Bill Cheek’s contribution to RHYC and International Sailing by his Induction into the RHYC Hall of Fame.
Rob Mazza
Chair, RHYC Heritage Committee