Alexandra Yacht Club
Founded 1906

Thomas Bick and Les Girls 2

This will be my last AYC trip report on the watery adventures of Thomas Bick since Thomas will be giving up his membership in the club – kicking and screaming – since as he approaches his 92nd birthday he finds he can no longer sail.

There is one more story about our travels and sailing experiences that I felt I wanted to tell. In 2007 my wife Julie and I with both our children, Sarah and Philip joined Thomas and his wife, Clementine, on a cruise to the Baltic that would take us back to Thomas’ roots:

Berlin the city of his birth and Amsterdam where he spent much of his growing up – and sailing. The occasion was also a celebration of Clementine’s 80th birthday and we also were celebrating Philip’s graduation from university prior to his departure to Australia to start a new job.

We flew to Stockholm, where we unexpectedly caught a parade of old cars that Thomas loved, he knew the names of each one and even saw some that his family had owned during the 1920`s. We also posed with the guards outside the royal palace and visited a museum containing the wooden ship, Vasa, an old timber sailing ship from the 1500’s that had been recently raised from the water, where it had been installed in a special museum of its own. Later, as we sailed from Stockholm into the Baltic, the scenery along the shores and many little islands were beautiful and very familiar. It looked quite a lot like Muskoka, cottages and all.

Thomas and a royal guard in Stockholm

The jewel of our trip was a three day visit to the city of St Petersberg in Russia. We were amazed by the spectacular art collection at the Hermitage and overwhelmed at the opulence of the palaces of Catherine and Peter the Great.

Inside Catherine the Great's summer palace, St Petersberg
Peter the Great Summer Palace, St Petersberg

All of the other cities we visited had their particular charms: Helsinki, Finland, Tallin in Estonia, Copenhagen and Gdansk, Poland. However the most significant city for us was Berlin. It was a major emotional experience for Thomas who had only visited it once before since leaving it in 1933. On arrival in the port of Warnemunde we picked up a rented van that was large enough to hold our family party of six and set out on the two and a half hour drive to Berlin. There we found Thomas’ old apartment building (six flats in a lovely Arts & Crafts style building) in the Grunewald (Greenwood) district where he was born in 1922 and spent the first 11 years of his life. Thomas was so excited he rang all the doorbells to see if someone was at home who might show us around. The resident of the unit just below the one where he lived answered and showed us around. The layout was exactly as Thomas remembered. He is one to remember so many details and told us many stories. For example about the book publisher who lived across the hall who got Thomas to handwrite a letter that would be used as an illustration for a children’s book by Erich Kastner (who was also the author of Emil and the Detective stories). The publisher was famous enough that the current tenant knew about her.

Thomas at the entrance to the apartment building in Berlin where he grew up

Berlin has many lakes within the city limits and that is where Thomas first learned to sail. Recently we asked him about his beginnings in sailing and he told us that he learned to sail when he was nine on the Wannsee just outside of Berlin. He remembered that the little folding sailboat that was co-owned by his older brother and the brother’s best friend, was manufactured in Austria by Berger Company. Later when Thomas was twelve and his family had emigrated to Holland in 1933/34, he continued sailing near Alsmer on the Grote Plasse in a small sailboat that had 14 square metres of sail by the name of the Drijn. When he was thirteen or fourteen he joined the Sea Scouts and took part in many sailing related activities including the Scouting Jamboree in England.

Sailing on the Drijn in Holland
Thomas, the sea scout, (reading a chart) in Holland
Thomas, the sea scout, (looking into the distance) in Holland in the 30's

We then drove through the centre of the city, past the Brandenburg gate and spent some time at the nearby city block sized Holocaust Memorial.

Holocaust memorial, Berlin

We went on to the east part of the city to the famous Weissensee cemetery that is one of the only Jewish cemeteries not destroyed by the Nazis. He went to the office and got the location of a number of graves he wanted to visit. It was fascinating as Thomas regaled us with many anecdotes about the various people as he saw their names on the gravestones, - friends, acquaintances and notorious characters of the pre-war time who were buried there. When we got back to the ship and were sitting at dinner talking about our day, a man at the next table overheard our conversation and from it figured out that he had gone to the same school with Thomas during the late 1920`s.

Our next major stop was Amsterdam where Thomas lived from 1933 until he came to Canada in 1939. It was wonderful exploring the canals and other sights of the city with him and listening to him talk to people in Dutch as he reminisced about his teen years there.

Thomas in Amsterdam

Our final stop was in Bruges, another city with many canals where we took a boat ride. Afterward we meandered along the narrow streets. Thomas was able to indulge in another of his passions, chocolate. There were chocolate stores galore and we spent some time in the chocolate museum (what else) which had a small chocolate making exhibit where we could do serious tasting.

Thomas on the canals in Bruges

On the last morning of the cruise we sailed up the Thames to Tilbury docks where we disembarked and then flew from London home to Toronto.

This brings me back to the 2013 sailing season on Les Girls 2. The season was disappointing for Thomas. He only went sailing four times. However, the last sail in September was memorable because he had the same two grand children who had been with him on the Baltic on his sail boat. They were both in town for a visit and came on Thomas’ beloved boat for the last sail of the season. Since we had help we used the occasion to take down the sails and start the process of getting ready for winter. The kids, , both of whom live far away, one in Yellowknife, North West Territories, and the other in London, England, were visiting Toronto at the same time, something that does not happen very often. They wanted to spend time with their grandfather and sailing of course was his favourite way to visit. The sail reminded me of the cruise taken on the Baltic. It was sad to see the end of the season. Little did I know this would be Thomas’ and my last sail on Les Girls 2.

Thomas last sail in 2013
Belgian chocolate in Bruge

I would like to review Thomas’s time with AYC since he joined in 1982. At the start of that year we had a family brunch for my pregnant wife’s Birthday from which Thomas escaped right after dessert to rush off to the Boat Show. He dragged me along and took me completely by surprise when he set eyes on the Capri 25 and agreed to purchase it in less than five minutes. He said he knew it was a perfect boat for him. The only question he had was who would arrive first – the new baby or the boat. The boat won! The boat sat on the Driveway from the end of March – with some consternation from the neighbours waiting for Thomas to find a place to moor it. When he found the AYC he knew it was the right place for him. I had some sailing experience with the sea scouts when I grew up in England so I was the natural family member to be Thomas’ partner in the new venture. The first memory of those days in the 80’s at the old location was that we had to row the club boat out to the concrete dock to get to our boat. The second memory was the labour intensive dangerous haul out and launch of individual boats along a rail line plus final positioning on metal beams using rollers. Life became easier after we moved to the new club house. I am pleased to say there is a great pic of members during one of the early work days at the new club which includes Thomas, myself and our daughter when she was little. During the early 90’s I remember getting phone calls at work with a desperate Thomas on the other end saying there was some nice wind and he would be stopping by my office to pick me up so we could do an evening sail. I must say, being on the water and looking back at the city skyline was a great way of relaxing after a hard day at the office. In the 2000’s, after I took early retirement (though to Thomas I am still the kid!), Thomas saw no excuse for me and my family not joining him on watery ventures. In the first few years we took many cruises on cruise ships, something he and Clementine really loved to do. Ever since her stroke in 1980, Clementine would only go on a ship that was big enough to have chandeliers she insisted. In between those trips we found many hours for sailing Les Girls 2. By 2009 we realized that, due to health issues it was prudent to stop travelling so Thomas and I focused our energies on sailing with Les Girls 2 and I started a log. That continued each year until the end of 2013. In December of 2009 my present to Thomas at his Birthday was an album with the log and photos. Each year since, I added a new log and photos to the album to provide a record of the accomplishments for the years 2009-2013 that became his coffee table book to show all visitors.

Thomas went on a total of 120 day sails on Les Girls 2 over the 5 year period 2009-2013. Typically we would go out for 2 hours in the mid afternoon. This was after an exhaustive set of phone calls every morning of the season to check the weather (wind strength and direction). The wind had to be not too much or too little and in the right direction. East winds were favoured compared to West winds because it meant fewer waves as we passed the breakwater. Ingrid Kuter was often the one to take the call at the club – Is there any wind at AYC? She was grateful when Thomas found the number for the Island airport weather report, so she wouldn`t have to run to the phone.

Thomas Bick sailing statistics on Les Girls 2

Number of daily sails from AYC 2009-2013 (Total 120 over 5 seasons)

Though the 2013 season was disappointing we thought we would be ready for 2014. In March of this year Thomas had some health setbacks, requiring lengthy hospital stays and transfer to a retirement home where he also gets nursing assistance. It was a blow to realize that Thomas would not be able to sail again. It was a sad day when he told us to sell the boat, almost like saying pull the plug. The buyer is a very friendly man who owns a boat yard in Windsor. So Les Girls 2 will retain her name and will be used for sailing lessons on Lake St. Clair.

Bernard Lewis (son-in-law)
May 2014