West Riding Sailing Club
The Formation of the Club
In 1936 Uffa Fox created his Uffa King design and the National Twelve Class was born, opening up a new era of dinghy sailing to the wider public.
The brothers Ralph and Bill Goodyear searching for water on which to sail their newly built 12’s came across Wintersett Reservoir and recognised its potential. An approach was made to the owner, the Aire & Calder Navigation Co., and on a historic evening on 18th November 1937 the ten founding fathers and mothers met at the Red Lion Hotel, Worsborough Bridge, and agreed to form a club to take on the tenancy of the cottage and reservoir at Wintersett.
Those present were Margaret Dadswell, Monica Maurice, Pauline Maurice, Jim Crawley, John Hay, Bob Hay, Bill Goodyear, Ralph Goodyear, Geoff Payne and Arthur “A.B.” Webster.
A General meeting was held the following month and D. Diggle was elected the first Commodore with Jim Crawley Vice Commodore, Bill Goodyear Hon Treasurer and A.B. Webster Hon Secretary. The subscription was set at £2. WRSC was launched
Fishing & Building - The Pre-War Years
One of the levers in persuading the Aire & Calder to grant the Club its tenancy was that the Club took on the organisation of the fishing which had fallen into disarray. The re-organisation of the fishing occupied the early days of the Club as much as the sailing, but the fishing rights became a heaven sent source of considerable income.
A Water Bailliff was appointed in 1938, his terms of employment being free accommodation in the cottage on the dam wall, plus one sixth of the total income from the sale of fishing tickets. By 1940 the club was paying income tax on its profits.
The original 2-storey clubhouse was built in 1939 by the joinery company Goodyear Bros, with the aid of loans made by members to swell Club funds. Boats were housed beneath the clubhouse which in its original form did not include the bar extension and changing rooms. Geoff Payne originated the design of the Club burgee, unchanged today, and one of the originals was woven from silk.
The War brought many activities to a halt. It brought the Sea Cadets to Wintersett for “training in sailing and boat pulling” under the watchful eye of George Harrison, who commenced his 40 years of service to the club as Hon Treasurer.
Swordfish and Uncertainty – the Early Post War Years
The War over, the first concrete slipway was laid in 1946 and in the following year the club took a major decision in adopting Uffa Fox’s latest design the Swordfish, a longer, less demanding version of his world beating International14’s. The clubhouse was extended forward to accommodate their extra length.
Petrol rationing and the low level of the water made regular sailing impossible. In 1948 sailing only took place on three days and the subscription was reduced to 5 shillings (25p). There was also great concern that the Aire & Calder were about to close the reservoir. A syndicate was formed to purchase the reservoir and at one stage the Aire & Calder agreed to give the Club first refusal.
With uncertainty continuing, alternative water was sought and in 1950 the Club joined forces with what was to become South Yorkshire SC on Moorhall Reservoir for a trial period of two years. The subscription was now down to 1 shilling (5p)!
However, by 1951 the tide had turned at Wintersett, Moorhall was deemed “unsuitable for dinghy sailing” and the Club returned for a full season’s sailing with a fleet which consisted of nine Swordfish and one Twelve. The clubhouse was painted Railway Green, cutlery, glasses and WRSC crockery purchased, and “a magnificent compound built for the boats”, a smaller version of what we now call the Swordfish compound.
Expansion then Crisis – the Fifties
Two notable events occurred in 1952. The first Swordfish White Rose Bowl open meeting was held, attracting 18 boats from all over the country and won by P.T Fawcett’s 15/109 “Joanna B”– a boat which still raced in the club over 50 years later.
More seriously, the Club’s attempts at purchasing Wintersett were gazumped by the National Coal Board, who gave assurances that WRSC should be allowed to continue its activities when the NCB eventually took over.
Brian Goulder, later to become Secretary of The Junior Offshore Group and then the of the UK Laser Association, joined the Club and formed a sub-committee to look after the interests of the 12’s and the Fireflies, considered at the time a one design Twelve. Numbers increased until in 1955 the first regatta for the Association of the North Eastern Yachts Clubs, known as ANEYC, was held. This was the forerunner of WRSC’s 2/3 day regatta held to this day, and the first winner, the legendary National 12 helmsman Robin Steavenson, supported the event for over 40 years.
The Swordfish White Rose Bowl was held separately, and later that year the Club celebrated its first National Champion when Ted Wells won from a fleet of 38 Swordfish at Aldeburgh.
To cope with the extra activity, an extra two feet of concrete was added to each side of the slipway, the compound was extended, and the clubhouse extended to its final size at a cost of £944. Most important a monument to British Architecture, a Brick Open Air Gentleman’s Toilet Facility was lovingly constructed, saving the hedgerows and embarrassment to Sunday afternoon walkers. It was even mentioned in the National 12’s Good Club Guide.
Following the success of ANEYC, the Club held the first White Rose Trophy for National 12’s in 1956 and WRSC’s long tradition of open meetings was established. Membership stood at 130 with 13 Swordfish and 15 National 12’s sailing most weekends.
The Club celebrated its 21st Birthday in 1958 with a dinner dance at the Old Swan, Harrogate, complete with a cake in the shape of Wintersett and a fleet of sugar boats.
Following several years of negotiation, the NCB finally took over Wintersett and also the fishing rights. This was a severe blow for the club, losing a valuable source of income. It made changes inevitable and membership numbers would have to be dramatically increased to finance the club’s operations.
To compound the difficulties, the NCB decided to drain Wintersett to strengthen the poorly maintained dam wall. By 1959, the reservoir was empty and the banks were dug out as they are today, reducing the sailing area, but removing many shallows. Many members left and the Club entered the sixties in a fragile state.
Bust to Boom – the Sixties
Cyril Dadswell, Commodore since 1952, had seen the Club through the difficult years of the NCB takeover. He was determined to see the Club secure again before he relinquished office and in 1960 he boldly proposed that one of the popular new breed of Jack Holt hard chine, suitable for home build boats, the Enterprise was adopted. It worked. As the water level rose, so did the membership. Sadly Cyril Dadswell never saw the full fruits of endeavour, tragically dying in 1962. But he had linked the idea of a successful club with a successful class, and the Enterprises were a mainstay of the Club for over 40 years. The Enterprise was followed three years later by the OK, WRSC’s first single handed class.
Various trophies were created in memory of Cyril Dadswell, reflecting his ideas. The Dadswell Wooden Spoon for junior members was first held in 1963 and attracted no less than 21 under-18 helms. The Dadswell Salver was also presented for the winner of a one day event with all the boats in the club having a mass start – the forerunner of handicap racing at WRSC. The Handicap class still competes for the Salver. There were also Dadswell trophies for the Swordfish class, both at Club and national level.
Also in 1963 WRSC hosted its first national championship, organising Swordfish Week (all championships were week-long events) at South Caernarvonshire YC for a fleet of over forty Swordfish. Social events included a welcoming cocktail party, a dinner, the AGM, and the prize giving. Somehow WRSC members also managed to compete in the event.
The sixties saw an explosion in dinghy racing, with the popular classes regularly hitting entries of over 200 at national championships, and WRSC was to enjoy a rich seam of talent and success. 1966 was the vintage year when David Vaughan and Michael Mitchell won the Enterprise National Championship, winning every race in the process, a feat never equalled. A celebration supper was held and Commodore Owen Somerville-Jones, probably the best after dinner speaker the club has known, made a speech full of “Irreverence, irrelevance, wit, buffoonery, audacity and sheer cheek.”
In the same year WRSC’s other star helmsman, Richard Ellis, was selected for the British team in the OK World Championship, finishing second Brit and in the top ten.
Also in 1966, ex-student John Gledhill liaised with Leeds University to bring them to Wintersett to begin their long association with WRSC. The same year Robin Paige, Hon Secretary 1952 – 1961, presented the Midnight Mug and for many years, on Midsummer’s Night, members would do battle at midnight round precariously illuminated marks. Unfortunately in recent years as the world became twitched about health & safety, it moved forward to a daylight start which was ultimately deemed pointless and the event lapsed.
To record such a memorable year, Brian Goulder published the first Year Book.
1967 saw the first “Hundred Boat” ANEYC, and West Lancashire Yacht Club held the first 24 hour race at Southport. WRSC was there and finished 5th from over sixty clubs and but for an unlucky starting line infringement by a jet-lagged David Vaughan, incurring a one lap penalty, the team would have been second. Next year saw two magnificent achievements, 3rd place at Southport and Commodore Hubert Elgood’s dream come true – flush toilets!
The decade finished with the adoption of the Fireball and Mirror classes, the OK being dropped to make room. The National 12 class captain, Roger Beatty, reported it being unusual to see less than ten 12’s on the start line. Family membership cost an eye-watering £10, single membership £6. The club was very healthy.
Days of Wine & Roses – the Seventies
With Commodore Bill Kenyon at the helm, a new compound, known as the Mirror Compound, was built to the east of the clubhouse to accommodate the large numbers of Mirrors arriving at the Club. The clubhouse was bursting at the seams and the inner wall was extended to absorb the balcony, to the dismay of older members. A rescue boat “of the dory type” replaced the Seagull outboard powered clinker-built fishing boats which had been used since the war. Before the days of the Seagull, the boats had been rowed.
Dinghy sailing was booming throughout the UK, running a sailing club was easy. At WRSC boat numbers rocketed, topping the 100 mark in 1971. By 1976 the club had 140 boats, including 28 Enterprises, 21 Swordfish, 33 National 12’s, 8 Fireballs and a fleet of Mirrors limited to 50 with a waiting list. Being OOD was like being an air traffic controller.
The Club regularly hosted open meetings with fleets of over 50 boats, including regional and junior championships for Enterprise, Mirror, and Fireball, as well as the annual meetings for the Enterprise Cock 0’ the North, Swordfish White Rose Bowl, the National 12 White Rose Trophy and a Fireball open. The great and the good visited WRSC including, memorably, Jack Holt at an Enterprise championship when the class was wrangling over International status.
WRSC members from all classes travelled the country, and even to the continent, to compete in regional, national and international events, with the National 12’s topping the list with eleven entries in the 1972 nationals at Scarborough. The 12’s were perhaps the most competitive fleet with huge talent in a cutting edge class. Over a 3 year period there were ten home built or finished boats in the fleet, with Philip Kent and John Sadler producing some quality boats. The demand for racing was such that Wednesday evening handicap racing started up, together with for a short period a Saturday afternoon series.
Towards the end of 1976 a single-handed class was requested as a crew shortage set in, nine years after the demise of the OK. Due to an anomaly at the AGM, both the Streaker and Laser were adopted for the 1977 season, with the proviso that if either class failed to enter 3 boats in 20 races in the year that class would be withdrawn. The Laser went from strength to strength, but there were never more than 5 Streakers and they didn’t take off.
As the seventies wore on dinghy sailing started to dive in popularity throughout the UK. WRSC turnouts also fell and the Mirror Class Captain, viewing the dried out hulls in the compound, reminded members that the Club was called West Riding Sailing Club not National Car Parks. The Windsurfer was invented, putting even more pressure on dinghy sailing.
Regeneration – the Eighties
In 1981 Commodore John Dunham handed over to George Harrison, treasurer since 1941. George sadly resigned after one year and Peter White took over.
Class racing was diminishing. Fireballs and Streakers could no longer support a class start and formed a handicap fleet with the Leeds University Larks, together with any other class which could not produce 3 boats on the starting line. They were soon joined by the 12’s, which after being the life blood of the club for so long amazingly went into terminal decline. The Swordfish also beginning to stare extinction in the face as boats outlasted their crews.
Adoption of Sailboards
In a radical move, Sailboards were adopted. Numbers were limited to 110 with limited voting rights to prevent the club being taken over by the new breed. Under the class captaincy of sailors such as Alan Beecham the class quickly integrated into the club and produced sailors who became highly successful at national and open circuit events, with WRSC’s open being part of the East Midlands circuit.
To boost flagging dinghy numbers, the Handicap fleet was opened up to other classes, and by the end of the decade it numbered 20 boats with 5 Toppers, 4 Solos, two 420’s, a Firefly and an Albacore joining the Fireballs, 12’s and Streakers.
It became apparent that large quantities of expensive mahogany were lying around the compounds in the shape of Swordfish at low prices. Members from other classes began to buy them up and led by Swordfish class captain Bryan Weston, and other skilled craftsmen such as Barry Whipp and Stephen Sullivan, the class was literally rebuilt.
Bryan and his successor, John Gledhill, took the idea of a class newsletter to a new level and it became essential reading for the whole club. The Swordfish rapidly became the mainstay of the club, holding an annual class dinner which ultimately drew in guests from other clubs and classes and rivalled the Club’s annual dinner in entertainment value.
Bryan Weston became Commodore in 1985 with a major restructuring of the management of the club. The Committee had grown over the years to number twenty members and was proving unwieldy. Sub Committees were formed for Sailboards, Sailing, House and Social, and a Management Committee of twelve was formed. With this extra firepower, House Chairman Chris Brownsword masterminded the long awaited luxury of hot showers.
Bryan generated a vibrant social scene at WRSC and in 1987 it culminated in a riotous Golden Jubilee celebration, including a flaming be-candled birthday cake wheeled in by a scantily clad young lady who put Bryan’s blood pressure into momentary jeopardy. The Jubilee year also hosted the Mirror Northern and Enterprise Junior National Championships, the latter event having over 40 entries with three from WRSC.
Meanwhile the WRSC Swordfish fleet, after years of domination nationally by Hornsea SC and Medway YC, turned the tables over the next two decades with national championship titles for John Dunham (twice), Ted Tinker, John Gledhill (9 times), Mark Weston, John Flatt, Stephen Sullivan (twice), and Alan Padgett (twice).
The other notably successful member in the 80’s was sail maker Neil Thornton who twice won the Fireball nationals, plus a string of other events. He became the default sail maker for the Swordfish, gave talks at his Number One Sails loft, and ran training sessions.
In 1984 Richard Harrison presented the Club with the George Harrison Trophy in memory of his late father, aimed at encouraging junior racing. The first winner was Joff Bailey, now Director of the Global Challenge Race. Commodore John Gledhill later refined the series by devising a personal handicap system for juniors and ran a summer series during the Sunday racing programme, around a dozen juniors competing regularly.
Also early in the decade Bryan Weston dreamed up Midsummer Carnival weekend, two days of whacky happenings both on and off the water which, when the weather was right, attracted great numbers.
1988 was Friendly Year with House Chairman and Swordfish sailor John Ledger being crowned Mr Friendly at the annual dinner. The friendly approach worked, and according to Sailing Secretary Norrie McCredie, Club membership soared by a staggering 30%.
The following year Sail Train ’89 was designed to improve the skills of the new 30% with non-stop Sunday morning race training. The Year Book was re-introduced after a break of eleven years, the first sponsored three day Spring Bank Regatta was held complete with marquee, an Alan Beecham inspired barn dance and Bryan Weston’s own brand of horse racing. The Club was entering the new decade on the crest of a wave.
A New Peak – the Nineties
The total craft numbers in the club exceeded 200 for the first time in 1990, including 71 sailboards. Sailing Secretary Andrew Bastow announced that numbers taking part in Sunday racing had jumped in a year from 35-40 to 50-55 boats. The average size of a fleet on the start line was over 10.
The emphasis on youth continued with the eventual purchase of five club Toppers. A Junior Committee was formed which organised its own racing. A role of honour was created for those juniors regularly racing and in 1991 totalled 17 names.
In 1991 Frank Bluss originated the idea of a Summer Camp. Over twenty children signed up for the first week long camp which included 6 am starts for bird watching, kitchen chores, boat maintenance and, of course, long hours of sailing. Volunteers, including student members on vacation, took the week off to run the camp.
It was a great success and, driven by commodore Alan Beecham’s enthusiasm, built up over the following years until in 1993 WRSC became an RYA training establishment issuing proficiency certificates to campers. Summer camps continued until towards the end of the decade when the growing complications of personal liability and the high cost of insurance to protect the club sadly made it prudent to end this great venture.
World Tours & Abersoch
The Swordfish fleet set the pace in the nineties with up to ten travelling regularly round the country on their infamous “World Tour”. The Swordfish SWINGERS (Swordfish World, International, National, Global, and European Regattas) introduced other WRSC members to the Lord Birkett Trophy on Ullswater, the Draycott Silver Salvers, and Abersoch Dinghy Week.
Other WRSC members joined the Swordfish and flocked to Abersoch in increasing numbers, culminating in an entry of 22 boats and over 80 members present in 1992. WRSC won the prize for the club with the most entries for six consecutive years.
WRSC also created a phenomenal party scene at Abersoch. The midweek Brownsword BBQ was only outdone by the opening Sunday evening themed fancy dress parties, dreamt up by Maggie Gledhill. The 1992 Mad Hatter’s Tea Party scaled new heights of outrageous creativity when Red Queens, Knaves, White Rabbits, Dormice et al paraded round the village to the amazement of Sunday evening chapel goers.
Another year a pantomime horse containing Peter and Jenny Bellhouse waltzed down the beach in the company of an astonished Abersoch Riding School, and helped members carrying blue buckets to raise a considerable sum for the RNLI.
Thomas the Tank Too
In 1991 the club purchased a reasonably famous GP14 “Thomas the Tank Too” to enter in the Southport 24 hour race, and also to be used as a club training boat. The refurbishment of Thomas each year by the Southport team ensured that the boat was kept in above average condition for a club craft.
WRSC was one of the few clubs in the country to have entered the event every year since its inception, but the quality of its entries had fallen as members became less willing to lend their state of the art Enterprises for this increasingly competitive race. The nadir was reached with a 74th place in 1990 in a boat which almost sank. Hence Thomas the Tank Too.
Thomas made an impressive debut in the 1991 event, moving from 74th (boats start in their previous year’s finishing order) to 12th in the first two hectic hours before easing back to finish a respectable 32nd. But the club had caught 24 hour fever and the next year there were two entries with the addition of a newly acquired club Enterprise.
Thomas was eventually superseded by a second GP, 13302. The sequence culminated in an 8th place, the best result for decades, in 1997 when a young team all in their twenties sailed out of their skins in survival conditions to compete on even terms with the best in the country. At one stage the wind blew at a recorded 45 knots for over 20 minutes. As exhaustion set in, reinforcements were called in from far away West Yorkshire and the final team numbered thirteen heroes and heroines.
When Barry Whipp ran out of crews for his Swordfish he built himself a Solo. He also built them for other members and numbers soared. Five Solos increased to seventeen in 1993 and became the only class to evolve from the handicap fleet after 20 years.
Barry eventually built Solos professionally and his boats were highly successful, winning the Northern Travellers series on three occasions in the hands of Ben Ratcliffe. WRSC produced other notable Solo successes, twice winning the Solo Club of the North Team Trophy.
In 1994 Sailing Secretary Hamish Gledhill reported the club as having the strongest Enterprise, Laser and Solo fleets in the region, and the strongest Swordfish fleet in the world. Ian Scott crewed by Andy Green was the first under 18 year-old at the Enterprise Junior Nationals. Asymmetric boats appeared for the first time and an Iso open meeting was held complete with a hog roast and a steel band. The only downside was that weed had appeared for the first time on Wintersett, plus Blue Green Algae, beginning a major expense on water treatment in the years ahead.
In 1994 Commodore Malcolm McQuire started informal Saturday sailing, manning a rescue boat throughout the summer for novice and family sailors.
About 20 boats took part in the first year, and year on year it grew until the Saturday season extended from May to the end of October. By 1998 Malcolm recorded no less than 64 boats sailing on Saturdays during the year; nearly as many, he noted, as had sailed on Sundays. Some also started low key Friday evening racing. He also noted the difficulty in getting the Saturday sailors into Sunday racing, and that Sunday fleet turnouts were starting to struggle.
The decade peaked in 1997 with the celebration of WRSC’s 60th anniversary. Bryan Weston headed a Committee Organising the Diamond Jubilee Anniversary, whose members were known as CODJA’s.
Highlights included the 3-day Diamond Jubilee Regatta, complete with an entry of over 80 boats from 18 clubs, a marquee for a Barn Dance followed by a night of Wintersett Races, plus a fantastic firework display after which a visitor was heard to exclaim “What a club!”
There was an Open Day with a sail past, inter-class pursuit race, old photos, Club memorabilia, a band, stalls, past members, the public, a Bouncy Castle and afternoon tea in a tent. The weather also did the club proud.
Maggie Gledhill organised a Jubilee Ball at the impressive venue of Nostell Priory, producing a stunning setting complete with bunting and banners, table decorations in club colours and the Q.E.G.S. Swing Band. Commodore John Rushton was able to speak about a triumphant club, and mentioned the Club’s no less than three 1997 national champions; Ian Scott (Enterprise Junior Champion), John Gledhill (Swordfish) and Stewart Tyson (Otter). Only a week later the Club’s young guns delivered their 8th place out of 90 boats at Southport.
With the aid of Sue McQuire, Bryan Weston was able to put together the Diamond Jubilee Diary which covered every aspect of a brilliant year, including numerous “DJ Moments” penned by club members.
From Feast to Famine
In his final report as commodore in 1998, John Rushton expressed a concern in the inability to get volunteers for committees or even in the day to day running of the club; a reaction to the great efforts of 1997, or something more sinister?
1999, just two years after the triumphant Jubilee, was a disaster. Malcolm McQuire had noted the dilution of Sunday racing with the growth of Saturday sailing, and keen racers voted with their feet with an exodus of core Sunday sailors.
In 12 months boat numbers dropped from nearly 200 to 150, and only three of the thirteen talented 1997 Southport team race remained at the club. Few of the Saturday sailors made the commitment to advance into racing and most drifted away from the club. In a 12 month period membership fell from 370 to under 300.
As a separate issue, sailboards were in terminal decline as the original concept of cheap, easy racing was overtaken by technology and rising cost. The Swordfish and Enterprises were badly hit by the onset of the new asymmetric boats. Although these newer designs fizzled out at WRSC, the damage had been done. Solos held firm and the Lasers actually increased.
However, WRSC sailors still produced results on the water. Ben Ratcliffe was second in the Solo Scottish Championship in 1999, and Hamish Gledhill won the Laser class at Abersoch Dinghy week from a fleet of 68 Lasers. The previous year John Gledhill had done the double at Abersoch, winning the Solo class in the mornings and the Swordfish in the afternoons.
New Millennium – The Hard Years
It was apparent that the 1939 built clubhouse was lacking in facilities, particularly the changing rooms and showers. To attract new members, new facilities were a priority, but a rent increase from the new owners RJB Mining plus a diminished membership meant that money was tight. Outside funding was needed to develop the Club, but since the 1950’s the Club had operated on a 6 month lease, a block to any funding being secured.
Commodore John Lang opened negotiations with RJB, assisted by Sailing Sec Roger Perry, and after three years of bargaining a 25 year lease was agreed in 2001. The Club could start to look at a long term development plan, including the modernisation of the clubhouse and the raising of funds. The trade-off for the lease was that the rent increased tenfold.
The new Commodore, Roger Perry, started work on a development plan. He also highlighted a commitment to train youngsters as this had lapsed. In the autumn of 2003, 120 members attended a presentation by Roger Perry, Hamish Gledhill and Abi Morgan. The topic was the future of the club, and the presentation was followed by a long evening of input from members. This was followed up by a questionnaire to all members.
The Double Handed Conundrum
In 2004 the Lasers were at an all-time high of 36 boats with the Solos also on a high of 26 boats. Worryingly the Enterprise class had less than 25 boats for the first time, and it was clear the Swordfish could not last for ever. Two man boats were going out of fashion.
To whet the appetites of potential double handed boat owners, two new RS200 class asymmetric dinghies were invited to the club for members to try. Three boats subsequently were bought by club members and eventually five, but never enough to start a fleet. Lack of a two man boat reduced sailing opportunities for novices and boded ill for the future.
Although the number of boats in the club had levelled out at 150, membership had declined to 277, 30% down from 1996, lack of families with children being the main area of concern.
On & In the Water
On the water, the club adopted the new RYA Racing Charter; but in the water the weed was becoming a major problem, despite ever larger sums of money being spent on increasingly ineffective treatments due to restrictive legislation. The Laser/Solo Open, traditionally in September, had to be cancelled due to weed and was eventually moved to March/April.
On the clear waters of Abersoch Dinghy Week, WRSC became the first visiting club ever to win the Crewsaver Team Trophy with John/ Jonathan Gledhill, Neil Thornton/Kevin Pease, and Phil/Jackie Thompson producing a first, second and third in their respective classes. A WRSC entry of 21 boats was the second highest number of boats from one club.
The Fire of 2005
Newly elected Commodore Hamish Gledhill started 2005 with great ideas. A new management structure was created to give more members the opportunity to get involved, including a Junior & Youth Development Officer, Publicity Officer, Community Liaison Officer and a Training Officer. A forum was introduced on the recently established club website and a three times a year newsletter “Mainsheet” published to augment the Year Book.
The first edition of Mainsheet included news of an 8-Hour Endurance Race, plans for a serious Southport campaign and an article by new House Chairman, Tony Short, on the various options for modernising the clubhouse. Fate was to foil the best laid plans.
“There’s been an explosion and your blue shed is on fire!”
These alarming words over the telephone to Hon Sec Jonathan Gledhill on the evening of July 18th launched the Club on a 12 month voyage into unchartered waters. By the time Jonathan and Hamish arrived at the club the fire brigade was in action, but the clubhouse was destroyed.
An arsonist, never identified, had pushed a spare gas cylinder through the back of the clubhouse and turned it on. When the gas hit the pilot light for the shower in the men’s changing room the explosion blew off the front of the building. More gas was ignited upstairs when the fridge switched on, blowing a hole in the roof.
Nearly seventy years old built of timber, no company would ever insure the clubhouse for its replacement value. It would take two years to obtain funding with no positive outcome guaranteed. Building contractors were busy and were quoting 18 months waiting lists. Without a clubhouse the Club would die – quickly.
To retain membership, containers were hired to act as temporary changing rooms, toilets and a clubroom. In the short term the safety boats remained in the base of the clubhouse shell, but the theft of the engines soon necessitated two more containers.
Various sub committees were formed to tackle the crisis.Identifying a custom built modular building as the most suitable solution from a speed and value for money point of view, it was estimated that the club would have to raise £50-80,000. A brand new module ordered for a company which went into receivership was the Club’s for a bargain price and helped reduce the deficit.
Sailing as usual
The mantra “Sailing must go on as usual” was followed and the full year’s sailing programme was completed, including two well supported open meetings. An additional “Fire Trophy” was inaugurated to get as many members as possible sailing together on one day and attracted 34 entries; also the first 8-hour race was successfully held.
There was a good entry for the Lord Birkett Trophy on Ullswater, and star of Abersoch Dinghy Week was dark horse Tim Wills winning the 35 strong Solo fleet. Three Fireballs sailed by Damian Abbatt/Stephen Digby, Jonny Limebear/Abi Morgan and John Lang/Malcolm Clack sailed in the Fireball Worlds at Teignmouth, and had great tales to tell from the fleet of 175.
The Southport team finished a creditable 16th and won the Yorkshire Cup for the first club in Yorkshire. The Commodore found time to escape from the fire problems and won the Nantwich & Border Counties SC Solo open. In the Southern Ocean ex member Joff Bailey kept in touch with events at WRSC as he skippered the yacht “New York” in the Global Challenge Round the World Race. The sailing was still going on.
The Fund Raisers
Fund raising plans were laid, targeting outside the Club rather than causing membership burnout. A few major projects were arranged rather than going off in all directions at once. Past members of Club were circulated with details of the fire and generous donations immediately started to pour in to the tune of £3000 by Christmas.
Pat and Paul Brunner organised a “Phoenix Lunch” and their daughter Jan and husband Sean Kempton ran a Whisky tasting evening. A WRSC Christmas card was professionally designed for free, sold extensively nationwide and sent to addresses worldwide. A members’ internal raffle was held and the draw held at the 2006 AGM raised £6500.
Architect members Andrew and Claire Paley professionally designed the interior of the new clubhouse to meet all the necessary building regulations, and they also dealt with the planners. After some negotiation UK Coal were persuaded to demolish the remains of the old clubhouse for free, another huge saving.
The most ambitious plan involved a nationwide Prize Draw for a new RS200, generously donated by Mark Weston. Matt Cook bargained with RS Racing for a huge discount and John Gledhill circulated over 1000 sailing clubs inviting them to donate £100 to WRSC Fire Fund in exchange for £100 of Prize Draw tickets. The Royal Yacht Squadron was the first club to responded, by return, with £100.
Sailing organisations were targeted to sponsor the Prize Draw with their products, and the prize list included everything from a large sailing bag to an Alinghi America’s cup T-shirt.
The Prize Draw campaign was launched at the Dinghy Exhibition, accompanied by a 3-page article in Yachts and Yachting and a quarter page article in Sailing Dinghy Magazine. RS Racing allowed the WRSC touts to sell their tickets on the RS stand and the team did well raising £3000. The membership sold more tickets over the following weeks to bring the Prize Draw total to £10,500 by the time the draw was made at the 2006 Spring Bank Regatta.
Grafters and Builders
The winter after the fire was spent grafting through the wreckage, sorting combustible from non-combustible material. Members enjoyed further conflagrations of the old timbers, including an occasion that attracted the fire brigade for a second time!
At the 2006 AGM, held at Pugneys, apresentation by Damian Abbatt and Tony Short detailed a list of 80-odd jobs that had to be completed before the new building could be installed.With much hard work from a really committed group of people, everything went to plan and the building was successfully delivered to the club in mid-February.
Damian worked prodigiously, spending literally days crawling around in the dirt and darkness under the building ensuring that the taps, drains and toilets were connected in the right place. After emerging from the dark he then spent days fitting the kitchen.
Meanwhile golfer Tony Short persuaded Huddersfield Golf Club to donate the bar unit they were throwing out to WRSC. After being temporarily stored in the Commodore’s garage it was duly seized upon and installed by Tony, Billy Gardner, Alan Beecham and John Dyson.
After a flurry of over 100 e-mails Damian, Tony, Roger Perry and Hamish Gledhill designed a deck for the front of the new building. Roger supervised his band of merry men and women over a 3-day non-stop effort over Easter to complete most of the installation.
It had been Commodore Hamish Gledhill’s ambition to replace the old clubhouse within a year. Following the huge effort by the membership, the grand opening took place on the Saturday of the 2006 Spring Bank Regatta when Peter Goodyear, whose father Ralph and uncle Bill built the original clubhouse, opened the new building. The sun shone, a buffet lunch was provided, and many favourable comments were made about the new building.
There was a display of photos and facts about the rebuild, plus acknowledgements to all those people and organisations that had supported WRSC. After the regatta prize giving, the draw was made for the RS200 and won by a sailing instructor from Bassenthwaite SC. It was a brilliant weekend.
Over £25,000 in cash had been raised by the fundraising activities, and it was estimated that over another £30,000 in kind had been covered by the hard work of the membership and services provided FOC from outside. The Club now had a new clubhouse and had survived still financially sound. There was still no boathouse and work still needed to be done to complete the clubhouse. Ominously membership had fallen to under 200.
Funding and Training – 2006 onwards
A few weeks after the re-opening, Summer Camp returned in a new weekend format. It went from strength to strength with up to eighty campers turning out in all weathers from heat wave to flood conditions.
Initially Oppis were hired for the twenty children who attended the first camp, but following the success of this an application for funding was prepared. After an EGM to change the club constitution to satisfy the terms of the application, the club obtained an award of £10,000 to buy its own fleet of Oppis which just arrived in time for the 2008 Summer Camp.
Following a meeting for parents in the spring of 2008, various ideas were adopted to encourage children into sailing. Tim Keighley ran a series of Kids Clubs on Saturdays and Hamish Gledhill created a Summer Sunday format during the August holidays to help both children and novices acquire more sailing experience. A Kids Page was also included in the club newsletter, “Mainsheet”.
RYA Training Centre
Matt Cook became Commodore in 2008 and pursued RYA Training Centre status for the Club followed by the OnBoard scheme, aimed at giving school children sailing taster sessions. The process was meant to take a total of two years, but thanks to Matt’s perseverance RYA status was acquired in spring 2009, a period of only ten months, an RYA record, shortly followed by the Onboard scheme also in record time.
Training Principal Dan Trowsdale reported 50 children through the OnBoard scheme in the first 12 months and five Kids Club sessions were held with games and events on the water. There was Youth Training on Monday evenings, training at the Spring Bank Regatta and Summer Camp, and with fifteen children participating in the Indoor Games evening there was talk of a Junior fleet the following year.
Frustratingly, after enthusiastic starts, it was found difficult to maintain the commitment of all parents and it was mainly the children of existing sailors who progressed. Realising that the cost of family membership was a barrier to many parents, a Cadet category allowing children to join with a non-sailing “guardian” at a reduced rate was put together in 2011 and passed at the following AGM.
The Club purchased some of the ex-Leeds University Larks as a stop-gap to add to the club GP and Enterprise to get RYA training underway for adults. Initial course uptake was good and there was an encouraging surge in membership, especially as many sailing clubs in the north were struggling.
The problem, as other clubs found, was how to progress new members from RYA Levels 1 & 2 into more skilful sailing and ultimately racing. Introductory days to racing got little support and Mark Weston, trying to get a buddy system going, was very disillusioned by the lack of interest.
Jonathan Gledhill became Commodore in 2011, and with the Larks looking decidedly shabby a successful funding bid for over £10,000 enabled the purchase of two new Xenon dinghies for training, and a new 40 HP patrol boat to replace one of the ancient dories.
A cracking club
In 2008 new member Adrian Thear commented, “We have a cracking club which is active, friendly and very importantly for me, fiercely competitive. I am impressed with the quality of sailing compared with other clubs.” Adrian went on to become Sailing Secretary and Laser class captain and spoke on the back of a plethora of successes by WRSC sailors on the open circuits, including his own victory in the Laser class at Whitstable week.
There were wins for Tim Keighley in the 2011 Wessex Laser series, and for Hamish Gledhill in the 2008 Abersoch Dinghy Week, repeating his Laser success of ten years earlier. He also finished 2nd Master Apprentice for over 35’s in the Laser Nationals.
2nd place seemed to be Hamish’s default position with 2nd in the Laser Northern Grand Prix series, 2nd out of 78 Solos at the End of Season Championship, and 2nd out of 156 entries in the Lord Birkett Trophy on Ullswater in his RS400. He did however manage to win the Loving Cup with his wife Rachel for the first couple at the RS400 nationals, and also became the first non-home club boat to win the Revett Winter Series at Leigh & Lowton SC
In 2007 West Lancashire YC instigated the Southport Laser 12 Hour Race. Tim Keighley with brother Pete and Owen Wallace teamed up to sail in this regularly with a 2nd in 2008 being the top spot amongst several podium finishes.
Also in 2008, Solo class captain Mark Weston reported that no less than eight WRSC Solos had taken part in Northern Travellers events. Earlier in the decade both John and Jonathan Gledhill were regularly in the top three, including several outright wins.
Amongst the newer members Dave Baxter found a niche sailing singlehanded in the Laser Vago class, dominating events including the Vago Single Handed Nationals, and Nick Turley won the Finn Northern Championship in 2009. WRSC quality continued to shine through!
The latest Development Plan in spring 2011 was committed to developing sailing for youth & juniors, developing the skills of new adult members & beginners, increasing the numbers of competent volunteers, developing the club fleet and providing a new boathouse & storage. Some of these targets have already been achieved and the Plan is under review to continue to move the Club forward.
West Riding SC has a great history of self-help and resilience over the last 75 years. There have been huge changes in the sailing world and great obstacles for the club to overcome along the way. No doubt the pattern will continue. It would be interesting to know what members will be sailing in 2037.