HomeHistoryClub HistoryThe first hundred years – Part IV

The first hundred years – Part IV

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After the Second War, the keel-boat fleet contained more capable off-shore ocean racing yachts. In 1947, the Club organised a race to Kristiansand in Norway. Cdr Arthur Johnson RNVR participated in his new yacht Whooper, a Laurent Giles designed 13 ton Bermudian sloop, remarkable for her shallow draft and wooden centre-board. In 1950, he bought Triune of Troy, another Laurent Giles design, one of the 10 ton Channel Class ocean racers. Triune was sold to Hammond Innes, the author, but although Arthur Johnson replaced her with Valiant, a 40′ ketch, he regretted parting with Triune and tried to re-purchase her, without success. In 1955 he bought Cayenne, a 14 ton fast cutter designed by Robert Clark, and replaced her in 1960 with the Fred Parker designed, Swan of Arden. His last boat was the Parker designed ketch Chryseis, 38′ overall, with a powerful diesel. Those who sailed with Arthur Johnson, including many cadets, will never forget his great generosity, and robust sense of humour. A legacy from his estate enabled the Club to issue a new edition of the Sailing Directions in 1975, This was produced by a committee consisting of Dick Bailey and Jack Hall, with June Davis who drew new charts and Jack Mills who took aerial photographs of the coast.

Perhaps the most significant feature of post war sailing was the rapid emergence of a large dinghy fleet, to the extent that dinghy sailing came to dominate the Club’s activities. In the 1950s and 60s, there was regular weekend racing for large fleets of Ospreys, Merlin Rockets, G.P. 14s, and International Cadets. In 1965, there were over 100 dinghies on the Club register, two thirds of them GP 14s. Bob Riley, who was Vice Commodore in the early sixties, and Noni Garbutt, Hon. Secretary, Treasurer and Membership Secretary all-in-one throughout the 60s are particularly associated with the development of the dinghy fleet at this time. To accommodate it, a dinghy park was constructed to the south of Beach Road, but there was often significant congestion on the slip-way, with fleets of 30 or more racing regularly at weekends, with as many as 60 at Open Meetings. During the 1970s the dinghy fleet declined, until the Club ceased to provide a separate dinghy racing programme, although the Cadets have continued to sail in dinghies, and the Boxing Day event, originally an inter-club challenge with the now-defunct Greenlee S.C., survives with participation of a menagerie fleet from local clubs.

Arising from its dinghy sailing activity, the Club organised sailing tuition for members and obtained recognition from the RYA. In recent years it has been running RYA dinghy courses for Cadets. The Club has also been an RYA recognised Training Establishment, since the inception of the Yachtmaster scheme, and puts on regular Friday night classes and practical cruises for RYA Certificates. Over the years, many members, too numerous to mention, have participated in providing these courses, and the Club is fortunate to have volunteers willing to acquire RYA qualification to act as practical instructors in both the dinghy and cruiser schemes.

In the post war period, as even small yachts became more capable, members have cruised extensively, especially to Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Baltic. Members have been to the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, St. Kilda, Ireland, and points south to Spain and the Mediterranean, as well as across “the pond” to the West Indies and Florida. Of these adventurous souls, Jack Mills in a succession of yachts culminating in Favonius and Prairie Oyster, Bob Lowrie in Strella, John Hankinson in Moshulu, and Rodney Mitchell in Bolivar and Stella Peacock deserve special mention for the range of their cruises over many years. Rodney Mitchell wrote a new edition of the Sailing Directions to coincide with the centenary.

The racing programme for yachts also expanded. A crucial element in the success of club yacht racing is competitive handicapping and sound race management. The post-war tradition has been for long-serving handicappers, notably Jim Moore and more recently, Norman Horsman. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Edith Greener and Eileen Storey finished races from the Pier, and Jim Keith ran the Committee boat, the wooden coble, Northumbria. In 1965, the Club was one of the founder members of the North East Cruiser Racing Association (NECRA), which organises racing on a measurement handicap, and in 1985 it joined with the Forth Yacht Clubs’ Association and the Royal Tay Yacht Club to found the annual East Coast Sailing Week.

The longest race in the Club calendar is the annual RNYC Bass Rock Race, 155M from Blyth, leaving the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth to port and thence to Blyth. It developed from the Holy Island meets of the early 1900s, when the course was from Blyth to a mark off St. Abb’s Head, and thence to Holy Island. Subsequently, yachts raced to Holy Island and from there around the Bass Rock and back to Holy Island, a course of some 85M.

Bondicar Race 1968

Bondicar Race 1968

There is still an annual race to Holy Island, and regular weekend racing takes place around the familiar in-shore marks of Meggies Burn, Astley Arms, Sow and Pigs, South Shields Wreck Buoy and Blyth Bell Buoy. There have been some buoyage changes in the late 1980s. The Bondicar Buoy, which gave its name to the very popular annual Bondicar Race, has been removed, and there is a new buoy south east of St. Mary’s Island. The Club has established an in-shore race mark at Whitley Bay.

The Club has also been active on the national and international racing scene. Zeevalk, a 40′ hard chine van de Staat design, quite revolutionary in her day, put up a creditable performance in the 1974 Round Britain Race, crewed by Brian Cook and John (Harry) Harrison, and also won the Club race to Stavanger in Norway. In 1975, the Club hosted the pre-Olympic Soling series, and in 1978, promoted an R.O.R.C. Race to Scheveningen in Holland. Challenge (Jim Murray) and Contentious Eagle (Jim Swanston), both with predominately R.N.Y.C. crews came through the ill-fated Fastnet Race in 1979. In 1984, the Club organised a race to Skagen, in northern Denmark.

David Scott Cowper with his Laurent Giles design Wanderer class yacht, Airedale, did well in the 1974 Round Britain Race, and went on to take part in the 1976 single-handed transatlantic race. That gave him a taste for long solo passage making, for in 1979 he set off on his first solo circumnavigation west to east in Ocean Bound, a 41′ aluminium sloop, designed by Sparkman and Stevens, breaking Sir Francis Chichester’s existing record. In 1981, he took Ocean Bound east to west taking a clutch of records, including the first ever circumnavigation against the prevailing wind under sail via the five southernmost capes, a remarkable achievement. In 1985 he completed his third solo circumnavigation under power in the converted RNLI lifeboat, Mabel E. Holland, and then set out in her on a fourth via the north west passage, taking three summers to achieve it.

R.N.Y.C. has always maintained as one of its objects the building and improvement of yachts. In the 1950s a folkboat jig was constructed in the Boatyard, and several members built their own cold-moulded hulls upon it. Among the early hulls completed were Gay Cygnet (Cdr. Alan Wilkinson), Vyrie, (George Andrews – the driving force behind the project), Pine Star (Eric Dodgson), and Vindlek (Ron and Jean Thompson). The other folk boats completed were Beserk (Brian Cook), and Cadenza (Jack and Florence Hall). Not all were built to Class Association rules, and Cadenza is strip planked with a counter stern. Other one-off building projects were successfully concluded and several members fitted out hulls, notably Derek Parker’s single-handed effort on the Moody 44, Border Collie.

The increase in yacht ownership in the 1960s and 70s put the club’s moorings under considerable pressure, and several schemes were investigated for making more effective use of the available water space, including re-siting the House Yacht, re- aligning the moorings and going ashore. The water space was increased but this co-incided with an increase in the average beam of yachts, so that there was no significant gain in the number of yachts on the moorings. Other plans to come to fruition with the blessing of the Blyth Harbour Commission were the development of half-tide cradles, principally occupied by a class of Everitt designed Extroverts built locally in aluminium by Linkleters of North Shields, and an electric crane which fostered the development of a fleet of Olympic Solings which “dry-sailed”.

The management of the Club’s affairs is in the hands of a General Committee. Originally the Officers were a Commodore, Vice Commodore, Rear Commodore, Secretary and Treasurer. The rules referred to a Sailing Committee, but the membership of this was the same as the General Committee. In 1958, during Lord Runciman’s term as Commodore, a second Rear Commodore was created, largely because the Commodore’s commitments prevented him from attending to the day to day affairs of the Club, which necessarily devolved upon the Vice-Commodore.

In 1975, Lord Runciman was elected to a new Flag Office as Admiral, thus enabling the election of a “local” commodore, the first of whom was Jim Clark. In the run up to the centenary, the Club has functioned with a General Committee, and ten sub-committees: Finance and Planning, Centenary, Sailing (including the Centenary Regatta and East Coast Sailing Week), RYA Training, Boatyard, Membership, Moorings, House, Social, Special Projects and Cadets, as well as individual responsibilities for Merchandising, Health and Safety, Press and Club Liaison, Newsletter Editor, the Library, and the Bar, directly involving over 60 members in the management of the Club in one or more capacities. This reflects the size of the membership, currently standing at 783, the wide scope of the Club’s activities, but also, crucially, to give of their often scarce free time in the interests of their Club.

As the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club celebrates its achievements over the past 100 years, it can be sure that although yachts may have changed, the spirit and traditions of former members, expressed by the Club’s motto, Vela per Undas, are upheld as vigorously as ever.