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The Wivenhoe Encyclopedia

 Sea-Change:  Wivenhoe Remembered   

The Sailing Club 

In the 18th century Wivenhoe’s fishermen were already racing their smacks on the Colne for prizes given by the local gentry. For the races a key step was the introduction of the Wivenhoe One-Design dinghies in 1935. The Sailing Club was founded in 1925. 

The hut on the hard - Don Smith

We used to be on the Quay, in the British Legion. We were upstairs there. Then there’s the hut on the hard, that was the first place they had in 1936, and that was, I believe, brought down from Mr Pawsey’s chicken farm in Spring Lane, and remounted down there, and varnished all out, and that was the Sailing Club until after the Second World War. They then got the lease on the first floor of the Legion. We were there until the barrier came.

A great social club - Joyce Blackwood

Joined Sailing Club, and also Brightlingsea Sailing Club. Mainly racing, 1950s-60s. Wivenhoe Sailing Club then at the British Legion. About 200 members. Flourishing Cadet section. The old club had certainly got a more friendly family feel about it, because there were fewer people, and you knew more. Now, we’ve got a much larger number, and you can walk in the Club and not know anybody, because they’re from far afield, some of them. But it’s a flourishing Club at the moment.

Super parties - Jan and Tony Frostick

I mean, it was a great Social Club, wasn’t it, as well as everything else. Lots of cadets. When we were older and not cadet age, it was booming. Lots of it. And we had lots of super Christmas Parties and New Year Parties down there. Summer it was great. Cruise in company down the river, as far as East Mersea Stone – that was before there was lots of cruisers, there was just really dinghies going down – and that was great, we’d all meet down there. But there was quite a cross-section of people that belonged to the Sailing Club, that weren’t sailors at all. I remember our old Headmistress used to belong, and she used to make the sandwiches, Miss Smith. And Miss Grasby used to be there, who was a Councillor, but she also was a headmistress, I think, at Frinton, but they lived together. I can always remember them making sandwiches down there, with cigarettes in their mouths, with great long ash on the end of it! There were some great characters down there, though!

Everybody seemed to do something. If they didn’t do the sailing, then they’d help with the catering. And a lot of the time it was the husbands that sailed, and that wives that did the catering. So as the only female cadet, I was expected to sort of do my share of the catering. 

[The new Sailing Club] certainly didn’t have the atmosphere, but we’ve got used to it now, after ten years, haven’t we. I mean, obviously we couldn’t possibly have existed in the old place, as it is now. It was quite full. And the stairs were incredibly steep. Incredibly. I fell down them once, more than once. I think we look back at it quite sentimentally, because we spent all our youth there. But, I mean, this is a brilliant building, the new one, but the old one, we had so much fun in it.

The Cadets - Jan and Tony Frostick

Ray Hall had an old lifeboat, a little motor thing, and all us cadets used to get into this and go down the river. When I think about it, it was so dangerous, because he used to have this little tiny Primus stove loose in the bottom of the boat, and we used to cook chips on it! We used to moor up and watch the fireworks from Colchester. As I got older, I got more scared, and I got quite nervous towards the end, didn’t I. It had to be a really nice day before I went out. But I think when you’re sort of 17, 18, you feel you’re immortal. You know, that didn’t bother me. We never wore lifejackets. Behind Point Clear, behind the Nature Reserve, there’s a creek called Ray Creek, and it’s a deep anchorage there, called Blaxton Hole. And we used to go down there with the children, and wake up in the morning, and all you could hear was the birds singing, and we used to cook breakfast, bacon and eggs, on the deck, with the birds singing, the sun coming up, it’s lovely! I think that is the perfect breakfast.

Yes, like some people go caravanning, some people go camping, and you went on the river. I was about six when he first had a little motor boat, and I’d learnt to row - I don’t know, at six or seven, I used to row the boat on my own. No lifejacket on. It was horrendously dangerous. Today you wouldn’t dream of letting a kid out on the water.

The Sailing Club in the Fifties - Ray Hall

I first got involved with the Sailing Club in the early fifties, when a friend of mine, Tony Frostick, had a boat, and, incidentally, his father had bought a boat from Brightlingsea just after the War, a little motorboat, and we used to take trips down to the Second Beach and places, as kids.

But getting back to the Sailing Club, in those days, they only had the hut on the hard, and the slipway was formed with railway sleepers, so you just pulled the boat over these railway sleepers. It was probably mid-fifties onwards we started to cement the top. We hadn’t got anywhere to basically entertain our guests. We had been using the hut for ‘Kindred Clubs Nights,’ we’ve had some good evenings in there, but if we wanted to really have a drink or anything, we had to go to the Rose and Crown or Black Buoy, or one of the pubs, and he said, ‘There’s a place up there which we could use,’ which was the upstairs of the British Legion Hall. I think we started to negotiate for the lease on the upstairs of the British Legion Hall approximately 1957 time. And eventually we got it! And the peculiar part about it was, we actually managed to get a licensed bar there as well, whereas the British Legion, themselves, hadn’t got a bar! Tony Frostick and myself, we served the first pints from there, from that bar, which was in the corner of the bay window.

We’d actually got a good social side with most of what we call the ‘Wallet Clubs’ today, which range from Walton and Frinton Yacht Club, Clacton, and when they moved up to Holland Haven, we then had the Gunfleet, where, originally, Clacton was. And, of course Brightlingsea and Colne Yacht Club. We were also in with Tollesbury and the Dabchicks at Mersea and the Bradwell Quay Yacht Club. So we used to visit them and they used to visit us, but when they came here, we had nowhere for them to visit, so normally we’d end up in the Black Buoy or Rose and Crown.

But eventually, when we had the top floor of the British Legion, of course, we could entertain in the winter there. And it did take off. We had some very good times. Most of the ladies – wives of the members – were on what we called the ‘House and Wines Committee,’ and so everything was done through them. It was all a labour of love. Everybody helped out, you see. Well, what could you expect for ten shillings a year – which is now 50p!

In terms of the cost of belonging to the Sailing Club, this is a fairly reasonable fee for this Club, compared with others, because it’s still a place, at the moment, which is run on a basis of free help.  

Friendship - Alan Tyne

[When I came to Wivenhoe in 1973] the Sailing Club was a place where I just fairly instantly found friendship. My next door neighbour said would I like to go and join the Sailing Club, and it was something I’d never ever thought of before. But I’d always been interested in sailing, and thought I’d at least give it a try, but I was prepared for it to be a bit sort of aloof and distant, but I found it very welcoming and very open. And as time went by, I began to see it as a kind of a model, for a voluntary organisation. I’d been involved in voluntary organisations a lot, and worked for them for most of my life, and I began to see it as an experiment, a laboratory, in a way, to learn about how voluntary organisations worked! I’ve always just been fascinated by it ever since. It’s taught me an awful lot over the years about what people are prepared to do when they give their time and their effort freely.

I remember it very clearly, being welcomed by people like Don Smith and Ralph Merry, Ralph was the immediate ex-Commodore, and Don was the current, then, Commodore. And I hadn’t been a member for very long when Don said would I like to be on the Committee, and I said, ‘Well, I think it’s a bit early yet, but it’s something I wouldn’t mind doing when I’ve got a bit more time,’ and the next year he asked me again, and I did join the Committee then, and I’ve been on it ever since. 

Cadet Section - Alan Tyne

The boys would have been eight, nine, ten, eleven, they had a terrific time, because they joined the Cadet Section of the Sailing Club, and they began to do little trips and expeditions on their own. They had boats of their own, they would go off, unaccompanied, down the river. Using their own little rowing boat which we bought them.

The Cadets had languished a bit, and fallen into some sort of disrepair, and Jan and I took over, running it for a few years, and we ran a programme during the winter evenings, with activities to keep people going over the winter. But during the summer, mostly people’s parents organised things, camping days at Mersea Stone and that kind of thing, parents would get together and it would all just happen! Sail down from Wivenhoe on the tide down to Mersea Stone, more often than not. Up the Pyefleet. Chris and Jill Guy’s boys, the Taylor-Jones’s sometimes.

Friday nights - Alan Tyne

For me, the Friday evening down at the Sailing Club was something I’d never ever known before, lots of other blokes seemed to go to pubs, and that had never been awfully attractive to me, but I found there a comfortable place to be on a Friday evening, and the social events that gradually evolved out of those Club Meetings were great fun as well. The Club had a regular programme, particularly in winter, of social events, and we greatly enjoyed that. We just took on organising roles really, so if something needed to be done, you got on and done it. Working parties to do maintenance and repairs, organising home-made events, particularly like the Talent Night - people would stand up and read a poem, or sing a song or do a silly little act. And home-cooked evening meals, where everybody was invited – those kinds of things. Four or five people would cook the meal, and four or five others would do the washing up, and four or five others would do the serving out, and it was all fairly chaotic, but it worked okay!

There was always mud to be scraped off the hard, or concrete to be filled in, or the hut to be painted, or tidying up to be done, a hundred and one things to be done, always work to be done. Spring cleaning of the inside of the building. Running a working party, seeing who’ll come, getting people’s names down on a sheet of paper, working out what they want to do, helping them to do it, seeing that it all happens really. It’s the very heart and soul of the Club. I remember Ralph Merry saying to me, very very early on, ‘It’s the work that’s freely given that holds the place together.’ People can always pay money for something, but there’s no tie involved in that. When people have made it themselves, that means something to them, and they’re going to look after it. And I think he’s quite right.

With the old Sailing Club above the British Legion Hall, there were constant wrangles about the rent, and about us making too much noise for them. We got very close to losing our lease on one or two occasions! There were a couple of individuals that could be quite temperamental, but most of them were just very helpful and very friendly, and had been in the village a long while. But, yes, it was always slightly edgy, the relationship with the British Legion Committee.

And there were lots of young people around then. It was a place where youngsters came and went all the time. And there was a sort of a Parliament that always grabbed the chairs in the bay window, where they could watch everything that was going on, survey the scene, and keep an eye on everybody, and pass judgement on everybody! And there were lots of very busy, active, lively people, who took their turn in organising things. The great thing was, most people did the jobs for a couple of years and moved on, and then somebody else came in.

The Sailing Programme was the focus of the Club really, and the social bit is a spin-off from it. But the heart of the Club, in the early years, was the dinghy sailing still, and the great majority of boat owners had dinghies of one kind or another – many of which would be trailered down to the Club and launched for the sailing on the Saturday or the Sunday. Only a relative minority of people had small cruisers at that stage when we joined, but that was just about to change. I think, as we joined, there was already a shift, and people were thinking in terms of buying cruisers, and there was a demand for moorings further down the river, to have permanently moored cruisers there. But the Sailing Programme has always been limited by the tide, and always will be. If you want to sail from Wivenhoe, you have to be a fairly committed individual who is prepared to be there at the time when the tide is there. But when we joined, there would be 12 or 15 dinghies regularly sailing in races, and there was a very very strong sort of caucus of support. Gradually, a lot of those people have shifted into owning cruisers, and it’s been quite difficult to re-create that same kind of enthusiasm for dinghy racing as there was then.

The Club’s finances had really prospered quite well. We didn’t have very much in the way of big outgoings, we didn’t have a lot of plant and equipment to maintain, subs could be kept fairly small, and we had a bar that, you know, turned in a good steady amount, and that was all kind of sheer profit to us really, and that used to just go in the bank and build up. And by the end of the eighties, we had something like £10,000 or £15,000, tucked away in a bank account, and we often used to say, at Committee Meetings, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have our own premises,’ and we talked with John Worsp about the possibility of trying to buy a bit of the jam factory, and he said he’d keep us in mind! And we talked to Guy Harding about possibly being able to acquire his premises, and he said he’d certainly think of us! And we talked with Cooks’ Shipyard, and they even, at one point, offered to sell us the Old Customs House. That was at the point where they were getting very very hard up and short of money, shortly before they went bust, but it never really sort of came to anything.

Superb - David Craze

But yes, they have got a superb Sailing Club, far bigger than they could ever imagine – compared with what they had before, you go up that steep, steep staircase to go up to the room above the British Legion, it was very quaint! I think that’s the only way you could call it! And I got very involved with the Sailing Club, because I had a friend of mine who was a very good sailor, and won an awful lot of the races and cups, and I built a clinker built rowing dinghy, and converted it to sailing, but, unfortunately, just when I finished it, he moved to the Isle of Wight! I actually don’t like sailing! I loved the building of the boat, that was just fantastic to do that, and the achievement of it… 

A family club - Don Smith

There was an opinion that the Wivenhoe Sailing Club had been given this new Club, by the River Authorities, which wasn’t true. We had to find 20 thousand quid, the day we got the key, we had to give them a cheque for £20,000, and at that time, the membership was probably just over 200, so people bought shares, and bought Life Membership. 

Wivenhoe Sailing Club has taken a different shape, altogether now, because we’ve got about 40-odd cruisers in the Club. There’s 30-odd laid up in the winter, now, round the Club. But we’re still racing Wivenhoe One-Designs, which is wonderful, and some of these young wealthy people are spending thousands of pounds on them, having them being renovated. Yes, so it’s good. I like to see it, I think it’s great. 

It has changed, but we still are a pretty family Club, and they still carry on almost all the activities that we ever did before. All the races what have been on the Programme since about 1930, they still race for. 

Some of the chaps got together, and they thought they’d like to be able to put their boats out of the water, on the shore, for the winter, and so they formed a group, and they invested, and then this group’s been absorbed into the actual Club now, so we’ve got a tractor, and a big hoist for lifting the boats out and bringing them ashore, all the gear there, it’s wonderful! The income from that is a great asset. It’s worth four and a half thousand pound a year to the Club, for storing their boats. It’s a wonderful job. It’s a DIY thing, they lift them all out, and work it all themselves, you don’t employ anybody, but they make a contribution to the Club, and this last year it was worth four and a half thousand pounds. So I think the old founder members of the Club would be very satisfied if they knew what was going on now. Now about 300 members. In the 1960s was about 120. Also Cadets.

After the  Barrier - Alan Tyne

Now it’s still the same Club, but it just happens to be in a different building. As we moved into the new premises, there was a bunch of already existing members, plus many new people who came along and joined, seeing that these bright new premises were there, who seemed to have a very strong feeling that the Club – this was the time, now, for the Club to move upmarket, to become commercially oriented, to develop a more modern approach to things, and that the whole voluntary idea had been good in its time, but it was time to move on now. So I’ve always worked pretty hard to try and resist that. We still don’t have any real employees in the Club, and almost everything that’s done gets done voluntarily by somebody or other.

They’re different people now. I think they tend to be somewhat younger. The average age has sort of shifted downwards a bit over the years, and they’re more active. It used to be two-thirds inactive to one-third active, and I would say it’s exactly the reverse now.

Storing boats - Alan Tyne

Not long after we moved in there, we began to realise we’d got a bit of space to start storing boats, and because the boatyards were all closing down and being sold up for housing, there weren’t commercial places available any more, for storing boats locally, and people with cruisers, were finding it quite difficult to lay up their boat close to home, and there was a demand to lay up boats actually on the Club site, and we had a bit of space, and we began to do that. At first, we took over the dinghy parking areas, but gradually we started to invade the garden areas, and get planning permission to turn them into areas of hard-standing, and then eventually, the car parks too! And we now lay up three dozen or so boats every winter, and that produces quite a reasonable income. In fact, it’s almost as big, in terms of income generation, as our membership fees are, so it provides a huge amount of income into the Club, to sustain the Club and keep it going. And it’s really shifted, skewed, if you like, all of the activities in the Club, quite a lot. We haul out 40 or 50 boats and actually lay up on the site about 30 or so, but it means that there’s activity there all the year round, with people hauling out and repairing boats, and that kind of thing, and maintaining the equipment that goes with it, all of it being done voluntarily, of course! And it means that the place is kept busy a lot more of the time than it used to be, when it was just a place that we came for a drink on a Friday and a race on a Saturday. It means there’s things happening there all during the week.

Still the Sailing Club - Brian Sinclair

We’d had to join the Sailing Club [in 1980] in order to get a mooring, and that meant scraping all sorts of pennies together, but we did it. [The Sailing Club then] wasn’t that different really. There’s still the same faces. It’s changed a little. It changed with the move, and perhaps it’s become a little bit more of a cruiser, a bigger yacht club, but it’s still a sailing club. It’s still what we call a ‘Mud and Wellies Club,’ and it had to operate on self-help. It was cheap to join, compared with other clubs, and so we had marvellous working parties keeping the hard cleared and all that sort of stuff, scraping mud, and I found, within three years of joining the Club – I joined in 1980, and by 1983 I was running the Cadet Section at the Club, I got to know more people. Some of the children were much better sailors than I was, but there were a lot of things that I could teach them that they didn’t know about boatmanship, and so I ran the Cadet Section. I had boatmanship skills. I had my first boat when I was 12, but it had always been motorboats or rowing boats, but I couldn’t sail. But once you’ve got boatmanship skills, and you know the feel of the boat, once you’ve learnt to control the sails, then you can apply what you’ve learnt before. And then the next thing was, I became Sailing Secretary. 

Cadet Section - Brian Sinclair

The Sailing Club still has a Cadet Section, and they’ve got a lot more boats now. When I ran it, they had two Mirror Dinghies, which they shared between them, and one or two had their own boats, and they had to maintain those - they had to paint them, and scrub them down, and varnish them, and I’m a bit old-fashioned, I believe that you’ve got to put something into the bank before you can take it out, so I wasn’t into sort of saying, ‘We need thousands of pounds to buy new boats,’ it was a question of what’s there and make do with it. But they had fun. I was running the Cadet Section - they basically hadn’t got anybody to do it, and so I taught them how to have fun safely on the water, and there would be anything up to sort of 30 youngsters down there, and we met every week, and I told them that they would get muddy! It was quite interesting, the girls were always much more willing to get muddy and dirty than the boys. The number of times boys would turn up and say, ‘Oh, I can’t go down tonight, Brian, I’ve got my best trainers on. My mum’ll be cross!’ Whereas the girls would get muddy. So that was good fun.

We used to take them camping, down to East Mersea Stone once a year, put them all in the boats and go and camp at the Mersea Stone, and they used to think it great fun to let my tent down during the night and things like that! And we’d got off for a big sailing company, and one or two of the bigger boats would come down. I don’t think we could do it now, it would be so difficult - we were very aware of safety, but what we did in the 1980s would be considered unsafe now, because things have changed. And yes, like Scout Leaders have qualifications and have to be vetted from a security point of view, there was none of that, and obviously, quite rightly, it has to be checked, these days. But they had fun, and there was one occasion when they were a bit too rowdy, and I was beginning to lose control, and we used to do things at low tide as well, I would send them rowing at low tide, because there was enough water in the river, and so one day, I took them over - they said, ‘What are we doing tonight, Brian?’ So I said scratching my head, sort of metaphorically speaking. ‘I think we’ll go crabbing.’ ‘Oh, goodo,’ they said. ‘Where?’ I said, ‘We’re going to do it at Fingringhoe,’ because over on the marsh there’s all those little dykes and ditches, and they’ve always got a bit of water in them, even at low tide. So they all jumped in the boats, and so we all rowed over to the other side, and they all went charging off up the bank, and they’d sort of got the wind in their tails, so I then tied all the boats together and rowed off and anchored in the middle of the river. And they said, ‘Oi! Where you going?’ And I said, ‘Not far. But you’re staying there until you’ve cooled down!’ But they were safe, they weren’t going to come to any harm!

Officials - Brian Sinclair

I became Sailing Secretary, and that is the start of the path towards sort of Flag Officer status really, and so the natural progression from Sailing Secretary, if the incoming Commodore wanted it, was that you became Vice-Commodore, and within Wivenhoe Sailing Club, the Rear-Commodore is always in charge of House and Wines, and the building, and poor old Rear-Commodores probably work the hardest, and they come and go, and they very rarely get to be Commodore. But the normal thing is Sailing Secretary, Vice-Commodore, and the Vice-Commodore is in charge of everything outside, everything to do with the water, and everything outside. And it’s still an elected post, but normally, Vice- Commodore goes on to become Commodore. The Commodore is like the Chairman really. Finger on the pulse. Yeah. But the buck stops there if things go wrong. If you were Sailing Secretary, and the Vice-Commodore was going to go on to become Commodore, through the natural progression really then if they thought you’d done a good job as Sailing Secretary, and basically you were their right-hand person, then they would ask you, and they still do, ask you to become Vice-Commodore. Once you become Vice-Commodore it’s not automatic that you become Commodore, but it usually happens, because not everybody wants to be Commodore anyway.

Running the Club - Brian Sinclair

To some extent it’s become much harder to run the Club, because the running costs went from sort of about £10,000 a year in the old Clubhouse, which was the rented room over the British Legion – well, two rooms, because the Cadets had the upstairs loft – and the old hut and hard, and we moved to these new premises, and, being a typical new building, within five years it required a lot of maintenance, and you know, the running costs quadrupled. So, therefore, the whole operation had to run in a different way. It had to be much more businesslike, and it was necessary to try and raise more money without putting subs up too much, because they’ve always tried to keep it as a Club that is affordable for anybody, and I think they still manage to do that.

There are a few people - to use the term, ‘yachties,’ and there are quite a few who sail around in ramshackle old boats and don’t worry too much. And, like most Clubs, there’s lots of grumbling goes on about the fact that a few people do most of the work, but when they have a working party, I’ve known as many as sort of 40 or 50 people turn out, they have two working parties a year to clear mud and repair things. The mud builds up all the time. If you walk past Cook’s Shipyard, you wouldn’t know that there’s great slipways underneath that mud, running right down to the bottom of the river, and those slipways were kept clear sort of on a daily basis, and even in the days of the old ferry, the old ferryman used to wash the ferry hard down every day, because the silt is disturbed by the incoming tide and then deposited by the outgoing tide, so if you don’t have constant washing or movement – and the ships used to keep the river clear quite a lot – now we have no shipping, the river is silting up a lot. You only have to look at the Hythe to know that. The Hythe is like a narrow ditch now, compared with what it was when I first came to Wivenhoe. And that’s going on all the time. 

The Yacht Owners - Alan Tyne

The Yacht Owners formed in the early 1960s, and they were seen as a bit of a breakaway group from the Sailing Club, and I think they probably were. They were a bunch of people who felt that the Sailing Club was, perhaps, slightly infradig for them, and they wanted to be members of it because they could use its facilities, but they didn’t actually want to be involved in the running of anything. So they formed separately. And I’ve always felt that they have detracted from the Sailing Club by so doing, because they’ve taken away some of the people who could have been amongst the key organisers in the Sailing Club. They’ve taken away skill and capacity from the Club, and then used its resources. We’ve always stayed friends, but I have a slight feeling that if the Yacht Owners hadn’t existed, then the Sailing Club would have been that much the stronger, and I think that would have been a very good thing for everybody.

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Last updated:
05 January 2015

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