In 1906, yacht cruising was emerging as a sport in its own right, following in the wake of great Victorian sailors like McMullen, Voss, EF Knight, MacGregor and Joshua Slocum.

In 1906 ‘yacht cruising’ was emerging as a sport in its own right, following in the wake of great Victorian sailors like McMullen, Voss, EF Knight, MacGregor and Joshua Slocum.

Issue 1 of Yachting Monthly was launched in May 1906 from the offices of The Field in London. Founder editor, Herbert Reiach, was just 33 years old and his aim was ‘to make the magazine of interest to all who love the water for the sport it gives them’.

Reiach’s first editorial declared: ‘The cruising man is a tolerant and good-humoured man; Yachting Monthly tries to reflect his mood.’

Issue No 1 had 130 editorial pages with navigation notes, cruise stories, reviews of new yachts, such as the Fife Altair, and practical tips on navigation. There were also racing results, details of power craft and ‘portrait studies’ of leading figures of the day, the first issue featuring King Edward VII.

The son of an inspector of Scottish fisheries, Herbert Reiach was educated in Edinburgh and had worked as a naval architect at Leith, Liverpool and Camper & Nicholsons, in Gosport, Hampshire, with his great friend Charles Nicholson.

The magazine’s title changed over the years to reflect the changing scene, with Yachting and Boating Monthly and Yachting Monthly Sail and Power. ‘The universal adoption of the engine is but a question of time,’ prophesied Reiach, who didn’t just edit the magazine,
from 1911 he printed and published it, too. Reiach had developed a printing business that ‘produced some of the best colour printing in the country’. He also managed The Saturday Review magazine, but YM was his ‘chief hobby’.

In 1906 Britain was at the hub of an empire and we shudder these days at the title of one cruising yarn, Two Men, a Nigger and a Big Boat. The magazine was also not above poking irreverent fun at the reluctance of German yachtsmen to beat their racing Kaiser.

By issue 100 (August 1914) the magazine was called Yachting Monthly and Marine Motor Magazine. The content remained much the same, with yacht racing coverage extending to various parts of the Empire. During the First World War, YM became the organ of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Reiach piloted the magazine almost singlehanded through the stormy waters of the First World War. There was a suggestion that ‘Yachts could be mobilised during the war to act as submarine spotters and coast watchers’. After the war the price was increased to 2 shillings.

Reiach died at sea aboard his yacht in July 1921, aged 48, and Arthur Briscoe’s tribute in the August issue said: ‘We have all lost a friend and adviser… from the owner of the largest steam yacht to the tyro in his tingled odd-medod. Racers, cruisers, dinghies, canoes, home-built dug-outs or palatial steam palaces, he had a place for them all. But perhaps it was the cruiser, and the small Corinthian cruiser at that, which was nearest his heart.’

Editor number two was Malden Heckstall-Smith, who became a founder member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), as well as playing a major role in the launching of the first Fastnet Race (1925) with Weston Martyr. Heckstall-Smith was a leading authority on the rating formula for handicapping racing yachts and was in the chair when issue 200 (December 1922) went to press.

A motor boat show at White City, London, was a disappointment ‘with a constant stream of landlubbers making anything like a detailed inspection impossible’.

It seems the powers-that-be felt that Heckstall-Smith concentrated too much on the racing scene. In January 1927 he was replaced, though he continued to take a very active role as advisor to the International Yacht Racing Union, RYA and RORC until his death, aged 90, in Plymouth in 1955.

The third editor, at the age of just 25, was Maurice Griffiths, who, ‘with the confidence of youth’, had written a book, Yachting on a Small Income (4s 6d), just to prove you didn’t have to be rich to own a yacht. On the strength of it, he was invited to edit Yacht Sales & Charters, a brokerage fortnightly that was so successful it merged with Yachting Monthly, which, at the time, was suffering declining sales. MG was the natural choice to take over as editor of YM.

MG had finished school at 16 with no university education. His ‘social connection’ in East Coast boatyards was hardly a match for the Royal Yacht Squadron, but then reporting on Cowes society events and big class racing was proving a circulation loser.

‘When I found the helm of the good ship Yachting Monthly entrusted to my hands,’ wrote MG, ‘I decided to alter course just that one point more to the north, which I felt would improve her speed and weatherliness.’ Time proved it was a good change of course.

A self-taught yacht designer, Maurice, championed shoal-draught yachts and went on to edit the magazine with a marathon watch at the helm of 40 years. By issue 300 (April 1930) MG was celebrating YM’s 25th anniversary and an article called Practical Seamanship VII featured ‘Heaving-to and reefing and fitting-out tips’, including materials and tools needed: ‘1 lb of putty filling; some powdered chalk; a little tarred oakum and caulking cotton; a caulking iron and mallet, two or three scrapers; a putty knife and the necessary brushes.’

In 1932 Maurice wrote his classic book The Magic of the Swatchways, and by 1939 colour printing appeared in YM for the first time.

With the onset of the Second World War, the magazine was the official organ of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), qualifying it for rationed newsprint so publishing could continue. When Maurice and advertising manager Norman Clackson went off to war to serve in the RNVR, assistant editor Kathleen Palmer became the heroine of the day, editing the magazine from her North London home in New Barnet. She retired in 1967, aged 60, and died in 1998, aged 91.

Issue 400 (August 1939) had an advert for the Johnson ‘Sea Horse’ outboard motor 1.1hp for £13.10. In the late 1930s more photographs and less illustrations appeared, as yachting lost its last aura of exclusivity. A review of Cowes Week appeared, with eight pages of black and white photographs. And in May 1938 there was an article: ‘Little Ships for the Woman Owner… or what she can buy for a limit of £300.’ ‘Before the war only a handful of women cared about sailing,’ wrote the author.

With war declared in September 1939, YM proprietor (since 1924) GH Pinkard, took over the editorial page and wrote: ‘It is my intention to carry on, as was done during the last war – with a skeleton staff and a determination to fulfil our obligations to readers… Never more than in those last war years was YM so well called “The Yachtsman’s Bible” by the men of His Majesty’s Forces.’

When the war ended, MG was back at the helm in new offices in Clement’s Inn, London – a flying bomb had wrecked the old office. He had been awarded the George Medal for mine clearance and was campaigning for idle aircraft factories to be used for dinghy production. There was a debate about light displacement hulls and frameless double-skin building methods.

Issue 500 (December 1947) was an understandably thin volume, concerned, among other matters, with petrol rationing. By issue 601 (May 1956) the magazine was celebrating its 50th anniversary. That year Jack Coote’s yachtsmen’s pilot to the Thames Estuary, East Coast Rivers, was published by YM, price 9s 6d. There were comments on the healthy state of the boating trade, with a plea for more moorings. There was still coverage of power boats, racing results and dinghies in among the cruise stories, and practical hints and tips.

By issue 700 (September 1964) the magazine reported on ‘organised berthing facilities for today’s yachtsmen’, under the names of ‘marina’, ‘yacht harbour’ or ‘yacht station’ … with easy access and more boats in the same area. But the new money was having an effect. Costs were rising: ‘For the man with a limited income who must run the family boat on a shoestring…the outlook is not so rosy.’

In 1966 Des Sleightholme saw an advert in The Times for an editor for Yachting Monthly. MG had reportedly lost his enthusiasm when the magazine was taken over by a big publishing group and Des was invited to an interview over lunch at the Ritz by MG. Des took over as editor in 1967 with circulation below 20,000. He axed the magazine’s racing section ‘written by a dear old gentleman who hadn’t raced since the Kaiser was at Cowes Week’, and launched a series of practical articles taking readers afloat on ‘The Troubleshooters’ Cruises’.

Bill Anderson, then cruising secretary of the RYA and still a YM contributor, describes how Des, after passing his own Yachtmaster exam, got to thinking about the practical skills he had not been tested on – exercises that were too difficult, risky, expensive or time-consuming to manage. Des got readers ‘to abandon ship’, with crews left well offshore in their liferafts. They were dumped ‘somewhere off Bolt Head in mastless Solings with an assortment of ill-fitting spars and sails and told to improvise jury rigs’. The guinea pigs were invited to an end-of-cruise supper in Salcombe – if they could get there!

‘Des was fascinated to see what ingenuity people would use to solve the sort of problems that they might, if they were really unlucky, have to confront in real life. The subsequent articles set the tone for much of the practical Sailing Skills section of today’s magazine,’ said Bill.

By issue 800 (January 1973), circulation was up to 37,000. The 77 editorial pages were still all in black and white, however. YM had no coverage of racing or power boats, but had more staff-written and technical features and a new column, Looking Around, by Bill Beavis. Andrew Bray joined in 1972 as projects editor, and soon became assistant editor. Colin Jarman also joined that year, becoming features editor in 1975, to be followed by Adrian Morgan in 1979. In 1978 Maxine Heath joined as a trainee and now has the distinction of being the longest-serving member of the crew. James Jermain joined as technical editor in 1981.

By issue 900 (August 1981) the most noticeable change was the use of colour, six editorial pages, all used to cover cruising stories, from Norway to the Far East. There was also a news column, On Watch. In February 1985 Des signed off after 19 years with his last editorial, passing the helm to Andrew Bray, editor number five. Though ‘off-watch’, Des remained as consultant editor and contributor.

In the mid-1980s computer technology revolutionised production and YM had more colour pages throughout the magazine. The magazine also had its first art editor, Caroline Helfer. Andrew launched two new major series, Classic Passages, with the Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation, and the Complete Offshore Yacht (both later becoming books), plus a series of Practical Seamanship supplements, videos on RYA training, West Country pilotage, and books like Mark Fishwick’s West Country Cruising and South Coast Cruising. By issue 1,000 (December 1989), over 40 pages were in colour and the magazine’s circulation was at an all-time high of 50,000 a month. In 1992 Andrew left to take over the helm of our sister magazine, Yachting World.

The sixth editor was Geoff Pack, who had joined YM after college in 1977 as a trainee at the age of 19. Geoff was an ocean voyager who never lost his love of muddy creeks and exploring wherever a boat would float. He had left the magazine several times, to cross the Atlantic in various boats, and was at the start of a circumnavigation with his family on Foreigner, his Apache catamaran, when the editor’s chair became vacant. His book Blue Water Countdown remains required reading. Over the next five years, Geoff and the YM staff cruised on his 37ft yacht Kiskadee from Scotland to Spain, North Brittany and the Chesapeake in America.

At the tragically young age of 39, Geoff died of cancer. James Jermain, deputy editor since 1985, kept the magazine on a steady course through tricky waters during Geoff’s illness and in 1997 became editor number seven.

Like Des before him, James later became consultant editor with a brief to develop various editorial projects – the latest being our 100th Birthday Rally over the May Bank Holiday Weekend.

Sarah Norbury became editor number eight – and the first woman editor, not forgetting acting editor Kathleen Palmer, who carried YM through the war years. Three years later, Sarah jumped ship to edit our sister publication, Practical Boat Owner.

In this 21st-century electronic age, YM continues to hold a steady course towards new horizons, but with the same aim: ‘To produce a magazine of interest to all who love the water for the sport it gives them.’