Do you feel unwelcome in your own yacht club? Maybe the rogue blazers and their beloved regulations have taken over, says Dick Durham
Dick Durham: Occasionally a sailing club falls into the hands of a dictator and suffers a period of ‘wilderness years’ when members grin and bear it and visiting yachtsmen sail somewhere else. The phenomenon is well known and comes about when a certain type believes that ‘being elected’ confers status.
These rogue blazers, who, invariably, have made little impression in ‘civilian life’, revel in bogus superiority, glorying in the grandiloquent titles offered with flag officerdom. They get the tie, the enamelled badge and the personalised car parking space and suddenly imagine they are an adjunct of the Royal Navy and must be seen to assume command.
Most of the rest of us keep out of their way and let them get on with it. This is a mistake, as it encourages the crackpot to become a despot.
Initially their autocracy is manifest in the trite: bar rotas re-arranged, subscriptions to be paid earlier, caps to be doffed in the clubhouse. But sooner or later, as the club bar is mysteriously vacated, the tyrant turns his or her attention towards the yachting infrastructure.
One such example was of a commodore, who with the strange Masonic-like chant of his personal toast still ringing in his ears, ordered all moorings of dayboats and cruisers to be re-laid so that the club’s one design fleet would be in a row opposite the HQ. He was warned that his masterplan was faulty: that the uniform depth of the relaid mooring roots was not great enough for the heavier craft, a warning only heeded when on the next spring tide a 33-footer popped her sinker and drifted away on the flood.
Then there was the commodore of a floating clubhouse whose members had the chance of purchasing an abandoned Victorian pub for a new HQ, but who were denied the opportunity of a capital asset and instead were lumbered with an extra fee for the clubship fund to maintain the leaky old wreck, and eventually replace it because the commodore’s home overlooked it! But perhaps the most extreme case of rogue blazer hubris was the bid for royal recognition by Southend-on-Sea’s Alexandra Yacht Club.
The royal yacht Britannia ran aground while racing off Southend in July 1923. Acting as local pilot was one Arthur Kirby, a bawleyman from my home town Leigh-on-Sea.
In those far off days the Alexandra Yacht Club was in a posh part of town, on the cliffs beneath Royal Terrace, where once Princess Caroline resided. The club’s flag officers were desperate to swank about being royal, too. It would encourage more swells to join. Swells like Percy Garon, a local food and drink millionaire who entered the club with one command: ‘Steward?’ at which a flunky dashed forward to take the tycoon’s coat and proffer a gin and tonic on a silver tray. But when the club failed to get the royal warrant poor old Arthur Kirby was blamed for grounding King George V’s yacht.
The truth is somewhat different, as a recently opened Home Office file in the National Archive reveals. The AYC requested royal status three times before Britannia grounded: in 1911,1913, and 1921. The club tried again in 1934, 11 years after the grounding, and was again refused, but the rejection was nothing to do with Arthur Kirby. The real reason was that the rogue blazers had been caught ‘gerrymandering’ club tonnage. They claimed that the total tonnage of owners’ boats was 3,338. But this included J Class yachts such as Velsheda, Shamrock V and Endeavour, whose owners were honorary members for the racing in the Thames Estuary.
A fifth bid failed in 1951 and the cursed clubhouse, which had stood on the cliffs since 1873, had to be abandoned after it started collapsing. It was finally torched by vandals.
Happily the Alexandra Yacht Club has rid itself of despots and is enjoying a new clubhouse, and dinghy racks opened this year on the foreshore, overlooking the mudflats that caught out Britannia all those years ago.
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