There is considerable documentary evidence to indicate that ‘recreational’ sailing was taking place in Christchurch Harbour long before 1874, the year it is generally accepted that the Sailing Club was formally organised as a club, based next to Place Mill, at Christchurch Quay.
Reports in the newspapers of the day, The Salisbury Journal, Hampshire Chronicle and Christchurch Times, show that some recreational sailing was taking place in the early 1800’s. Fishermen’s regattas were a regular feature at Mudeford, originally only for the fishermen but by the 1860’s the reports show that they included the yachts of the ‘gentlemen’ living nearby who had their own race starts. The Tucker, Ricardo and Mills families, all founder or very early members of the Sailing Club, took part and provided generous prize money.
The Yachting World magazine, Vol. Ill, of 1894, in a report about ‘The Christchurch Sailing Club’, stated that regular racing had taken place ‘…for over 25 years…’ i.e. at least as early as 1869. At this time there were no cups, only prize money. It also printed a set of photographs of members’ yachts and is the earliest report found to indicate the actual age of the Club.
In 1871 there is a report in the Christchurch Times of a meeting of the ‘Purewell, Stanpit and Mudeford Rowing Club’ (founded 1869), based initially at Mudeford Quay, later at the boathouse on Fisherman’s Bank. The Officers, including the President Frank Ricardo, were mainly the same as those known to have been the First Officers and founders of the Sailing Club. It is known that there were ‘sailing matches’ in the regattas held by the Rowing Club, raced from Mudeford Quay. This Rowing Club had a short but active 17 years’ life, the boathouse and boats being sold by auction in 1886. By this time contemporary documents show the Sailing Club was well established at the Town Quay, next to Place Mill.
In 1873 races were being organised by advertising them in the Christchurch Times and they appear to have taken place five or six times a season, usually on weekday evenings.
From 1874 to 1882
Although no Club records have survived for this period, further evidence from the Christchurch Times informs us that regular “sailing matches” and regattas were being organised. The regattas continued at Mudeford Quay, but the yacht racing normally started from Christchurch Quay. These regattas included swimming, rowing and sailing races for boys, men and fishermen. It has to be remembered that the fishing boats were all rowing or sailing craft at this time. Prize money was quite generous.
The name ‘The Christchurch Sailing Club’ may not have been used until sometime after 1874. Before 1878 it may have been known as ‘The Christchurch Amateur Sailing Club’. It is referred to by this name in a copy of the Christchurch Times in 1875. Interestingly, the Hunt’s Universal Yacht List of 1907 dates the Club to have been established in 1878.
The regattas of this period were called ‘The Christchurch and Mudeford Boat Club Regatta’. Some of the rowing races started at Wick Ferry, as they do today. It is not clear if, by this date, they were still primarily for the benefit of the fishermen, although the little evidence so far available would indicate this was the case. There is a report of the tragic loss of life of a crew member in the 1879 Regatta, after one of the competitors capsized rounding the Ledge Buoy.
From 1883 to 1895
From 1883 there are remarkably complete records available including minutes and accounts books of the General and Sailing Committees. There was no clubhouse, but the plot of land adjacent to Place Mill was being rented from Mrs Newman, on a 5 years’ lease for the use of the members. It was used to store the tenders and punts needed to get out to the yachts moored off the Quay, and to lay up the yachts over the winter period.
Meetings were held either at members’ houses, the Royalty Fishery Offices or local hostelries. The favourite appears to have been Newlynds Hotel, now the Kings Arms. The membership list includes most of the prominent businessmen and ‘gentlemen’ of the town. The membership seems to have been quite ‘exclusive’ and to have numbered around 20 members (in 1886, 23 members were paid up). Their yachts were between 10 and 25 feet long, the average being around 16 feet. In 1884 there were 10 yachts on the register.
Sometime during the 1880’s the Sailing Club took over running the Regatta, presumably because of the demise of the Rowing Club at Mudeford. They brought the regatta to Town Quay in 1896, specially to celebrate the opening of the Clubhouse.
From 1896 to 1914
By 1896 the Club had grown to the point of needing its own clubhouse. In this year ladies were allowed to join at the one-half fee of 5/-. Then, there were 18 yachts on the register. A new 21 year lease had been obtained from Mrs Newman on the land and the members voted to build their first clubhouse next to Place Mill. It was not to cost more than £100. The clubhouse was opened in 1896 at a final cost of £134 for the building, plus other costs, and served it until 1926, when it became a store and sail-loft. In 1967 it was largely rebuilt as a steward’s flat over the original boat-store.
By 1896 the races were being reported in the Yachting World magazine. This was a period of steady growth in membership and activity. The annual regatta had been moved to the Quay in 1896 for the clubhouse opening. The next regatta at the Town Quay was in 1909 following a request by the Mayor, Mr Galbraith. These then continued up to the First World War. A high point in these jollifications appears to have been reached in the years from 1909 to 1914 when large crowds arrived by carriage, motor car and train. The Club has a collection of old postcards to show the regattas of this period.
The 1905 AGM was very important as it marked the retirement of Benjamin Tucker as Commodore. It was in his presentation speech that it is stated that the Club was formed in 1874. As he was one of the founder members, this has been accepted as the official date. Surprisingly, the documents recording this event only came to light in the 1970’s. Up to then it had been assumed it was in 1884, the year of first Club written record of an AGM. However, more recent research, including the finding of an earlier list of members’ subscriptions, indicate the Club must have been functioning for some time before that year.
In 1911 a large single storey wooden boat-shed (still in use) was built, at a cost of £198, to store the growing membership’s yachts and dinghies over the winters.
From 1914 to 1918
Although the Club continued to operate during the ‘Great War’, the records show very little activity during this period. Membership in 1918 was 154. In 1914 the Regatta and the racing programme were cancelled and the prize money donated to the ‘Local Belgian Relief Fund’. Some 31 of the members seem to have joined in 1914, leaving mainly the older members and ladies to enjoy some limited sailing activity. Certainly the membership had significantly fallen by 1918. Several members were reported ‘killed or missing in action’. The membership lists, after the war, contained many members of ‘officer’ rank.
From 1918 to 1925
Following the war, the Club re-established its activities, in 1919 at a gentle pace. By 1924 the Club had outgrown its 1897 clubhouse. The Club Trustees were able to purchase the freehold of the site in 1918. The subscriptions were doubled, first to £1-1s-0d and then, two years later to £2-10s-0d. Funds were raised to build the ‘new’ clubhouse by debentures. It was built in 1925/6 and, with several additions and extensions notably in 1963, 1987/9 and 1997/8, remains the core building of the clubhouse today.
From 1925 to 1945
The opening of the ‘new’ clubhouse was celebrated with a special race, which marked an important milestone it the life of the Club, now already over 50 years old. The Christchurch One Designs had been commissioned, although only three were eventually built possibly because of the cost. They were very well thought of as sea boats.
The Club also took out a lease from Bournemouth Council on the redundant Ravens Boatyard land and boatshed, on the bank opposite, which it used occasionally up until the 1960’s.
This was a period of steady growth and development of the membership, and the range of dinghy classes sailed. In the 1920’s it began ‘one-design class’ racing as local boat builders began to produce numbers of suitable dinghies in sufficient quantity. Ten-foot lugsail dinghies, designed and built next-door to the Club by Messrs Elkins, were particularly favoured from 1924. The Club commissioned some of its own classes including the Christchurch One Design, broadly a centre-plate version of the X boat class, designed to the Club’s requirements by Mr Hart, son of a founder member. Other designs to become popular were the Purbrook Coot class, Scow class and Bemister Aries classes, all being built by the local boat-builders. There was significant inter-club racing against local clubs in Poole, the Solent and as far away as Weymouth.
There were notable successes for the smaller boat classes and the Club ran some events for other clubs, such as the Royal Canoe Club. Although there were a few cruisers, they did not form a class of their own, but often served as committee boats for sea racing. There were no Club safety boats at this time.
Sailing came to an abrupt end in May 1940 when the harbour and rivers were closed to recreational users and orders were issued that all boats were to be disabled.
Fortunately for the Club, the Government did not requisition the clubhouse itself, although a ‘strong point’ was built underneath in the southwest corner. The members were at least able to use the clubhouse for social purposes, although the sparse records available indicate these were of a rather subdued nature. Sailing was allowed to resume in May 1945 although the harbour was still under military control.
From 1945 to 1963
With the progressive return of members from the war, boats were gradually refurbished and put back into use. Sadly, many had not survived the long lay-up. Some, such as the Christchurch One Designs had disappeared altogether. However, the technology developed during the war, especially in plywood and glues, meant that relatively cheap dinghies, often in kit form, were soon to become available in the early 1950’s. From then on there was a very rapid expansion of the Club both in size of membership and dinghy fleets.
From the late 1940’s the Club hosted occasional open meetings. By the 1960’s the Club had large fleets of several dinghy classes, including Albacores, Fireflies, Merlin Rockets, National 12s and OKs. Once again, the clubhouse was bursting at the seams and over the winter of 1962/3 (the great freeze) major extensions to the clubhouse were built to provide the space and facilities urgently needed.
From 1963 to 1999
With the growth in the size of the Club (membership was around 900) and the growing affluence and older membership, there was a steady growth in the larger cruising-class yachts. Modest in size at first, limited to types and classes suitable for the shallow harbour and mostly built in wood, these were cruising boats being raced, rather than pure racing classes.
By the early 1970’s, glass-fibre built classes were becoming readily available and very popular, especially the Westerly range of designs. Cruiser Class racing became well established, finally replacing the old Classes One and Two that had existed for nearly 100 years.
With more leisure time and suitable boats, some members became more adventurous and several notable long distance voyages (for that time) were made, as far afield as the Scillies and Netherlands. Channel hopping became quite a regular activity and the Club began to organise Cruiser rallies.
The 1980’s were marked by subtle changes in the interests of the membership. As the numbers of cruisers grew, both in number and boat size, so the dinghy fleets slowly declined. Dinghy sailing at sea virtually died out for several years. The one notable exception was that of the Christchurch Scow class. In the early 1970’s some members had made a mould and produced fibreglass hulls, originally for their own fun. Although there were several wooden Scows still at the Club, class racing had died out. The advent of the GRP boats changed all this. As well as newer members, many of the Cruiser owners bought or completed Scows and the fleet rapidly became the largest dinghy class in the Club’s history, with over 70 boats on the register.
In the mid-1980’s after appearing to be in terminal decline and inspired by the enthusiasm of a few dedicated adults, the junior membership began to revive, with the Topper class. This group now thrives with over 80 boats on the register, the second largest class after the Scows.
The most recent class to be adopted is the Hawk one design, again built locally by Reid Marine, whose family are members, and designed by another member, Chris Hawkins. This class is remarkably similar in concept and size to those Victorian gentleman’s day-boats with which the Club began 125 years ago, being a 20 foot day-boat. Some 20 of these boats are now on the Club register.
Today, the Club has over 1000 members, including families, owning around 250 sailing dinghies and over 200 cruisers.
Despite an almost continuous programme of upgrading of such facilities as the changing rooms and toilets over the preceding five years, by 1994 it was clear that the present building no longer met the Club’s needs and that parts were simply worn-out. After a prolonged period of reflection, in May 1998 a major upgrading was completed. This included complete refurbishment of the veranda, new offices, an extended kitchen and improved storage.
In 1999 Christchurch Sailing Club celebrated its ‘official’ 125th Birthday. It is one of the oldest ‘non-Royal’ sailing clubs in the country, being one of the first ten of such clubs to be founded.
The next project undertaken by the Club was the rebuilding of the quay wall. This major undertaking was completed in the winter of 2005/06 and involved the raising of the level of the dinghy and car park, installing new drainage and rebuilding the entire wall which was fitted with boat friendly wooden cladding, which proved a great improvement. The whole project was completed on schedule and within budget.
In 2009 another milestone was achieved when the Club purchased the riverbed on which the Club mooring are situated. This represented a substantial investment and means the Club should thrive long into the future.
The membership today includes juniors, single and family members. The great majority live within the locality. To join, all prospective members need to show they are, or will be, active sailors of dinghies or cruisers in Christchurch Harbour and Bay, before they may be elected. They may race, cruise or potter. The Club offers its members limited shore-side storage facilities and has some moorings, although there is now a long waiting list of members for these desirable facilities.
It is very much a ‘members’ club’, in that elected Officers and Committees manage the Club’s affairs. Much of the work involved in running the Club relies upon volunteer members performing the maintenance, care and repair of its boats and facilities. The racing programme is organised by the Sailing Committee and all the members are expected to help in the running of these Club activities, manning the safety boats, time keeping, etc. The Club is now as active and thriving as at any time in its history, and is looking forward to its next 125 years.