Christchurch Harbour has always had double high tides. This double high tide gave the harbour the benefit of a prolonged period of high water. Most fast flowing rivers have a large quantity of sediment which is carried down river to the sea. Incoming tidal water slows down the river flow which results in the grit being deposited at the river mouth to form a sand bar. The situation at Mudeford is not helped by the stand of tide between first and second high tides. However, this may be a misleading simplification of a highly complex issue.
In the early part of the century the Mudeford sand spit extended beyond Steamer Point. During a violent storm in December 1910, the spit was breached and the channel then ran out to sea opposite Sandhills, the present caravan site. This breach was followed by other serious breaches in 1924 and 1935, since when the Run has never been the same. Buoying the entrance to the Run had always been a problem, because every year it is anyone’s guess where the path of main channel will be when summer arrives and the path becomes comparatively stable.
Marine literature warns visiting yachtsmen about the danger of the bar. However, in the summer the course of the channel is clearly marked by the voluntary Harbour Association. Quite recently the channel had almost reverted to its old course by extending past the Avon beach cafe before going out to sea.
To maintain a navigable depth of water from the Run to Christchurch Quay for sailing boats has occupied the attention of’ many notable experts throughout the 19th century without any significant success. The records show that sailing boats in 1895, with an average draught of 3 feet, were able to have successful races from the clubhouse to the Haven and back. A comparative empty harbour with very few moored boats helped, but there is every indication that in spite of all the dredging projects that have taken place the harbour is, in fact, gradually silting-up, particularly in the bights like Parky Mead Rail and Mother Siller’s Channel.
Shoals and curves in the rivers Stour and Avon and the harbour have been partially blamed for pent-up flood water in Christchurch. Although some of the dredging carried out in the harbour was for navigational purposes, the bulk of the dredging carried out, especially that in the River Stour, was for flood relief.
In 1937 a large dredging project was made to straighten out the water flow from Clay Pool to the harbour by clipping off the corner at Steep Banks and further down stream a shoal, called Smugglers Island, was removed. Brander’s Bank, was dredged diverting the main water flow to the channel north of the bank where it flows today. The spoil from the dredging was deposited along the shore near Grimbury Point. The Wick ford was also dredged and the spoil deposited on the site of the present Rowing Club.
In the 1950’s a suction dredger was used from Branders Bank down towards Blackberry Point and the spoil deposited on Stanpit Marsh.
Finally, in the late 1980’s Wessex Water Authority carried out major dredging in the River Stour from Iford Bridge down to Christchurch Quay as part of the Flood Alleviation Scheme. A large proportion of the Club moorings had to be lifted to facilitate this operation and were then replaced by the Water Authority as trots, ie, in groups sharing a single heavy ground chain. These proved to have many advantages and, thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of the flag officers, the Club subsequently changed more of its moorings to this system. Several minor dredging exercises have also been carried out to improve the depth of water at the side of the Club.
In 1884 it was recorded that the Club spent six shillings on perches and withies (stakes) for marking the channel in the harbour. Wm. Stride was asked in 1904 to buoy the entrance to the Run for £1 which he understandably refused. In 1911, when regular races were held in the harbour, the Club subscribed £16, which was in those days quite an expense, to buoy the harbour.
The town council’s attitude towards providing buoys in the harbour had always been off-hand, although in 1929 it did create a Harbour Board, with the Commodore and Hon. Secretary joining the board. However, nothing positive came out of the board and it is recorded that the Club purchased buoys and chains, etc. for £10, in 1932, and provided the usual voluntary help from members to buoy the channel in the harbour.
In the 1920’s there was great excitement when a two-engine flying boat landed in the harbour. It is thought by the historians, despite a lack of documentary evidence, that the purpose of this landing was to deliver urgent dispatches to a number of VIPs living near the harbour.
After the war, it was again the Club that purchased buoys and sinkers for the harbour, these being 18 ex-Admiralty buoys (£2 each) and sinkers (7/6d each ). Elkins Boatyard supported the exercise by providing a motor launch and pontoon while the Club provided the labour required to lay these buoys. It was not until 1963 that a Harbour Improvements Association was formed and the responsibility for all the buoys in the Run and harbour was shared more equitably between the users of the harbour.
During the first half of the century there were so few sailing vessels on the water that mooring rights were not an issue. The West Hants Water Company purchased the river bed from Miss Mills (Bisterne House) in 1929. At that time the principal interest was in the fishery. It is quite clear that they bought the freehold of the river bed.
Mooring fees were not paid until 1961 after West Hants Water Co. won several test cases (by default) in the High Court, following which the Club then had to take out a 21 year lease from the Water Company covering most of the harbour. The first rent was one shilling per foot per mooring. The Club had always maintained a good relationship with this organisation and at the time negotiated a very advantageous agreement with the Water Company to purchase the river rights, in order to extend the hard quay in front of the Club.
As tenants of the Water Company the Club was responsible for managing most of the mooring areas in the harbour, Stanpit, Rushford Warren and Broadwaters. It was obliged to control the moorings for the benefit of everybody and not give preference to the Club members.
A new 21 year lease was renegotiated in 1976 and the area previously used by Elkins Boatyard in Steep Banks was added to the area of the Sailing Club. This situation continued happily until West Hants was taken over by the Biwater group in the late 1980’s. This resulted, after long careful negotiations, in a new 21 year lease in 1991. Under this new lease, which was in force until 2009, the Club only controlled that area in the river below and above the Club, which was exclusively occupied by Club members.
In 2009 the Club negotiated the purchase of the river bed occupied by the Club moorings from the Water Company. This represented a considerable investment by the Club which it is believed will of great benefit to all members far into the future.