A POTTED HISTORY OF WINDERMERE CRUISING ASSOCIATION
By:- COLIN HEIGHTON Lipwood House, Windermere
DEDICATION, 1968 - 1998.
Being an unreliable source of information for the amusement of our good Commodore, Mr. Howard Hughes ( NOT THE FAMOUS "YOU KNOW HUGHES" >, and also for that incomparable Sailing Secretary and Ex Commodore Mr Issy Caffoor, a great enthusiast for the waters of Windermere and Yorkshire, and for all the past and present members of the Windermere Cruising Association.
WHY ME ?
This is a good question for one to ask and sadly the obvious answer must be that I may well be the most ancient member of the club and therefore credited with instant recall of everything that happened a quarter of a century ago. I must say that I CAN recall the name of our Best Man and that of the Bridesmaid and I am fairly sure what the Bride wore in 1950 - I THINK it was white? But the rest? OH DEAR!
I must also confess that I have been aided by the kind loan of half a hundredweight - 25 kilos to foreigners- of WCA documents in a huge cardboard box. They cover the last thirty years and were reverently handed over to me by Issy with warnings about their careful conservation. It was rather like receiving the Dead Sea Scrolls.
THE FOUNDERING FATHERS. 1967.
IN THE BEGINNING there was a group of keen chaps, some of whom in those days had caravans close to a very beautiful bit of Windermere Lake. When I was seven years old my good father bought me my first 'real' boat and I kept it hidden in the reeds at Rayrigg Wyke near to what were then in 1935 the Sand Wharfe and Green Farm. Across the channel was the lovely island of Ladyholme usually floating an its own reflection - it was the first magic destination for a small explorer. Like myself, thirty years earlier, the chaps were instantly entranced with the Lake, brought boats, and began to sail. In 1967 I had a venerable pair of sailing dinghies and a little sailing cruiser with a cuddy and I remember the cheerful friendly pleasant sailors at Green Farm and I sometimes saw them determinedly racing in both the North and South ends of the lake. Once or twice I saw them aground on the long shallows South of Henholme or the Rough Holme rocks and shook my head gently. I came to recognize their rather nice turquoise and white burgee.
I can't tell you precisely and there's nothing that I can find in the Dead Sea Scrolls that says who were the founder members in 1967. I never met Ernest Earnshaw of 10, Fallbarrow Caravan Site or Martin Beecroft of Beecroft Boats, or Mr. Lucas but they were certainly Officers in the early days. But I did count Jim and Mary Whittaker, Don Roberts, Jim Eccles, Ernest Watson, Jack Freeman, Mike Booth, Frank Keating, and Norman Schofield as new and later close friends, who had been there from the beginning. And of course there were their wives in support also -
for the nature of the Club meant that it was almost always a family concern. As a group they were invariably helpful - but so sensible and straightforward. And of course most of them were experienced good sailors with all that means - those who knew a parral head from a gooseneck ! Those were my earliest acquaintances but over the following years I met many other W.C.A. sailors - men and women - of the same style. Marjie and I particularly remember how much courtesy and welcoming kindness we received in 1976 from our first Commodore - Cliff Bell and Mary - and later Karl Pfau - Trevor Roberts - and many many more.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
In the early days there were fairly regular moves to make changes in the status quo and the club's name was a favorite target for the reformers. We MIGHT have been: The Bowness Yacht Club, The Windermere Cruiser Club, The Windermere Racing Cruiser Club, The Windermere Sailing Cruiser Club, The Windermere Sailing Racing and Cruising Club (Prize for the longest). However despite some enthusiastic support for change, the membership were usually so divided that we stayed the same. One exasperated member once remarked that he was not keen on telling his friends that he was in the W.C. Association for it had hardly the ring of the Royal Yacht Squadron and sounded more like a plumber's Trade Union.
As well as being the history of a yacht club we also represent a remarkable cross section of the great post war explosion of interest and participation in boating and particularly in sailing. This is epitomised by such craft as the Mirror, the G.P., the International 14, and the Wayfarer dinghies. In the last third of the century the Englishman who, on his island has never lived more than fifty miles from the sea discovered the fascination and delight of living on his own boat and sometimes racing with the chap on the next mooring. So there were thousands of little cruisers of scores of different designs to suit a multitude of tastes - I once saw one on Loch Lomond with a window box and geraniums.
What did we have on Windermere? Well. There were Westerleys, Chieftains, Centaurs, Tigers, Pembrokes, Nomads, and later Pageants and Konsorts. Some of the other big yards at that time built hundreds of reasonably priced boats. Ridgeway produced Prospects, Pandoras, Preludes and Pirates. Hurley had a string of designs and Hunter Boats like the Nineteen, the Europe and the excellent and popular Sonata were regularly to be found in our races. There were tubby vessels from the Leisure? range and Snapdragons and some traditional but attractive craft like the Folkboat the Trapper and the Ruffian. Russell Marine built for and organised the J.A.V.A. Association boats: Jaguars, Alacritys, and Vivacitys with more than 2000 craft in total in Britain and the U.S. Some of our boats were chine built in ply such as the nippy little Silhouette -'Jumbuck'- Don Mounsey and 'Rhubarb'- Charlie Tidswell. Most of these boats were from English boat builders and many were swept away in the recession that followed.
But a few were 'foreigners' like the Hungarian Balaton. The Young brothers raced 'Starflyer' always impressively over canvassed and often over on its ear, One rather blowy Sunday we were fishing off the shore at Watbarrow Point when I saw them running from the Pull Wyke mark down the east shore before a Force 7 under a huge radial head spinnaker and full sail, WOW! I couldn't guess their speed but it was impressive. The Achilles and the Intro - fast boats for those days - had a good following in our fleet and there were a few unusual craft too - like Berman Schofield's Western Isles, thirty odd footer 'Kentroy' which had been one of the first charter boats on the Lake with a lovely sheer, an enormous genoa and a deckhouse much on the lines of Noah's Ark. The Nantucket Clipper had an extraordinary beakhead and a retractable bowsprit which must have made life even more difficult for our handicappers. One of the smallest of our competitors was a drop keel Sailfish 18, a pretty little boat which had the unfortunate little idiosyncracy of capsizing when running with the plate up, a similar Sailfish had two serious attempts to drown one of my staff on Coniston Water - fortunately unsuccessfully. In those days the boats were mostly between 18 and 25 feet LOA unlike today when our cruisers are much huskier. And whisper it "and usually French!"
"USLOT" versus "THEMLOT
The activities of the club of course impinged upon a variety of bureaucratic bodies who were not always naturally sympathetic to the romantic sailorman and his individualistic longing for a wet sheet and a flowing sea. SO such events as Local Government Reorganisation and inter party political strife sometimes resulted in a variety of conflicts between the simple yachtsman and his would be masters. There was the WINDERMERE NAVIGATION BATTLE where the Admiral of the British Rail Fleet of steamers was most critical of a group of yachts who were 'deliberately' becalmed off Cockshot Point - perhaps we had failed to whistle for wind?
Then there was the GREAT SINK AND LOO WAR where it was suggested that cruisers must be fitted with such enormous holding tanks for waste sink water that it was doubtful that the boats could still float when the tanks were full or as one of our members suggested that there might be no room for the crew even when they were empty ! During the same conflict there was the wonderful Gilbertian situation that rather than discharge untreated waste directly into the lake we should carry it carefully ashore to the Disposal Point behind Shepherds boatyard from whence through a six inch pipe it could flow directly and immediately back into the lake fifty yards away.
Who can forget the potential disasters of the GREAT DROUGHTS where it was said that the lake could well have had a whole catalogue of new unmarked rocks and reefs appearing from its depths and skippers envisaged being able to walk ashore for a pint dry shod.
I recall the financial horrors of the SOUTH LAKES BUBBLE when "modest" 100% increases in mooring charges by South Lakes District Council were an interesting feature of National Price Restraint.
Then there were the first rounds of THE WINDERMERE REGISTRATION GAME where like Nazereth everyone had to come to his own place to be registered. If you had sufficient unwetted surface then you would be able to stick on all the various coloured labels and numbers from all the different agencies concerned until you looked rather like a Yarmouth herring drifter or a Formula One car.
More recently there was THE STRANGE CASE OF THE MISSING SPEED LIMIT where the findings of the Grand Jury were lost in the Wash.
On all these confusing and expensive occasions the W,C.A. and the other boat clubs tried to stand together to protect the simple pleasures of their members. And thus now to help us we have Police Wardens, Council Wardens, National Park Wardens !!! How did Tom Moss manage when be was the ONLY Warden between Rothay Bridge and Newby Bridge?
These have always been a very popular aspect of cruising life and the W.C.A. has had samples of all of them. We have had Royal visits, VIP visits, Raft UPS, Treasure Hunts, Boat Parades, Fancy Dress Outings, Lake Festivals, Pleasure Cruises, General Knowledge Quizes, Pub Crawls, Dinner Dances, Discos, Barbeques, Rounders Matches, Man Overboard Drills, and Seamanship Exercises to name but a few. I vividly remember sitting on Shantung's foredeck with two other unfortunates for more than half an hour trying to pretend that we had been 'hove to' continuously for five minutes. Until that time I had always thought that Shantung went forward rather faster than she went sideways.
Of course each successive Social Secretary has suffered from two inescapable problems - disappointing weather and disappointing attendance - both conditions seem to he incurable and unavoidable, But three decades of Social Secretaries have never stopped trying. God Bless Them.
THE YEARNING FOR TERRA FIRMA.
Like Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japeth and all the other sailors throughout history the skippers and the crews of the W.C.A. from the beginning seem to have longed to get ashore - to have a club house to call their own. I suppose that a floating family bar lacks something of the attraction and stability of the English Pub. But this yearning has been slow of fulfilment yet most interesting historically and geographically.
Like the twelve tribes at one time or another we have planned to settle in many places. Walkers Boathouse at the Ferry, the Clubhouse at Fallbarrow, the Old Church School in St, Martin's Square, the Storrs Hall Hotel, in Sourpool Marina, Broad Leys, Norman Buckleys Boathouse at Cragwood, the old swimming huts at Millerground and a wet dock at Old Hall. Each fell into the Committee's wandering gaze but ultimately each was rejected.
Of recent times this desire for solid ground has diminished somewhat perhaps largely due to Issy Caffoor and his succinct summing up at the Laying Up Dinner when he was Commodore. Some of you may remember him, tongue in cheek thanking the Commodores of the other Lake Clubs for their attendance and congratulating them on the situation and comforts of their premises. To my recollection it went on something like this, "As for ourselves," he said, "we try not to envy you. We have only to manage eighty seven bathrooms, eighty seven kitchens and eighty seven drawing rooms each with a different and delightful view over the late."
Under this heading I have looked at the pattern of races in years long gone and the changes and developments to what we do today. The basic format is not greatly changed. The programme has usually included three long series each race lasting a couple of hours or so usually around the cans with a varied choice of courses. The numbers of races in each series has varied from six to ten with discards.
We have usually included a Round the Lake series with a course North and South of Belie Isle, Races have usually taken place at the weekends and more recently included a couple of the longer three day Bank Holiday weekends we have had Regatta weeks.
The shorter series of three or four races seem popular nowadays but we still retain some of the one-off special races: the Pennant and Round the Islands Races and the Stainton Memorial Race reminding me at least of the only one real tragedy that the Club has suffered in thirty years. The latter newer fails to make me remember that our sport is not free from risk and that we need to show prudence and good seamanship.
Then we have always - if a trifle reluctantly - allowed someone other than the Skipper to lay a hand on the tiller or wheel and so we have Lady Helm and Crew Helm races.
Perhaps the greatest difference between the programme today and that of twenty years ago is the reduction in the number of long 'time' races. ie. the 24 hours, 18 hours, 12 hours, and 6 hour races. One appreciates the demands of today's 'faster' world so that people have less time to spare than they had. However I can't help recalling a fleet of half a dozen boats running south under spinnakers across Low Wood Bay at 2 am on Midsummer morning with a full moon shining through the big coloured sails and the navigation lights gleaming red and green on the ripples from the bow, THAT was 24 hours to remember !
It is possible that as a group our skippers we are rather unusual in that almost all of them live and work many miles from their boats and the waters on which they sail. On the other hand it must also be true of the Solent and the Clyde, the Medway the Blackwater and elsewhere. Yet our skippers really have to show the travellers spirit to come so far and be on the line for the preparatory gun. I am very diffident to try to suggest that there are regional differences in the skills of my friends and as far as I can recall no-one has ever had the courage to suggest a Roses Race. Recently I played with some membership figures from ten years ago and at that tine the statistics were as follows.
LANCASHIRE 56% YORKSHIBE 24% CUWBRIA 10% MIDLANDS 6% CHESHIRE 4%
But like many other statistics this one is largely meaningless except I suppose to determine the probability of being sworn at if you do something stupid. And of course to understand the exact language used.
It has always been something of a mystery to know why some helmsmen can get their boats to go so well whilst others have less success. Perhaps it's initial training, perhaps experience, perhaps temperament, the avoidance of errors or a better theoretical knowledge of their sport, or regular practice or sheer luck. But whatever it is it's not a simple thing.
And from another point of view it should certainly, and almost always involve determination and sportsmanship.
Whatever the secret, helming a good boat on a good day can never be boring and to some will be an unfailing pleasure. And of course a good crew completes the picture perfectly.
This is a delicate area and I shall walk like Agag for I do not wish to be standing alone in a corner of the bar with a sad face so that all may think that I am the officer who calculated the handicaps. Our club has had many schemes. Red Fleets, Yellow Fleets, Green Fleets, Slow Fleets, Fast Fleets, Cruiser Fleets, Racer Fleets, Level Rating Fleets, Windermere Handicaps, Portsmouth Yardsticks, Personal Handicaps, Age Handicaps, Experience Handicaps. etc etc. I wonder what may be next?
POSTSCRIPT FROW SHANTUNG.
In closing here are a few of my own personal recollections of when I joined W.C.A. at the end of the 1976 season. My sponsor was Norman Schofiold. I raced nine times in the summer of 1977 and in the 6 hour race on the 1lth September we got our best result so far. From my old Log Book I see that there were 22 contestants and Shantung finished second from Roy Watsons Alacrity 'Mistral'. We covered 23.635 miles in the 6 hours. Roy managed 24.482 beating us by 3/4 mile as the crow flies, Marjorie was crew. The following season 1977 we started in the second race in the Sunday 'B' Series. The race was in the South Lake and there were thirty three starters at Sandy Nab and according to the report in the Westmorland Gazette under the headline 'Good Win For Shantung' it was considered to be "a 'fairly good' turn out with variable conditions blowing fierce gusts up to Force Six, dropping off at Beech Hill and round Blake Holme and returning savagely near the finish. Margie was again my Crew and drew a commendation in the Log - "Marjie very brave." On handicap we were placed first - for the first time in a W.C.A. race. That was 21 years ago but I can still remember it. Perhaps as it was such an unusual experience.
In fact I have a witness who also sailed that day. He is Don Mounsey late of 'Jumbuck' who joined the W.C.A, two years before me and may occasionally be found aboard Shantung even nowadays. Don could well be the longest serving W.C.A. member attending this year's Presentation Dinner.
Readers of this newsletter will forgive me for rambling on at such a length but it's probably kindest to put it down to senility.
Long, live England and the Windermere Cruising Association.
Here are a few lines by Flanders and Swann which express most unfashionable feelings about our island and its sailors:
Hands up those who agree.
And crossing the Channel one cannot say much For the French or the Spanish the Danish or Dutch; The Germans are Germans, The Russians were Red And the Greeks and Italians eat garlic in bed. The English are moral, the English are good And clever and modest and misunderstood.
And all the world over each nation's the same They've simply no notion of Playing the Game; They argue with Umpires, they cheer when they've won, And they practice beforehand which ruins the fun! The English, the English, the English are best! So up with the English and down with the rest!
It's not that they're wicked or naturally bad: It's knowing they're FOREIGN that makes them so mad!
Best Wishes to all and good sailing !
COLIN HEIGHTON. Lipwood House, Windermere.
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