Royal Western Yacht Club

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HISTORY
of the Royal Western Yacht Club

There have been three previous histories of the club, one written in 1935 for the Diamond Jubilee, one in 1975 for the Centenary and one in 1991. These are now out of print and out of date, and the committee thought that members and, particularly those who have joined recently would like to have a short history of their club.

The Western Yacht Club, as it was then called, was founded in 1875. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 38 years, Disraeli was the Prime Minister and this was the year that Britain purchased nearly 50% of the shares of the Suez canal. It was also the year in which H.J. Heinz began to sell tomato ketchup !

The club was formed at a meeting of yachtsmen at the Waverley Hotel, Glasgow on 23rd August 1875. The meeting, proposed in a letter to the Glasgow Herald, had as its aim the founding of a yacht club to encourage small boat and dinghy sailing in the Firth of Clyde and especially in the lower reaches, which were felt by those at the meeting to be neglected by the "other two clubs". These being the already venerable "Northern" and the "Clyde" which had then not yet come of age. The "Mudhook", just two years old was not mentioned !

At the inaugural meeting, several names were suggested for the new club -"St Andrews", "Junior Clyde", "Clyde Corinthian" and "Western", and it was only by three votes that "Western" was chosen in preference to "Clyde Corinthian".

For the Western Yacht Club’s first Regatta, third match, held at Millport on 17 th June 1876, the first commodore of the club, A. H. Ewing, had donated The Ewing Trophy. On a very rough day, four yachts took part and the match was won by the 5 ton cutter yacht “Camellia” designed by William Fife II and jointly owned by John Craig and Thomas Lawson. In 2005, John Craig’s granddaughter, Helen Louise Lawson Fowler (nee Craig) returned the Trophy to the club expressly to be used again as an annual award to members making a significant contribution to the club or sailing.

In its early years the club moved around the Firth and held regattas at Rothesay, Largs, Skelmorlie and Kilchattan Bay; but Millport was always the centre of their activities. The original 24 founder members grew quickly to 120, in spite of what one irate proposer called "a ruthless and indiscriminate use of the black ball".

The 1935 history gives an entertaining but rather lengthy account of a famous race run by the club in 1885. This was for "yachts of any rig or tonnage belonging to a recognised yacht club", the start was off Millport and the course was round Ailsa Craig and back to a finish off Millport.

The yacht “Camellia” sailing in the clubs first regatta in 1876.There were seven entries, but with a stinging sou'wester and torrential rain, only "Wendur" of 125 tons and "Marjorie" of 68 tons braved the start.

After some very heavy squalls on the outward leg that laid both boats flat, there was a change to dense fog on the homeward leg and in those pre-radar and pre-echosounder days "Majorie" only just missed going aground, with "Wendur" being less fortunate and taking the shore, to let the smaller yacht score a notable victory.

It was in September of the same year that the club received permission to be called "Royal", and member's vessels entitled to fly the Blue Ensign. The first of these privileges was granted by the Home Office and the latter by the Admiralty. The present blue burgee was adopted at the same time, replacing one dating from 1877, which was red and white quartered burgee with a red Saint Andrew's Cross on a yellow shield. The club's first burgee was red with a white lion rampant. In 1985, responsibiity for issue of Warrant to fly the Blue Ensign to the club passed from the Admiralty to the Secretary of State for Defence.

Not all was plain sailing however in these early years, as in 1888 the secretary absconded with the club's funds and left it with a deficit estimated at £50.00. Fortunately the Commodore at the time, Andrew Bain, one of the club's longest serving flag officers, was able to persuade the previous secretary, John Thomson Jnr, to resume office and the club was able to weather what must have been a period of considerable difficulty.

In 1894 the club amalgamated with the Clyde Canoe Club taking over the assets and debts of that club, which had started life at Rosneath. Some time in the late eighteen nineties the two clubs split up again with the Clyde Canoe Club taking itself off to Loch Lomond, where it is today a lively sailing club. One result of the merger was a growth of the club's activities in the upper Firth with a number of regattas at Helensburgh, which was also the home port of a class of three one design dinghies - the "Red", "White", and "Blue", which became Western property through the merger.

These boats designed by G.L. Watson, then moving towards the heyday of his career, are believed to have been the first one design class in yachting history, and a model of one of them is displayed in the Royal Thames Yacht Club's model room. Their other claim to fame was the fact that they caused more discord amongst club members than anything else in the club's history, with expenses of running them far exceeding the income from chartering them to members.

Towards the end of the nineteeth century and in the first decade of the twentieth the club sponsored two classes of small keel boats. The first of these, 17/19 class, makes its first appearance in the minutes for 1888, where a limitation of the sail area to 530 square feet was recorded.

This class provided lively racing for a number of years until the overwhelming success of "Hatasoo", which won 100 prizes from 113 starts over four seasons, led to the break-up of the class.

In 1896 the "Western" took a major part in introducing a new class to what became known as the 19/24 rules. A major aim of the new class was for the boats to be seaworthy, so both G.L. Watson and Wm. Fife were consulted and between them devised a simple set of rules, which whilst permitting considerable variation also inhibited anything tending to reduce seaworthiness.

In 1904 the club moved its regattas to Hunters Quay. Here it found itself rather in the shadow of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club and seemed to lose some of its flair for pioneering. However not all was lost because in 1910 the club started Cruising Matches to Tighnabruaich and these were an instant success.

For over 80 years the Tighnabruaich race remained one of the most popular fixtures in the Clyde programme, partly because of the unusual pursuit format, partly because it takes competing yachts through some very beautiful waters and, not least because racing is followed by a convivial party.

Over the last decade, or so, and due to many other additional popular races and musters the number of starters has diminished to less than ten. Continuation of the event, now run in conjunction with the Kyles of Bute Sailing Club, is under review.

Each alternate year between 1966 and 1972 the club ran the Barra Head race. In its day, this was one of the pioneering offshore races, but it was maybe ahead of its time. After some promising starts in the early years, the numbers dwindled and the race was discontinued. However, with the growth in numbers and and capability of R.W.Y.C. yachts, the time may be coming for a revival of this race and the award of the Hirta Trophy again to the winner of the race for which it was originally given.

In 1982 the club broke new ground, or more correctly new waters, by running the Etchells 22 International championship off Troon. In doing this they showed that the club had an ability to respond quickly to new ideas.

The championship was undoubtedly a most succesful event and the club was asked to repeat it in 1986. As a result of these championships the waters off Troon are regarded by knowledgeable helmsmen as about the best venue in British waters for a major International event.

Until 1989, the club always ran one of the Clyde Week / Clyde Weekend regattas. In that year, Clyde Yacht Clubs Association asked the club to give up their regatta and to run a new early season fixture instead.

As a result of this, in May the club now runs the Kip Regatta in conjunction with Kip Marina with financial support from various sponsors over the following years. Racing takes place in the Firth west and north of Kip Marina. The R.W.Y.C. Kip Regatta is today a highly popular and successful event, which attracted a record number of 75 starters in 1999 including competitors from outwith Scotland.

The club tie made a first appearance in 1959, quickly became accepted and remains to this day a very popular decoration. The design was a close imitation of the old Royal Thames Yacht Club tie, which had just been discarded in favour of a black tie with white anchors. The difference between the two is that whereas the old Thames tie had a narrow white line, the Western has a gold line which greatly improves it.

The R.W.Y.C. does not have a clubhouse, although at various times in the past the purchase of one has been proposed. As a Result the club feels free to run regattas where yachtsmen want to have them without feeling they should be near the home base. Another advantage is that the club has been spared the financial problems that seem to go with property.

Uniquely, we think in the world, the club's annual subscription remained unchanged (at one Guinea) from its foundation in 1875 until 1972 when, on decimalisation of the currency, it was REDUCED to one Pound ! It has to be admitted that it is only the generous contributions that the majority of members make to the prize fund that enables the club to continue to tell this particular tale !

Royal Western Yacht ClubRoyal Western Yacht Club
c/o Pollock & Cochrane Ltd
Rowan Street
Paisley, PA2 6RT
Scotland, UK

Tel: +44(0)141 889 2009    Email: Thorscrag@aol.com

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