Club History

As with so many sports clubs Shearwater Sailing Club evolved from and as a result of a few like minded and dedicated friends chatting together – and then – importantly – taking a first step by organising a meeting to officially and properly discuss it. Who were these people who today we have so much to thank for – look at the “Commodores” board in the clubhouse and you will find most of their names listed within the first six years or so of the clubs existence.

Members of today’s Shearwater Sailing Club now have the great benefit of dinghy sailing on one of the most attractive lakes for many miles around. Whether racing or cruising it is there to be truly appreciated and enjoyed. There is a clubhouse with all the requirements of changing/shower facilities, an active galley and a comfortable clubroom, an easy access boat park and a good launch slipway/jetty. The racing ‘Officer of the Day’ control centre and the rescue boats facilities are also ideally placed for efficient race and rescue services. Its all now perfectly in place – which is very much thanks to the clubs founder members who spent so much time talking, planning and executing their wishes.

To fully understand the thought and work toward their ‘dream’ the following full or part ‘Minutes’ transcripts are well worth reading.

The very first “General Meeting” soon became the first “Annual General Meeting” as a consequence of decisions made – underlining their total and joint commitment. Prior to this inaugural meeting the instigators all had tasks set – making individual contacts, enquires, etc. – setting the date of 29th October 1960 to publicly look further into a “Sailing” club possibility. This first resultant meeting is now fully transcribed.

Minutes of a General Meeting held at the Old Bell Hotel, Warminster on 29th Oct. 1960.

The meeting was opened by Dr D M Garratt.

He said that several local people had suggested that a sailing club might be formed and based on Shearwater. Considering this to be a good suggestion he had approached Col. Anley, agent to the Marquis of Bath, to ask permission to use the lake if such a club was formed. Dr Garratt then read a letter he had received from the agent in which he said that Lord Bath had given his consent for the use of the lake and wished the club every success.
Dr Garrett then introduced Mr G.M.Nicholls of Warminster and asked him to take the chair for the meeting. Mr Nicholls said that from the number of people at the meeting it was obvious that people were interested in the proposal to form a Sailing Club. The suggestion was then thrown open to the meeting.

The first speaker was Major Payron-James of Warminster, who suggested that the Bath Arms Crockerton would make a good headquarters. He said that the Landlord had been approached and that he was agreeable to put a room at the Clubs’ disposal. Mr R. Dunston of Warminster, said that first things should come first, and he said that he would like to make a formal proposal that a club be formed, this was seconded by Mr. Silvester of Trowbridge and carried unanimously.
Col. Allen of Warminster raised the question of parking boats and cars. Of 25 boat owners present on a show of hands, only 6 wanted to keep their boats in a dinghy park. The speaker said that he was willing to help on the Committee.
Mr G Luff of Maiden Bradley, said that in his opinion Shearwater was more suitable to Spring and Autumn sailing rather than Summer sailing owing to the number of visitors to the lake during the Summer months. He also suggested that the club be limited to two classes. Mr Mead of Bath, said that in his opinion the only restriction should be on length.
Mr Collinson of Trowbridge, said that we ought to get the club going, arrange a dinghy park and then racing and other activities would follow in due course. Major Payton-James said that in his opinion some form of compound was essential for parking dinghies. Mr R Falk of Warminster suggested cars could be kept out of Shearwater area.
The question of a rescue boat was raised by Mr Mead of Bath. He considered this to be most necessary, and he was also of the opinion that life jackets should always be worn. One speaker raised the question of Catamarans, and wondered if they could be used on the lake. Mr Seviaur raised the question of teaching junior members to sail. He said that he was led to believe that a grant could be obtained from the Education Authorities for the purpose of providing a boat to teach children to sail. He thought that the club would be a very useful thing.
The Chairman said it was evident that the original proposal to form a Club had ample support, he therefore suggested that the meeting elect a Committee to go further into the matter, and report back to another meeting to be held here on Saturday 3rd December 1960. The Committee elected was :- Mr G. H. Nicholls, Dr D.M. Garratt, Col. W Allen, Colonel G. Guy, Major H. Payton-Jones, Mr G. Luff, Mr F.E. Hargroves.
There being no further business, the meeting was closed.

Over the immediate weeks and months that followed many meetings took place – the minutes all hand written into a leather bound ledger. In order to get the feel of these meetings and decisions made I have extracted the following: –

The meeting of 3rd December1960 – Bath Arms. Was opened by Gervais Nicholls who proposed that all present at the 29th Oct and this meeting be declared as “Founder Members” and the club name of Shearwater Sailing Club was unanimously accepted. Dr Garratt summarised progress since 29th Oct :- area around the boathouse not suitable for clubhouse, dinghy/car parking and a launch ramp. Col. Anley of Longleat had however approved all these facilities in the area of ‘the road leading to Jersey Gate’(as currently located 2010). The club proposal that members have dedicated access to the club facilities through the Jersey Hill gate (now just a path beyond the dinghy park) was rejected – as it would interfere with the one way vehicle system then in operation. Lord Bath proposed as and accepted as President and Col. Anley as Vice president.

Membership subs. Agreed at – Family (inc. children under 18) £2 – 10s – 0p
Husband and wife £1 – 11s – 6p
Individual £1 – 1s – 0p
Juniors £0 – 10s – 6p

Meeting of 12th Dec 1960 – Bath Arms – Plans made for slipway and a floating pontoon – Tony Hope to organise. Dick Smith to establish a racing programme and rules, club burgee approved, applied affiliation to RYA and first working party organised for Jan 8th 1961.

Meeting of 3rd Feb 1961 – Bath Arms – Racing rules, sailing programme, management rules all accepted. Signal flags lined up plus approval of Dick Smith’s home made marker buoys. Permission granted to build OOD box above the boathouse. Membership at 77 (49boats). A Fitting Out Party arranged.

Meeting of 7th March – Bath Arms – 100 club burgees ordered (square for racing, triangular to denote cruising). Instructional evening organised for 25th March.

Meeting of 21st April – Confirm slipway completed. A catamaran membership not accepted. School and Organised bodies block membership at £5 – 5s – 0p, plus
£2 – 2s – 0p each additional boat.

Meeting of 16th June – Col Anley agreed only SSC members may use lake. Cdr. Cole and Mr Lee offered a Cup and Shield – Sailing Sec. to decide use (cup known now as ‘Founders Trophy’). Sub committees, established – Sailing, Social, Works. A “Gull” Open meeting planned for 10th Sept.. To contact other sailing clubs for ‘inter club fixtures’.

Meeting of 10th Oct – Plans approved for erection of a clubhouse.

Meeting of 2nd Dec – Laying Up Dance a great success.

1962 – 1st year profit £185 0s 0p. Subs to rise by 10/6p – not juniors.
A boat designed for a crew must race with a crew.
Enterprise Open date made. Boat measuring charge set at 1 guinea.
Visit to Swanage S.C. planned for 17th June.
Agreed to obtain a rescue boat with engine.
190 members. Agreed Boy Scouts, Wilts C.C., King Edward and Lord Weymouth schools able to use lake.
Concern that Enterprises’ were creating a monopoly.
Match arranged with Bristol Avon and Swanage sailing clubs.

1963 – First mention of an Alkmaar meeting.
Viscount Weymouth (present Lord Bath 2010) proposed as Vice President.

1964 – First mention of personal handicaps.
Longleat rent raised to £125 per annum.
Berth charge set at 10/-
First Alkmaar visit to be July 1965

1965 – Commodores Board acquired and put up in the Bath Arms’ ‘Club Bar’.
Alkmaar medal (Burgomaster Silver Medallion gift) made into a trophy.

1972 – The penalty of a capsize during a race was raised to 5 pence – into the Lifeboat box.

1974/75 – The club and its future put in doubt as Longleat put forward a proposal to use the lake and the land area around our club facilities as a Holiday Village, with residential chalets, restaurants, etc.. The best SSC could hope was that the plan did include a ‘sailing/boating’ interest into which Shearwater SC may have been integrated. The scheme/application failed – with of course the club never really knowing the effect it may have had on its future.

And So Development and Progress Continued……………………

A new fixed and floating pontoon was built to allow more boats to be safely moored before and between races, the floating part too often being wilfully cast adrift during the closed season and having to be recovered some way up the lake.

The OOD box and the race start/finish routines were very much the same as now except then the start procedure was 10min, 5min, 1min and start. A 12 bore double barrel shotgun was used for all sound signals (firing blanks), waking all around on a Sunday morning and putting all birds into the air. As an OOD and/or Assistant you therefore had to master the quick gun reload to manage ‘boats over the line’, ‘general recalls’, etc.. The gun was stolen in 1970 and replaced by a Klaxon – now replaced by a gas horn.

In these earlier days we were not restricted by the yellow buoys which now prevent boats sailing close to the banks and fishermen. The only restriction then to sailing close to the banks – where some great ‘lifts’ were available – was the probability of catching your mast in the tree branches and /or going aground.

Safety and EU regulations required the lake water level to be progressably lowered – as recognisable now by the several stepped jetty levels. Before this every winter after heavy rain the lake would flood and flow over the length of the retaining dam.

Prior to reducing the water level boats having difficulty jibing the bouy by the OOD box could, and did, sail straight on, resting undamaged and completely ashore. The challenge then to turn the boat/s around, refloat and continue the race, maybe making the grounding an opportunity to also gain one or two places.

As now, a great amount of “chat” went on between competing helms during races – discussing the rules, the rights and wrongs of various racing manoeuvres and of course who was at fault. An accepted rule infringement could not as now be agreed on the water with turns made and continuing to race. Then the offender – if accepting fault – had to retire. If a fault/retirement was not agreed both boats involved was required to fly a white flag (handkerchief mainly) to indicate a protest, which was then resolved ashore by a ‘Protest Meeting’. These were sometimes long and ‘hot’ yet were always resolved and generally forgotten by the following Sunday. In 1978 the 720 degree rule – as currently used – was adopted, thus almost cancelling the requirement of a protest meeting, saving helms having to retire from a race and saving time in meetings after racing completion.

An unwritten and unofficial Sunday racing rule/ritual was that before each race helms put money into a ‘kitty’, the proceeds then accordingly shared between the first three boats. Costly for most, lucrative for some.

TheBath Arms pub remained very much part of the club. Ever popular as the official second meeting place, particularly between the Sunday morning and afternoon race/s when all the racers went for a ‘swift one’ in the then dedicated Shearwater SC ‘wet bar’ – now the restaurant. Our ‘club’ entry door remains but not now in use.

In 1973 the clubhouse was extended to nearly double its original size to include the gents changing room and a larger (as now) club room, with mains electricity also then following. The Commodore’s board was also transferred from the pub into the clubhouse.

As noted within the early ‘Minutes’ transcripts a great amount of effort went into putting Shearwater S.C. onto the local and national ‘sailing map’. We enjoyed annual inter club race days with clubs from Bristol, South Cerney, Ringwood, Cheddar, Lyme Regis and Swanage – plus an annual event with Alkmaar SC of Holland.

Shearwater SC was on the National RYA “Calendar of Events” list – hosting individual Open meetings for Enterprise, Mirror, Solo, OK and Optimist classes. Our own 1971 club “Open” was attended by 72 dinghies, attracting sailors from Wales, the Midlands, East Anglia and the South/West.

Our annual “Away” visit to Cheddar SC was possibly the most popular as it coincided with the strawberry season and there was always a massive “Strawberry and Cream” tea to indulge in apres racing.

The Swanage ‘Away’ fixture weekend was also always well attended – not just for the fun and different experience of sea and wave sailing, but for the great Saturday Nights in their clubhouse.

Our bi-annual trips over to Alkmaar – held in conjunction with Bristol Avon SC – were fantastic, sailing on a lake which made Shearwater a mere puddle, using their much larger and heavier club boats and over far greater courses than we were used to. We enjoyed their members home accommodation, were taken sightseeing and were always very evening entertained. When Alkmaar members came to us and BASC we similarly hosted and entertained them, using both our lake and the BASC River Avon for the racing. The trophy was then known as the “Ditchpond” – the ditch being the Avon River of Bristol Avon SC, the pond of course being our Shearwater Lake.

As well as our sailing events and the clubhouse lunches and teas there was always a Spring Fitting Out Dance/Party, a Summer Barbecue, a November 5th bonfire and fireworks evening ( last held in 1978) and of course the season closing Annual Dinner and Dance – held for some years in Fortts of Bath, then the Warminster Assembly Hall, the Beaufort Hotel in Bath and then several other locations as we continue to do.

We have always shared the lake with anglers, originally all being members of the then Warminster Angling Club. There were as now the occasional line catching situations – yet generally amicably resolved. This mentioned here as every year the two ‘lake’ clubs got together for two fun inter club matches and socials. The fishing club would borrow the Warminster Cricket Club ground for a summers afternoon of cricket – always completely thrashing us – and in the winter we organised a skittles evening in various local pubs- a game which we were more capable of competing in. The rapour in the cricket clubhouse and pubs were always excellent and it did help with any lake differences.

The lake was also used a couple of times as the venue for a Public Schools rowing regatta. Not quite a Henley or Olympic course yet it somehow worked for them.

Regrettably none of the early club pioneers are now members of Shearwater Sailing Club yet all their initial thoughts, planning, work and enthusiasm for dinghy sailing on Lake Shearwater must remain in our thoughts and with our most grateful thanks.

The club, its active sailing and social programmes continue to change as required and demanded by todays lifestyles and communication technology. Lets hope Shearwater Sailing Club will and can remain progressive for the enjoyment, fun and spirit of its founder and past members.

Colin Singer 2011