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Home / Club History / 1 The Early Years

1 The Early Years

Part 1 - The Early Years


John Harmer left the Royal Navy in 1954 after 15 years service. John and his wife, Mavis, had lived in Lee-on-the-Solent but, in 1960, were living in Northways, Stubbington. Having read of the drowning of two boys enjoying a day's fishing, John concluded that lack of boat knowledge had contributed to the tragedy. He approached Lee-on-the-Solent Sailing Club and Hill Head Sailing Club to form an education section. Neither club was interested, so John set about forming a club.

In November 1960 John canvassed the local area using newspaper advertisements, leaflets and personal calls. This led to a meeting in the annex of the Hammond Hall, Stubbington on Tuesday 31st January, the inaugural meeting of the Seafarers Sailing Club, with 11 attendees. Those attending discussed forming a club aimed at the sharing of sailing experience and teaching others to sail with safety. The club was to be run on the lowest subscription possible so as to attract the widest family membership. Four boats would be built for members' use. A provisional Committee was formed with John Harmer as the Commodore. A membership fee of two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) per week was agreed with membership limited to 50 people.


The first few meetings of the Committee were held at 45 Mancroft Avenue, Hill Head, the home of Mr Edward Aylett, the Sailing-Rep. One of the first decisions was what type of a boat to build. Options considered included Enterprise, Gull, Heron or GP14. The latter was chosen.

By the beginning of March 1961 the Club had taken over a derelict pump house at 31 Cottes Way which it rented from Fareham Council; rent £35, General and Water Rate £10 and Electricity £20 per annum. Renovation of the building involved a lot of work including the removal of heavy concrete engine beds (with hammer and chisel), bricking-up holes in the wall, renewing the toilet and replacing broken glass.

Cottes Way became a hive of activity. A member obtained a number of salvaged seats following a fire in a Southampton cinema.

On Tuesday 25th April 1961, with a membership of 20, the Club held its first AGM. A Committee was elected supported by sub-committees for sailing, motor-boat and boat-building.

Club colours were chosen as orange and white with the intention that the boats, as they were built, would be painted with white topsides and orange bottoms.

A training programme of lectures interspersed the concrete chipping details. A manual for the training programme was produced. The syllabus included dinghy construction, rigs and rigging, sailing theory and aerodynamics, rule of the road, knots, buoyage systems, safety and rescue drill, cordage and splicing, weather and tides.

Plans for a GP14 sailing dinghy were procured and construction commenced between evening lectures. Meanwhile, so that practical training could get underway, at their meeting in June 1961 the Committee agreed to spend up to £100 on the purchase of a club boat. A WW2 airborne lifeboat was purchased at a cost of £85 from a member of the Hamble Club. It was of the type designed by Uffa Fox to be carried under aircraft and parachuted to airmen who had crashed into the sea. The boat was converted for sailing duties at Cottes Way and named 'Airborne'.


'Airborne' was launched from the beach at the end of Crofton Lane at 7pm on Thursday 6th July 1961. The crew comprised Mr E. Aylett as helmsman with Mr R. Duffet, Mr and Mrs B. Brown and Mr R. Woolnough. About 100 yards off the beach and in 5 feet of water, the boat capsized and Mr Woolnough lost his shoes. The boat was recovered and returned to Cottes Way. At the next Committee meeting, on 10th July, 'Sailing Rules' were introduced defining responsibilities and maximum crew.

The final sail of the first season for 'Airborne' was on Saturday 21st October. During the first season a total of 75½ hrs of instruction were given. The instruction circuit was Hill Head to Brambles Buoys, beaching at the end of Crofton Lane for return to the Club. The Club devised a test of proficiency in dinghy handling and awarded a certificate to those successfully completing it. The Club became affiliated to the RYA in November 1963.

During the first year a coffee boat had been started by Harry Doncaster and Mavis Harmer which provided a welcome addition to Club funds.

The Club's first 'formal' social event was held in the clubhouse in Cottes Way on Friday 15th December 1961 with food subsidised by the coffee boat and drinks provided by the attendees.

Christmas Social - Friday 15 December 1961

A Place on the Beach

Originally 'Airborne' was stored in the compound and manhandled to the beach at Hill Head on its trolley. In mid 1962 the Commanding Officer HMS Ariel (subsequently renamed HMS Daedalus) gave the Club permission to use a plot of land west of Crofton Lane at the approach to the beach as a boat park. The Club had to indemnify the Admiralty against any liability. The agreement was for temporary use only; the Club could not develop the site as a permanent boat park. In the autumn of 1964, a request to rent the site was turned down by the Admiralty Land Office.

During 1963 a ship's hatch was washed ashore near the piece of beach that the Club sailed from. This became the base for the signal mast. Further improvements of beach facilities included replacement of the hand winch with a motorised one driven by a Petter engine donated by Mr B Kear, flags made by Mr Stan Johnson ("Master of the Knots") and a signal horn from an old car provided by Mr H Newton. Stan Johnson also loaned the Club sufficient money to purchase a shed that was erected in the garden of "Thatched Cottage" in Hill Head Road by kind permission of the owner, Mr Spring, and used to store sails and gear.

In the Spring of 1965 the Club moved its "sailing centre" along the beach a short distance. They began sailing from the beach at the bottom of the garden of "Thatched Cottage". In February 1968 fencing was erected around the boat park which was occupied by up to 40 boats.

Mr Spring sold "Thatched Cottage" in 1970. The new owner, Mr McHendry, kindly allowed the Club to continue to operate from his property until the boats moved to the Salterns in 1974.

The aerial photograph below was published in 'The News' in November 1969. The clubhouse between Cottes Way and Osborne View Road and the dinghies on the Thatched Cottage's beach are both circled. The other photograph shows Club activity on the beach in 1972.


Sailing - The First Decade

In June 1963 Sam Stuart, who lived in Gosport, loaned the Club an Enterprise, E45. This helped take the load off 'Airborne' which had accumulated over 135 hours of instruction during the 1962 season with some sessions lasting up to 7 hours. During 1963, 'Airborne' and E45 together accumulated 151 hours at sea being used for instruction including 3 hours night sailing experience. In May 1965, Mr Stuart very generously gave E45 to the Club.

The first and only GP14 was eventually completed in 1966 and named 'The John Harmer' in honour of the founder and first Commodore who, by then, was living in Canada.

The first Club cruise to the Isle of Wight was in July 1963. Twelve members in four boats, 'Airborne', E45, E9954 and a self-built boat, left Hill Head at 10am and sailed to Cowes where they secured at the public landing at East Cowes. They got back to Hill Head at 4:30pm.

Eventually, cruises became a popular, if infrequent, way to put sailing skills into practice. Venues included "The Folly Inn", Wootton Creek, Lepe, Netley and "The Rising Sun" at Warsash. Longer cruises, perhaps to Yarmouth or Newtown, were occasionally proposed. This worried the Commodore, Harry Newton. He was concerned that the shortage of qualified helmsmen increased the risk of an incident with consequent adverse publicity for the Club.

The first attempt at Club racing was in October 1964. Six boats took part but there was a distinct lack of wind. It took a while before racing became an integral part of the Club's programme. In October 1965, the Commodore reported "the first race had been held and the report issued with corrected times". At the next AGM, in February 1966, the Commodore stated the intention to hold one race "weekly in handicap style around the ski buoys". In June it was reported that, during the first race of the season, a number of boats had "gone astray". The Vice Commodore, Laurie Racey, recommended "the course be drawn up on a blackboard before the race for everyone to peruse".

In December 1966, Tom Robertson, the new Commodore of Hill Head SC, proposed more interclub cooperation perhaps with a mutual cup; the birth of the SLOSHH? In 1967 there was no Club racing. According to the Commodore this was "mainly due to people wishing to race their own boats and carry out individual activity which leaves no one to man the signal station and organise". By the end of the decade, the improved levels of enthusiasm and participation generated by a racing programme was acknowledged. Within a year regular racing, coordinated by a racing officer and sub-committee, and a rescue boat, of sorts, had been introduced.

The photographs below, published in 'The News' on 22nd April 1971, show Gerry Warwick, Club Commodore, working on 'Airborne', Laurie Racey and members wheeling 'Airborne' down to the water and Vic Bryant, Rear Commodore, and members setting sail in 'Airborne' .

Fees, Fund-raising, and Social Events in the Sixties

During its first decade the Club was certainly not rich. It owned three boats; 'Airborne' valued at £40, Enterprise E45 valued at £35 and, eventually, GP14 'John Harmer' valued at £150. The balance, typically £25 to £50 over the first half of the decade, rose to £100 by the end of the sixties.

The Club's main source of income was the membership fee supplemented, for the first couple of years, by a share scheme. Shares were bought at £2 reclaimable after a period of time. The money obtained in this way was to be used only for the purchase of boats or materials to make boats and to be kept separate from the Club funds.

The membership fee was initially set at 2s 6d per week (£6.50 pa). In 1962 this was revised to £4 pa. Concern grew that membership fees were deterring prospective members and, at a Special General Meeting in November 1964, a reduction to £2 pa was agreed.

The "family-friendly" ethos was enshrined in the rules and the fee structure from early on. In June 1962 the rules were revised to read "A full member shall be recognised as husband and wife" and in July 1964 the Committee agreed that the membership subscription would include member, wife and children up to the age of 16. It is interesting to consider whether the implication that the member was the male and the partner was a wife would be "PC" in the 21st century!

Nowadays another major source of income is boat parking fees. It appears that these first appeared at the end of the 1965 season when it was proposed that members be charged 10/- (10 shillings or 50p) for laying-up spaces in the Club park.

Although fund-raising was important, it was not always the reason behind social functions. As mentioned above, the first Christmas social was subsidised by the coffee boat. There was not a particularly busy social calendar for the first few years. During 1962 there was a film show in February (which made a loss), a very successful 'Bazaar' (jumble sale) in October (raised an outstanding £30-7-0) and a social (bring a bottle) 4 days before Christmas. The Bazaar and the Christmas social were both held at Hammond Hall. The social was enjoyed despite the lack of "old fashioned music"! In 1963 there was a bazaar in Hammond Hall in November. This raised over £20. A month later a Club dinner-dance was held at the "Osborne View" in Hill Head with decorations provided by Stan Johnson.

The jumble sale, seen as an important source of funds, became a reasonably common, if infrequent, event. Jumble sales were held in November 1965 (Church Hall made £13-12-3), October 1967 (Scout Hut £20-6-2), October 1968 (Scout Hut more than £20) and June 1969 (Scout Hut £15-6-6).

In July 1964 the Club had a "highly successful" barbecue. These eventually became another popular event; held in the autumns of 1967, '68 and '69. Fish and chips were the norm, initially from "Mr Chippy" (mobile) then subsequently from the Stubbington fish and chip shop. Why fish and chips at a barbecue? When planning the 1968 barbecue, it was suggested in committee "that sausages were cooked . but no volunteers to organise the event were forthcoming".

As the decade ended, the Club moved further afield for its annual dinner. In 1968 it was held at "The Queen's Head" in Titchfield with about 30 attending for the buffet dinner. The next dinner took place in February 1970; it was a beer and skittles evening at "The Rising Sun" in Warsash.

Last updated 11:33 on 17 May 2024

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