Club History

Club History

The Royal Dart Club can look back on 153 years of rich sailing history. The first yacht club in England was launched by the Duke of Cumberland in 1775, becoming the Royal Thames Yacht Club in 1823. In a wave of enthusiasm for sailing for pleasure that followed during the mid-Victorian era, Stoke Gabriel landowner Henry Studdy and a group of friends got together for the inaugural meeting of the Dart Yacht Club at the Castle Hotel, Dartmouth on June 8, 1866.

They established a base on the Kingswear side of the River Dart in two rooms of a hotel and invited like-minded people to apply for membership, at a cost of a guinea a year.

Royal Approval

Royal approval came in 1873 after the Club petitioned Queen Victoria. Years earlier – in August 1856 – the monarch had been sailing along the coast when poor weather forced her to pay an impromptu visit to Dartmouth. She then bestowed the Royal title on the annual Regatta, which coincided with her visit. Not to be outdone, the Dart Yacht Club pressed for the same honour, supporting its case with the proclamation that it was in “the leading position as a sailing and racing club in the West of England.” Royal approval was duly given in time for the 1873 regatta, hosted for the first time by the newly-named Royal Dart Yacht Club.

Early History

The following extracts are taken from the booklet compiled for the Club in 1983 by L.R. Llewellyn Esq.

The first occasion on which a private yacht is recorded as having visited Dartmouth was in 1671 when Charles II in his yacht ‘Cleveland’, returning from Plymouth to Greenwich and faced with Easterly winds in Lyme Bay, put into Dartmouth for one night. Despite this early initiative organised private yachting was slow to get going in Britain and apart from the Royal Cork Yacht Club (established in 1720) the first club to be formed was the Royal Thames Yacht Club in 1775 followed by the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1812. As the country’s prosperity grew the next fifty years saw a great increase in interest in sailing for pleasure and a number of clubs grew up around the coasts of Britain. In Torbay the first regatta was held in 1813 and in Start Bay the first was in 1834, both being organised by local regatta committees.

The first yacht club established in the West Country was the Royal Western Yacht Club at Plymouth in 1833 and the Royal Dart is thought to have been the next.

In the spring of 1866, two years after the railway reached Kingswear, Henry Studdy and a group of friends met at Waddeton Court to discuss the formation of a Yacht Club. At this meeting it was decided to form a new club which would be called the Dart Yacht Club and would be situated at Kingswear. The annual subscription was fixed at one guinea a year and for a clubhouse two rooms were hired at the new railway hotel (which initially took the name of the Yacht Club Hotel). However, as the new hotel was not yet completed, the inaugural meeting and the first two committee meetings were held at the Castle Hotel in Dartmouth.

The regatta at Dartmouth had been designated a Royal Regatta in 1866 and in 1870 the Club petitioned Queen Victoria for permission to take the title of Royal Dart Yacht Club. This permission was in due course granted and so a crown was added to the Club’s burgee and defaced ensign. At the same time, since it still housed the club, the railway hotel changed its name to the Royal Dart Hotel. When the committee was redesigning the burgee and ensign, it was decided to change thebackground from red to white. The members did not like this change and insisted on a postal referendum, the result of which came out decisively in favour of retaining the red background.

At first the membership was limited to 200 in addition to yacht owners and by 1883 there were 276 members which included the owners of 131 yachts varying in size from 5 to 400 tons. This remarkable build-up reflects great credit on the judgement of the founders and on their foresight in anticipating the rapidly growing interest in yachting, which was stimulated by the powerful patronage of the Prince of Wales. In 1880 the Club was so firmly established that two members, Mr. Llewellyn and Major Bridson, offered to build a Club House on land adjoining the river and lease it to the Club for £100 a year. This offer was accepted and the new building was completed and occupied in 1881.

Ladies were first elected to membership in 1894, but at some time between this date and 1914 the rules were altered to exclude them. (presumably at a time when there were no lady members). In common with most other clubs of that era the Club then became so much a male preserve that ladies were not even allowed inside the Club House as guests, and this state of affairs lasted until 1936.

Although in the early days life at the Club was leisurely and on the whole placid, there were eruptions from time to time. At the very first Club Regatta, in 1866, one member complained that the Commodore had drawn up the Sailing Instructions to suit his own convenience and to improve his own chances of winning and even insisted on having his complaint recorded in the minutes. In 1889 there was considerable discussion over the election of flag officers and much ill feeling resulted. There were two Special Meetings and the Rear Commodore was elected twice and resigned twice, all in a period of three months. Feeling ran so high that one senior member went so far as to suggest that the Club be wound up. It would seem that after an excellent start, the Club settled down to a long period of slow decline which lasted until the end of the First World War. In 1889 the membership was down to 160 and in 1918 it was 64, its lowest ever, chiefly because of the total cessation of yachting activities after 1914. In August, 1918, a Special Meeting was called to consider the Committee’s report that it was doubtful whether the Club could continue after the end of the year. At this meeting the Rt. Rev. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter made this plea: “The Club has had a worthy history in the annals of yachting: it holds a Royal Charter; and though the conditions of life after the war may n e v e r be the same as in pre-war days, it is hardly likely that the British love of sport and of all that promotes the sea-faring and sea‐ loving spirit, will pass away and leave no room for those contests and happy rivalries which have contributed so much to British character and enterprise. Many, it is believed, would feel that it would be an unworthy thing if the men of famous West England should allow this Club to haul down its flag.” This was the most serious financial crisis in the Club’s history, but as on other such occasions, the members came to the rescue and the situation was restored.

1918 to 1945

By 1921 confidence in the future was sufficient for the Club to buy the freehold of the premises from the daughter of the original owner for £2,100. Membership rose to 100 by 1923, but in the next ten years it declined steadily until in 1933 it was down to 75. The membership graph shows a pattern of rise and fall as a regular feature of the Club’s history and this pattern is almost certainly due both to the way in which the dramatic social changes of the last 70 years have affected the yachting scene and to the speed with which the Club has reacted to meet the new conditions. It is interesting to note that since 1918 the periods of rising membership have progressively lengthened and the periods of decline have shortened as the Club has learned to react more quickly to changing circumstances.

Although the society which gave rise to the leisurely living to which the Club was accustomed came to an end in 1914, it was quite a long time after the end of World War I before it was realized that the social pattern had changed permanently. Policy and thinking were still dominated by the desire to meet the requirements of the large racing yachts which came every year to Dartmouth for the Regatta and these had changed very little. The Club never had a representative in the J Class, but in the thirties Flica and Trivia, owned and sailed by Club members Hugh Goodson and Vernon McAndrew respectively, were both outstanding in the 12 metre class. For such yachts the racing season started in Harwich in May; they worked their way round the coast from regatta to regatta in an unchanging sequence until the end of August when they arrived at Dartmouth for the last regatta of the year. This pattern of yacht racing remained until 1939. Its culmination was reached in the Coronation Regatta of 1937 which, like the first visit of the Tall Ships in 1956, provided a spectacle which will not be seen again. In this Regatta there were 313 entries in 17 Classes, among which were seven yachts of over 100 tons.

The Impact of Dinghy Sailing

Like many clubs on or near the sea, the Royal Dart was not very interested in dinghy sailing as a serious form of racing. However, the Dart One Design Dinghy had been designed by Morgan Giles in the late1920’s. It was 12 feet long, gunter rigged with a simple sail of 100 square feet and it would lie comfortably to a mooring. A considerable fleet had been established at the Royal Naval College and several dinghies were owned by members of the Royal Dart. A serious defect in the Club Rules now became apparent. Because ladies and children were not allowed to become members, they could not take part in any races for single handed dinghies sailed under the rules of the Yacht Racing Association, one of which said that there must be a member of a recognised Yacht Club on board. To meet this difficulty, the dinghy owners formed their own Club called the Dart One Design Dinghy Club with the intention of applying to the Y.R.A. for recognition in order to be able to take part in local regattas.

Vernon McAndrew and Lloyd Prichard

The happy outcome of this upheaval in the Club’s affairs was largely due to the influence of two men whose activities and enthusiasm were to make a lasting contribution to the Club’s future. Their names were Vernon McAndrew and Lloyd Prichard.
Lloyd Prichard came to the College as a master in 1929. He had represented Oxford at sailing and was a fine helmsman and a thinker about sailing techniques and administration. He acquired a D.O.D. and organised and administered the D.O.D. Club so that its activities conformed in every way to those of a properly run Yacht Club and could if necessary meet the requirements of Y.R.A. recognition. The subscription was 2/6d. per year (12p in modern money). Lloyd joined the Club in 1936 and in due course became a Flag Officer and ultimately, Commodore. After the Second World War, when the yacht racing pattern was rapidly changing, the Club was very lucky to have someone in authority who understood what was taking place and was able to take charge of the necessary administration and do the detailed work. His work was of lasting benefit to the Regatta and Sailing Committees.

Senior to Lloyd Prichard and considerably older was a wealthy Scotsman, Vernon McAndrew, who lived at Ravensbury in Dartmouth. He was a successful helmsman in the 12 metre Class and his yacht TRIVIA was the outstanding boat of the1938 Season. He also owned a succession of motor yachts which served as tenders to his racing yacht and as personal accommodation during the racing season. He was elected Rear Commodore in 1936. His outstanding contribution to the Club was that he used his wealth to help and encourage the young. He was very keen that children who showed an interest in sailing should be encouraged even if they had no boats, and to this end he kept several D.O.D.’s which he lent to such people. He was the prime mover in founding the Class at the Club in its early days and when it was established, he and Lloyd Prichard together enormously improved the standard of sailing in the river and engendered an enthusiasm which was not seen again until the hey-day of the R.D.O.D. Class.

Not only did Vernon McAndrew provide the boats, but during the regatta season he used to tow the entire D.O.D. fleet of 12 or 13 boats to Torbay, Babbacombe or Salcombe astern of his motor yacht to take part in the regattas and to return home to Dartmouth after the races. He and Lloyd created a special towing system under which only the last boat on the tow had to be steered and everyone else could travel in comfort on the yacht.

The last of McAndrew’s yachts was Campeador V which was launched in 1939, six months before the outbreak of the Second World War. Immediately war was declared, Campeador was offered to the Admiralty for patrol work with three members of the Royal Dart volunteering as officers. Their names were Vernon McAndrew, John Muir and Charles Turner, and in due course they were appointed Sub-lieutenants RNVR to serve in Campeador which was commanded by Commander Davey, late of the Royal Navy. All these four were over military age, the youngest being 58 and the oldest 64. Throughout the harsh winter of 1939/40 and despite the fact that Campeador was not designed for winter conditions, they kept up their patrol with exemplary regularity and earned the admiration and respect of the rest of the flotilla. At 9 o’clock on the morning of June 22nd,

1940, tragedy struck. Campeador detonated a magnetic mine and disappeared in less than a minute. Only the engineer officer and one other member of the crew were saved; the others, including the Club’s three members, were killed instantly.

After 1945

By the end of World War II the great yachts had gone, together with the money which sustained them, and gradually an amateur classless sport of infinite variety took their place. On the sea, off-shore yachts took over from the racing machines of former years and in the dinghy world a wide variety of national and international class championships grew up. Participation in these became the ultimate goal of an ever increasing number of young helmsmen.
Immediately after the war, the Club together with the Teign Corinthian Yacht Club realized that some stimulus was required to revive small boat racing. A new Class designed by Morgan Giles was formed and several boats were built and raced with enthusiasm both in the Dart and the Teign. The new boats were 161/2feet long and were designed to lie at moorings; in the Dart the Class was called the Royal Dart One Design Dinghy Class and a Class Association and later the R.D.O.D. Owners Club was formed to administer it. It has stood the test of time and was still in being 35 years later.
The membership graph tells the story of this decade. Between 1944 and 1948, the year the Olympic Sailing Regatta was held in Torbay, with new people arriving in the district and the start of a new small boat class, membership rose from 160 to 298. Then the familiar pattern of decline started again and by 1953 membership was down to 280. However, this time the downward trend was noted in good time and was first of all halted and then sharply reversed by a series of progressive decisions which were taken in the late fifties.
Firstly, it was realized that the steps at the Club wall which were barely adequate when paid hands or the Club boatman ferried members and visitors to and from their yachts, were totally inadequate for a “do it yourself” society. After a 4 year struggle with the Planning Authority, the Club was able to build the causeway with two sets of steps in 1954 and, later in the sixties, racks for tenders and finally the pontoons were added. The number and size of moorings were also progressively increased. These vastly improved amenities made the Club much more attractive to the owners both of yachts and of larger dinghies, such as the R.D.O.D. Class, which could lie at moorings. Secondly the R.D.O.D. class was revivified. Most of the original R.D.O.D. owners were middle-aged or older and in due course they had gradually ceased to race regularly. Without the stimulus and inspiration of a McAndrew, the DOD class had also become a shadow of its former self and for a time racing at the Club almost died. The position was reversed by the drive of Bryan Wordsworth and Brian Simpson in the R.D.O.D. class and their leadership became the focal point for a revival of racing enthusiasm.
Thirdly the Club started to come to terms with the fact that the type of dinghy which would please and attract the young could not lie at moorings, but required parking space ashore. Although this had become apparent in 1932 when the International 14ft. Class first visited Dartmouth, no steps had been taken to cope with the development. The result was that when the enormous increase in dinghy racing took place after the war, the Club totally missed the bus. The new breed of young and enthusiastic dinghy sailors simply had to go elsewhere, because there was no dinghy park at the Club.
Agitation therefore started in the early 50’s to transform the Club garden in to a dinghy park a suggestion which was received with horror by many older members. However, the hard facts were that the garden was the only space at the Club for shore-based dinghies and without such space there was no chance of attracting the youth and enthusiasm which was urgently needed. It took 14 years from the first suggestion to widen the gate to the total paving of the terrace in 1964. Later pontoons for dinghies and yacht tenders were anchored in the river close to the Club, thus both increasing parking space and improving greatly low‐water access for all boats.
Finally, in 1959, after many unsuccessful attempts to alter it, the rule restricting the movements of lady members in the Club House was finally rescinded, thereby removing a longstanding grievance.

Junior Sailing Week

Although the number of children in the district who might be interested in sailing multiplied greatly in the summer holidays the Club had until 1959 taken no special notice of the fact. Then the memory of what Vernon McAndrew had achieved in the 30’s was revived and adapted to reflect the social and economic circumstances obtaining 30 years later. The idea was to establish a Junior Sailing Week and to invite children who were Junior or Cadet members of any of the Sailing Clubs or organisations on the river to meet daily for a week, for five hours a day, to learn to sail or improve their sailing. There was nothing new about this, but what gave the occasion a rather special atmosphere was the deliberate policy of not making the instruction too formal and the insistence that enjoyment was as important as learning.
The kindness of Hugh Goodson, the Club’s President at the time, allowed the organisers to use Waddeton beach for the venue which gave access to Dittisham Pool, a magnificent stretch of sheltered water which is ideal for teaching children to sail.

The idea proved an immediate success. Starting with six children in the first year, numbers rose steadily year by year until it was decided that 80 must be the limit. Somehow, each year an army of volunteer instructors and a fleet of boats is assembled. Many trophies have been donated and competition is always keen, but it has never been allowed to overshadow the original conception which remains unchanged after nearly 25 years. It is interesting that the Junior Sailing Week should be so successful in spite of, or perhaps because of, a total lack of amenities. Apart from a slipway and some magnificent water, there were and are none, no clubhouse, no changing room or lavatory, nowhere except the trees to shelter when it rains, nothing except enthusiasm. Ross LLewellyn started Junior Sailing Week in 1959 and ran it for the next 14 years; his friendly and enthusiastic leadership was the main reason for its remarkable success. The torch was carried on with equal enthusiasm and inspiration firstly by Aubrey Denton from 1974 to 1980 and then from 1981 until the present day* by Colin Harris. *written in 1983

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