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.
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.
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.
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