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Home / The Club / Club History - the first 100 years

Club History - the first 100 years


One traditionally held version of the formation of the Club is that on a November night in 1909 four young men were standing on the starboard paddle box of the Duchess of Montrose heading for Wemyss Bay from Rothesay where they had been storing gear from their laid-up boats. They felt it was a pity that they would see so little of each other during the winter since one of the great pleasures of cruising was to get to an anchorage, find other yachts and go aboard for a yarn. They agreed that none of the established Yacht Clubs catered solely for the cruising man and that such a Club would be an asset to the sailing fraternity. They also felt that there should be a Yacht Club in the city where they could meet and swap tales as in any anchorage.

However, George Blake in his 1956 History of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club states that:
"The beginnings of the CCC were of the most informal and almost casual kind; and the tradition rather than documentary evidence supplies its first chapter. The birthplace of the Club is, however, well enough known in the small Rothesay hotel officially and formally called the Argyll Arms, but more familiarly know to its habituees as The Gluepot, a scene (in days before the licensing laws exercised their restraining influence) of goings on that could with moderation to be termed lively. Some six men meeting in The Gluepot were responsible for bringing the Club into existence."

The Club was born and its birth was recorded in the yachting press among the reports of 23 metre and smaller 15 and 12 meter racing, with the headlines being made by the clashes between White Heather and Shamrock in the run up to another Lipton challenge for the America's Cup. However, the CCC was not to be for this size of vessel but was to be restricted to boats of under 10 tons TM and devoted entirely to cruising. Another reason given for the formation of the yacht club was that the Clyde Yacht Club Conference at the time (now Clyde Yacht Club's Association) would not provide handicap racing for small boats. It was reported that there would be a two-week cruise north, the Tobermory Cruise and that members, who would be restricted to thirty, would have to join at least three weekend cruises. The rules clearly evolved less strictly during the Committee meetings which followed every few weeks in order to set up the administration and format of the Club. These cruises were in fact cruiser races and the forerunners of the Clubs full programme of such events. The club applied to join the Yacht Racing Association (now Royal Yachting Association) but acceptance was not forthcoming.

The other major decisions of this period were to have a membership book and to have a year book in which the "doings of the Club could be registered". Finally it was agreed to hold a smoker to gain publicity and spread the news about the Club. This event was held in Sloan's Arcade Cafe on 28 January 1910 and over 230 members and friends gathered under the Chairmanship of the Vice-Commodore supported by Mr Lewart of the Royal Ulster Yacht Club and Mr E F Paterson (Secretary RUYC) to hear a concert given by the variety artists of the day including Tommy Morgan. The Club anthem was also performed for the first time.

But the first really important development of the Club was the appearance early in 1911 of the Journal. It was important not only because it recorded the activities of the Club but because it fulfilled one of the prime objectives of the founders "to help the cruiser to a greater knowledge concerning the vital things in the cruising ground". This it did by the inclusion of a set of Sailing Directions and Anchorages for the Clyde and by "inviting" all members to write and give accounts of all anchorages visited. It must however be acknowledged that the editor of the first SD's was indebted to The Yachting and Motor World Magazine for allowing access to information. The first editor was Murray Blair assisted by Charlie Cairns and his Sailing Directions were included in all four pre-first World War Journals, each year covering a new area of the West Coast. The Clyde appeared in the 1910 Journal with the Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan in 1911, Ardnamurchan to Portree in 1912 and the western side of Skye and Mull and Inner Isles in the 1913. Starting in the 1911 edition sketches were included drawn by Murray Blair and these same sketches were used right up to the late 1970's when a new sectionalised format with updated plans was adopted superseding the old "blue book".

In fact after the first edition of the combined Sailing Directions was published in 1922 the Club handed the publishing of it to Gilmour and Lawrence. The Honorary Editor Ralph Mowat in preparing the last edition of the "Blue Book" for publication in 1969 had spent over 1000 hours of voluntary time doing that one edition. It was as a result of this that the decision was made to break up the Sailing Directions into sections and adopt a new format. The opportunity was also taken for the club to once again take on the publishing of them. The club has been extremely fortunate in its Honorary Editors of the Sailing Directions. Murray Blair held the post up to his death in 1928 by which time he had completed the 2nd Edition now including the Mainland Coast from Kyle Akin to Loch Eriboll and the East Side of the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda.

In 1947, Ralph Mowat assisted in part by Harold Brown took on the task for the next quarter of a century which he also combined for many of these years as Honorary Editor of the Journal. His tremendous efforts were recognised when at the Club Prize Giving in December 1973 Sir Hugh Forbes, Chairman of the Royal Yachting Association presented him with the RYA Award for services.

The first Journal included five logs of boats varying in size from Acorn at 17 feet which went to Ireland to Pansy of 10 tons which went north to Gairloch. The Journal also printed the Club Song and of course the often reprinted article by Neil Munro of Para Handy's impression of yachts. Successive Journals have continued to record the cruises of members who with very small boats cover enormous distances.

The war also of course stopped all sailing but the Club's activities continued as best as possible.

A major casualty of the war had been the Journal and as soon as the war was over the Club swung straight back into pre-war format for the 1920 season. At Rothesay the room was taken, moorings laid and the waterman re-engaged. The Journal did not reappear until 1926 when it was issued as little more than a broadsheet similar to today's Tidelines.

Activities in the early Twenties followed the same pattern for several years though it is interesting to note that the racing programme in 1921 was decimated because of train travel difficulties - a far cry from jumping into the car and driving to the marina.

The Club continued to grow and many of the new members were women which of course was a very new idea at the time.

Changes took place at the top when the first Commodore T.C.Glen Coats retired in 1923 and Sir Thomas Dunlop took over. Then in 1925 a significant event took place on the racing scene when the Royal Ulster Yacht Club and Royal Northern Ireland Yacht Club invited the Clyde Cruising Club to a special race in their Cultra Regatta on 9 August. Thus with nine starters but only one finisher due to bad weather the Cultra race was born and the Club had ventured out of the Clyde in a race for the first time.

A return race was sailed to Rothesay the next year and thereafter the race continued to be sailed in alternate years in each direction with only the odd cancellation due to lack of entries.

Also in the early Thirties, having had the appetite for long distance races whetted by the North Channel races the Club finally took the plunge and went Ocean Racing. On 15 June 1933 the first race started for the Blue Water Trophy presented by W. McKechnie for a race of not less than 150 miles. The Course was from Rothesay round the South Rock light vessel and back to Rothesay. This seemed an unusual diversion for a Club set up for and dedicated to cruising but it is worth recording one paragraph of the notice announcing the race which reflects the attitude of the day.

"Successful Ocean Racing puts a premium on a sound well-found craft which can if necessary keep the sea in bad weather, good navigation, careful detail, organisation and a crew who combine first class seamanship with teamwork and "guts". As a club whose primary object is the encouragement of cruising these are qualifies we wish to develop".

While racing had received a boost in the late Twenties and early Thirties so did cruising and the family aspect of the Club. The cruising side the Club received a most generous gift in 1925 of Rosemary a 30 ft 10T auxiliary sloop which was given by Mr Arthur Ramage. The donation of the boat was a fine gesture and many a young man was to get his first taste of sailing aboard her.

A suggestion in Committee in 1930 that the Club provide races for Motor Boats resulted in agreement that this would be "treading on the toes" of the Motor Boat Clubs. However, Robert Gibson the Honorary Secretary of the Royal Scottish Motor Yacht Club presented the Club with a cruising Trophy the Gibson Cup.

The family aspect of the Club received attention in the Twenties possibly because there was a realisation that the hitherto male only aspect of sailing could not be maintained forever. In 1926 the two races for Cadets and Ladies had been added and these became regular events. A Cadet Section with its own Committee and functions including a dance was eventually created in 1927. Following on this success the racing Secretary next year proposed that the Club should invest in some 14 ft centreboard dinghies to put on a loch near Glasgow.

As with the First War one must wonder where the Club may have gone had the Second War not interrupted proceedings and it is fascinating with hindsight to contemplate the matters being discussed by Committee during 1939. The Royal Warrant was again being pursued and a new Constitution giving a rotation of Committee members and limiting the length of service of Flag Officers had been approved. Other forerunners of things to come included the use of identifying numbers for yachts racing and a proposition that for the Tobermory Race the larger boats should go round the Mull. Finally that year on 2 September seventeen boats sailed an unofficial race from Fairlie round Ailsa Craig.

But suddenly it all stopped again as sailing became impossible and the Club was mothballed under the watchful eye of John Dobie as acting Secretary. At least it was almost mothballed because in this war one area of the Club's activities kept going despite all odds. Bardowie not only provided sailing during this period but also helped the war effort by providing training facilities for the Navy and Reserves. Elsewhere the Club did its best to hold together. The Club war effort was a worthy one and of its 750 members 250 served with the forces and twenty of those lost their lives.

During the Fifties and early Sixties the Club's activities suffered no great change and though there were over 800 members everyone tended to know each other. Yachts were always wooden with wooden spars and cotton sails and were easily recognisable as large classes of one design were not known. There was a reassuring constancy. John McKean was Commodore from 1952 till 1962, and John Dobie, who had taken over as temporary secretary in 1939 remained in that post until just before his death in 1964.

As boats became more numerous so it became necessary for identification numbers to be introduced to help the race committee. These were not on the sail but had to be displayed at or near deck level on finishing a race. This system first came into operation in the 1963 season. Soon the CYCA saw its value and eventually all Clyde boats were issued with a sail number suffixed with the letter C. Ironically the Cruising Club had given something of great value to the racing scene. After initiating the C sail number the Club handed it over to the CYCA to administer.

To fill a gap between the fifth and sixth editions of the Sailing Directions an entirely new aid to navigation was introduced in 1949 in the form of 40 easy to read Sketch Charts of the West Coast and Clyde to be read in conjunction with the Sailing Directions and for these the club is enormously indebted to Ralph Mowat. The whole idea for the Sketch Charts was that of Ralph Mowat, who claimed that it came to him at 14:30 on Wednesday 6 August 1947 in the Dorus Mhor while trying to locate the rock just to his west amid a plethora of soundings on the Admiralty Chart. He felt that the Admiralty Chart as well as being unwieldy in a small boat gave a mass of unnecessary information for the small boat owner. While charts showed where one could go the Sketch Charts would show more where one couldn't go. The job of drafting and rescaling the Charts was enormous and was undertaken single handed by Ralph Mowat to whom the Club owes a great debt of gratitude.

The Jubilee came in 1960 and the Club celebrated with a special Regatta in Rothesay on 11 June. Though spirits were high the members who joined in did not need the commemorative plaque to remember the event as the weather saw to that. On the Saturday, starts were made at Rothesay, Fairlie and Gourock with the Gourock boats having by far the hardest work to reach Rothesay in a strong south westerly. By the Sunday the wind was so strong that a sail past had to be cancelled.

The 1960's changed sailing dramatically and the Club followed this change. At the Jubilee Regatta in 1960 the smart boats had metal masts; Terylene sails were the latest status symbol. A boat's tender was a wooden dinghy carried on deck for racing and the boats were always kept on a mooring. By 1970 almost all boats had metal spars and Terylene for sails and running rigging. The wooden dinghy had given way to the rubber boat stowed away when racing with a liferaft relied upon for safety (the first Blue Water did not allow collapsible dinghies) and people were thinking of leaving their boats in the Marina.

By the time the Sixties went out the name of the Club had been carried into the homes of millions by the BBC TV film of the Tobermory Race of 1968. This event drew thousands of visitors to the Canal area and had drawn over a hundred entries to the race itself making marshalling the Canal a necessity. From its humble beginning in 1932 the race was now the biggest event in the Club's calendar.

If the Sixties saw a vast change in the type of boats being sailed the Seventies and Eighties saw a phenomenal increase in the activities and sophistication of the Club. The Sixties had ended with the Club at least acknowledging that full-time assistance was necessary to arrange its affairs. The Blue Water Trophy had been re-instituted but apart from it the 1970 Journal only recorded the usual Opening and Closing Musters, North Channel, Tobermory, Ailsa Craig, Bute and Tarbert Races with of course the Ladies and Cadets Races. By 1980 the Journal recorded these plus the Isle of Man, Rothesay-Crinan, Armadale and separate Cadets Races as well as one other additional major function.

What had happened was simply that sailing had taken off and the Cruising Club had stepped in with the initiative and organisational power to offer the best in passage and offshore racing. Of course a price was paid for this and from the easy-going days of previous years the Club grew enormously in sophistication with Committees springing up everywhere and its administration becoming much more formal. The Club moved aboard S.V.Carrick in 1973.

The move to Carrick gave the Club a permanent office for the first time or so it seemed until 1977 when the Carrick sank taking with her the entire Club's records. But the Club could not be sunk and after a spell crammed into the Secretary's office the administration returned to Carrick following her reinstatement in 1978. The same was to happen in 1989 when the office was moved ashore permanently.

The publication side was formed into a Limited Company in 1982 to deal with problems associated with potential liabilities and the introduction of VAT and many publications joined the Sailing Directions on the shelves.

However the Club was about sailing and as already noted the organised sailing events in the form of racing expanded as never before in the Seventies. The first event of note was the Blue Water Trophy race of 1972. Since the reinstatement of the race in 1966 it had been sailed over its traditional courses in the Irish Sea. In 1970 it had broken with tradition becoming the first Club race to be neither started nor finished on the West Coast. However the break in 1972 was far more dramatic when the Club left the British Isles for the first time and sailed the race from Inverness to Bergen to join in the Bergen Yacht Club's centenary celebrations. The race was an open event and attracted boats from as far as Ireland and Bermuda as well as of course Scotland. After passing through the Caledonian Canal, itself celebrating a 150th anniversary, thirty five boats started from Inverness at 15:00 on Monday 24 July divided not only into the normal Cruising Club classes but also into IOR Divisions which had been adopted for offshore races by the Club for the first time that year. As so often before when the Club had a new venture the weather played a major part and few participants will ever forget the force 8 to 9 conditions in the middle of the North Sea which left three boats dismasted and many others with tales to tell.

But perhaps it was fitting that the weather was so strong since it seems that every time the Club did try a new venture the wind always seemed to test the stamina of the Club. Consider the Holy Isle race of 1912, the first Cultra race of 1925 and the Jubilee Muster of 1960 - and the 75th Anniversary Cruise in Company described below.

The race was however a resounding success and although the trophy was sailed for over the more familiar course of Bangor to Rothesay the following year it again went foreign in 1974 but this time to the sunnier climate of Brittany. The race was started from Dun Laoghaire after a feeder from Rothesay and on this occasion the weather was kinder. Return visits were made in 1977, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1992, 2001 and 2008 and in between the course varied between home waters and Ireland where the Club joined the Irish Cruising Club's Jubilee at Cork in 1979 and Cruise in Company in 1990 and 1996.

In the year after the first overseas race in 1973 a new race was to Armadale in Skye. Although no one could predict it at the time it spawned the biggest sailing event the Club had ever known. The race, an experiment to get boats further north after the Tobermory Race, was repeated in 1974. In 1975 it became part of the Comet Wheel series.

In this, feeder races were held from Bangor, Dun Loaghaire and Rothesay to Crinan to ease pressure on the Canal during the Tobermory Race, and this was followed by the Crinan to Tobermory Race, three round the buoy races at Tobermory and finally the Armadale race all sailed under IOR Regulations. This series had been sponsored by Tomatin Distillers and the next year, 1976, the series of races, still following the same format as in 1975 was renamed the Tomatin Trophy Series. The rest is history and well-known to all yachtsmen. The series was moved from its original centre of Tobermory in 1977 and consisted of feeder races from Gourock and Bangor to Campbeltown followed by a race to Tarbert. Eventually in 1982 the race to Campbeltown was dropped and the series centred on Tarbert after feeder races from Gourock and Bangor. By 1983 it could claim to be the biggest British regatta outside Cowes Week. After ten years sponsorship by Tomatin Distillers the series was kept going in 1985 by the Highlands and Islands development Board and Boyd Tunnock of Thomas Tunnock Ltd., along with a number of smaller sponsors. McEwans completed a five year sponsorship before handing on to Rover Cars with the new millennium coming in with the Bell Lawrie Scottish Series - now the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Series.

But the Club was a Cruising Club and not all of the activities were for the racing fraternity. Cruising musters became regular features becoming family affairs with the youngsters joining in all sorts of activities.

The cruising man and woman wanted to be away from the crowd and logs recorded in the Journal showed how the Club's burgee went further and further afield as time went on. Many more members that actually wrote logs did of course venture abroad but it was not until August 1972 - September 1976 that the Burgee finally circumnavigated the world on John and Helen Anderson's Halcyon 27 Kyon. Their logs appeared in four successive Journals alongside the usual accounts of the first trips to Tobermory and for their magnificent effort they were deservedly awarded the Ferrier Seamanship Trophy and Honorary Membership of the Club.

Having helped the Irish Cruising Club celebrate their 50th Anniversary at the Cruise in Company in South-west Ireland in 1979 along with the Royal Cruising Cub and the Cruising Club of America some of the members repeated this in 1982 when the CCA held similar celebrations in Maine for their 60th. 1985 was the 75th anniversary season of the Club so all were invited to Cruise in Company on the west coast of Scotland.

The Cruise attracted 200 yachts, about half of them from the CCC but with substantial contingents from the sister cruising clubs - the Royal Cruising Club, Irish Cruising Club and the Cruising Club of America - and smaller numbers from the Great Lakes Cruising Club, Manchester (Massachusetts) Yacht Club, Royal Highland Yacht Club and Swedish Cruising Association. As the first part of the cruise was combined with the second leg of the Club's annual Tobermory Race, almost 300 yachts set off from Crinan after the first Cruise event - a welcome dinner in the main shed of Crinan Boatyard, transformed for the occasion.

Almost immediately the fleet reached Tobermory, the weather deteriorated and more or less stayed that way for the rest of the Cruise - with one exception of which more in a moment. Strong winds rather hampered the efforts of Raft Master Past Commodore John Mill to assemble a world record Sunflower Raft in Loch Drumbuy but late in the evening the circle was closed with 193 boats present and the record was secured.

The next major Cruise event was a beach barbecue on Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides five days later but strong winds continued throughout and many boats were not able to make the crossing of the Minch. Those who did make it felt a real sense of achievement and they were rewarded by the one glorious day of the Cruise as steaks were barbecued, wine was shared, haggis were hurled and a great time was had by all (as far as we can remember).

The final cruise dinner at Loch Melfort could have been an anti-climax but the occasion was excellently managed as usual and rounded off with a massive thunderstorm at midnight. By that time, many members who had their horizons stretched by the cruise and the company were planning ahead for special cruises or events which they would undertake on their own, with other CCC members or with new friends from other clubs and other countries. Further cruises in company were certainly on the agenda.

The later part of the 1980s saw major developments at Bardowie. The Clyde Cruising Club Seamanship and Pilotage Trust had been established in 1984 in advance of the 75th Anniversary celebrations. A trailer with six Optimist dinghies was bought for training use all over Scotland and during the Cruise in company they were taken as far as Barra and Vatersay. The Optimist Flotilla at the Dinghy Section has trained hundreds of young people with a few progressing to National Squad level. The first Optimist National Championships to be held in Scotland was run by the Club and the winner was Ben Ainslie who is now Britain's most successful sailing Olympian. The best Scottish girl was Emma Richards who is now well known for her oceanic exploits.

Sailing for the disabled has also become an important part of the Dinghy Section's activities with a large fleet of Challenger trimarans providing competitive racing and sociable sailing for disabled sailors. The Club has run the Challenger National Championships on several occasions. The increasing number of boats at Bardowie put pressure on the existing facilities and in 1999 the Club started raising funds to build a new clubhouse. With assistance from sportScotland, the generosity of club members brought the appeal to a successful conclusion and the new clubhouse was opened for the 2004 season.

In 1993, the Club teamed up with Classic Malts to promote an annual cruise in company linking the three Classic Malts distilleries on the West Coast at Oban, Talisker on Skye and Lagavulin on Islay. The first few years were relatively low key but the event sowed the seed for a special cruise following the format of 1985 to celebrate the Millennium in 2000. Once again almost 200 yachts from the CCC and the other major cruising clubs came together for two weeks of major events, all generously supported by Classic Malts. The Millennium Cruise started at Craobh Haven and after the Tobermory Race went on to Talisker in Loch Harport. The 2000 version failed to beat the world record set by the Club in 1985 which still stands but the weather was considerably better throughout and natives and visitors alike saw Scotland at its best.

The final event of the cruise was a dinner for over 500 people in the boatshed at Oban Marina on Kerrera although a number of yachts continued south to the smaller anchorage at Lagavulin to complete the Classic Malts set. The huge interest in the cruise from overseas encouraged sponsors Diageo to develop the event but the Club did not feel it could commit its members to the huge effort of organisation which would be required every year. Diageo established a partnership with World Cruising to run future cruises so that the Club was no longer directly involved although Classic Malts through their Talisker brand continued to support the Club at Scottish Series and elsewhere.

Over the last 20 years, CCC members have cruised and raced further afield: club boats have won their classes at Cowes Week and Cork Week and members have raced in the Fastnet and Sydney-Hobart Races, numerous ARC races across the Atlantic, OSTAR and Round the World Races. Yet despite these exploits, members' enthusiasm for longer distance racing at home seems to have waned. The overnight feeder race to the Scottish Series was dropped in 2005 and fewer members are turning out for fewer overnight races.

Cruising members have been just as adventurous with many completing round the world voyages while others have cruised long term in all parts of Europe and beyond. Stories of these cruises have appeared in the Journal in such profusion that the traditional West Coast cruise almost seems to have disappeared and yet it remains the mainstay of members' cruising activities. Celebratory cruises in company continued in County Cork in 2004 to mark the 75th anniversary of the ICC and over 20 CCC boats took part.

The Club has continued at the forefront of technology, building on the experience of over 20 years of computer results at the Scottish Series with development of the Club's website. This first appeared in 1999 and has been revamped several times since. Racing results are now online within an hour or two of boats finishing and amendments to the sailing directions are now published on the website as soon as they have been reported and checked instead of being printed and posted out only once a year.

The Club, now in its second century, continues to develop its cruising, racing, social and training programmes on the Clyde and West Coast, at Bardowie and further afield. We are sure that the founders of the Club would approve the progress the Club has made - certainly "fostering the social side of sailing" is still well to the fore.

The Club Centenary occured in November 2009, the Centenary Dinner was held in the Grand Central Hotel and many Clubs with connections to CCC were invited to dine and all the surviving Commodores and Flag officers with one or two exception enjoyed a wonderful night of Celebration of the first 100 years

In October 2012 at the AGM, it as annonced that the Club would become incorporated and that Clyde Cruising Club Limited would come into being and that members would become shareholders with a £1 stake. All this was done for reasons of administration and to protect Flag Officers, (who are in effect Board Members and Trustees of the Club) from litigation .

This has all been achieved painlessly and in great spirit by the Flag Officers and others. In no way does it remove any of the Clubs Aims and Objectives as laid down in the constitution

As we start each new Season,, we look forward to super times on and off the water. Come and join in!

Last updated 00:09 on 14 March 2024

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