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The Dinghy Era

(as described by Graham Hemington in March 2000)

Graham first became involved at Hoo in 1964, having discovered the sailing going on there almost by chance. At that time it was still called the Marina Yacht Club and the clubhouse looked much like it does in the picture over the fireplace except that there was by now a veranda built-on to the front. Sailing barges undergoing repair or conversion were tied up against an old timber unloading dock on the foreshore to the west of the Club and old concrete lighters forming an artificial harbour were in place in front of the clubhouse. This contained various boats including Bill Finch's Motor Torpedo Gun Boat (in artificial harbour or alongside timber jetty?).

He recalls that the surrounding land was very open, with few fences or other barriers to break up the landscape, and was generally derelict and covered with rubbish. The club grounds themselves were more or less as they had been left after the earlier clay digging and brick-making operations. There was no evidence of any sea defences being in place and no land reclamation had been carried out.

A feature of the late 1960s at Hoo was the great number of collectors digging in the old rubbish tips for old bottles, clay pipes and similar artefacts.

There were very few cruisers at the Club at that time and the sailing was mainly dinghy orientated. This was reflected in the Club's organisation at the time which included both a Rear Commodore Dinghies and a Rear Commodore Cruisers.

Graham met a lad at Hoo called Graham Moore. His father had built a Mirror dinghy and Graham got involved in sailing it. After crewing for various members in Mirrors and Enterprises over the next few years he bought his first boat, a Mirror dinghy, in 1967. This was a Mirror dinghy, factory-built by Bell Woodworking Ltd, and was called Lucy Belle.

The Mirror fleet grew to over sixty boats and became National Mirror Fleet Number 3. This together with fleets of other class and general handicap dinghies brought the total of sailing dinghies at Hoo to well over a hundred. (Highest total thought to be 132).

Graham's Mirror was followed by a succession of other dinghies. The next was a Bonito (Aquilla) followed by a Mark II Bonito called Kent. This name was apparently an abbreviated form of Keen Energetic NutTer. Graham had great success in this boat and won both the National Championships and the European Championships which were held in Zurich in 1971. Then came the Toy dinghies. The name was apparently an abbreviation of Tony's Own Yacht. The Tony in question was Tony Allen, later to be linked with Jack Holt in the Holt-Allen organisation.

Sailors from Hoo had great success in Toys. Nick Croome was National Champion in the early 70's and Spencer Pope followed suit in 1975. Graham Hemington then took up the challenge and was European Champion in Holland in 1979.

Graham's first Toy was Ubu (meaning not established). This was followed by a Fireball (Black Tulip) and then another Toy (named Crow, but known as Ubu 2 for equally unexplained reasons). His final Toy was built to order and was, not surprisingly, called Ubu 3. This was finally sold in about 1986 as Graham had moved into cruiser racers the previous year when he acquired a Sonata called Sunrise.

Between 1980 and 1983 Graham raced Micro 18's and helmed Fox Terrier(?) by invitation for the Marina. Graham still has Sunrise at the time of writing.

In 1967/68 the dinghy fleet numbers were approximately as follows:-

  • Mirrors - about 60
  • Enterprises - about 40
  • Fireballs - about 8 (Some of the Fireballs were built by club members at night school.)
  • General handicap fleet ?

As with many other dinghy sailing clubs there were attempts to limit the number of different types of dinghies entering the club to recognised classes but this was defeated.

There were problems with accommodating this great number of boats. The Mirrors were kept on the hill (where the ground was later excavated to form a car park (and later boat park!) adjacent the approach road to the Club. The Fireballs were kept between the water's edge and the footpath and the Enterprises were to the west of the Fireballs. They eventually spread either side of the slipway.

In 1964 there was plenty of mud, but there was also a good shingle beach in the corner of the club grounds where the reclaimed eastern dinghy park now stands. There was also a sewer pipe which discharged into the artificial harbour and stank most horribly. (It is assumed that this problem was resolved when the pumped mains drainage was installed by Walter Brice in ..........).

The first slipway was in the same position as the present wide one. This was steep and stayed in use until the new wide slipway was built in the same position under Frank Burgess's leadership. There was also about 20 feet of the slipway which now runs past Bower's Quay to the scrubbing docks and the Orinoco. This slipway was progressively extended until eventually it reached the Orinoco and provided the maximum possible access to the river. There is a date carved in the concrete at the landward end (1987? - check).

Some club members had caravans and parked these in what is now the Hoo Marina boat park. They would train and taxi down to the club and use the caravans as holiday homes in conjunction with their dinghy sailing activities.

This activity gradually petered out as the cruisers came along with their own accommodation.

Clubhouse

In 1964 the clubhouse looked much the same as it does in the picture over the fireplace except that a veranda had been added at the front. In the ensuing years the clubhouse was progressively extended and modified. The veranda was roofed-in in the late 60's (1968? - check). The new area accommodated the first club galley on the west side and a sports room/snug on the east side.

Graham remembers unpacking and assembling the first Club cooker which came in kit-form. The front door was where the present escape door and window are located in the centre of the front, or river, elevation.

The bar served both the yacht club and the adjoining social club which had been built after the original HNYC clubhouse building. This carried on until they were divided at the insistence of the licensing authorities. The bar stores were in the social club. Club AGM's were held in the adjoining social club because it had more room to accommodate the yacht club membership of about 400 people.

The toilets, originally either side of the bar, were moved into an extension which was erected on the west side. This consisted of an old prefab and was erected under the auspices of Ron Harrison in 1972. The acquisition of the prefab was organised by Dick Swinchat and on the day it arrived there was nobody there to help unload it! The number of WCs to be provided in the gent's toilets became an emotive issue that divided the club! There is still only one WC, in April 2000! Following the toilet re-location there was room for the bar stores to the east of the bar and the area to the west became the Wet Bar area.

The galley extension was built in ---------?

In 1999 the galley and men's toilets and changing room area was modified and re-arranged to provide a multi-function room and an improved galley. This work was carried out under the control of Christopher Stephens.

John Edwards

When Graham was first at Hoo there was a Marina representative on the Club committee. John Edwards held this position for many years around the time that Reg Taylor was commodore. Graham remembers him as a real gentleman whose passing (in 1985 - ask Stan Yeates) was marked by a Gentlemen's Dinner. This was organised by Wes Holland (Snowbird) when he was Vice Commodore and continued for some years afterwards

Wally Moore

Wally joined the Marina Yacht Club in 1963 with his home-built Mirror. He soon became Fleet Captain and established National Mirror Fleet Number 3. By his untiring efforts the fleet was built-up to over 60 boats. He was a great character and could have passed for Sid James's twin brother! He became Rear Commodore Dinghies and soon the Club was running out of room for them. This was one of the few times when the club nearly closed entries for dinghy owners. Wally's wife and family actively assisted in these efforts.

Graham also recalls that a great deal of the success of the dinghy sailing and general Club organisation in the 1970's was due to the efforts of the Francis brothers, Barry and Brian.

Links with other organisations

The Club had strong links with the Thames Barge Sailing Club. From this link came the Club's burgee. The TBSC were affiliated to HNYC (present status?). Apart from Stan and Chick Yeates, the Brice family had a sailing barge, as did Brian and Veronica Merrow(?). They lived on a barge on the foreshore. Brian was terribly injured in an accident at work (Tylers yard?) many years later (when Celia and Martin Richards at Hoo). Brian was the Club Bosun until his accident. The position of Bosun was then taken up by the late Chris Grant and subsequently by Avril Gooding-Grant.

Between 1966 and 1978 the Club had very strong links with Kent School Sailing. This was organised by Jack Driver. He was later appointed/elected an Honorary member of the Club for his services to HNYC.

What changed?

Economic circumstances changed. There was 25% annual inflation and the cost of boats increased enormously. Luxury VAT was imposed on pleasure boats by the new Labour government and people moved to single-handers and cheap sailboards because they were cheaper to buy and easier to run. The oil crisis in 1973 and the associated 50mph speed limit and high cost of fuel only added to the difficulties which affected all of the clubs on the river. Medway Yacht Club used to have a waiting list. By the mid-80's they were advertising for members! The combined effect was a loss of dinghies and eventually a whole generation of dinghy sailors. This affected all of the clubs on the river.

People moved up to cruisers as they had families and when economic circumstances allowed and the dinghies were gradually replaced. By the late 1980's there were no active dinghies at the Club and the only remnant was the annual Commodore's Cup race which still put on a token event (and of course the Hoo Freezer).

Work parties were a feature at Hoo from early on. These became formalised under the influence of the large influx of members from Erith in the mid 1980's. These new members were attracted by the good sailing at Hoo and the availability of deep water club moorings and the recently completed floating marina at Hoo. They were also pleased to obtain relief from the hazards of runaway lighters in the Thames. They became the driving force of the club in the early 1990's. Frank Burgess established a strong Sailing Committee which was carried on by Kevin Dowley (and subsequently by Martin Richards). Dave Bower's energies and skills were brought to bear and the club's facilities improved enormously as a result.

Graham's main memories of the 1960's and 70's were the youthfulness of the club members (the average age of club members was reckoned to be about 22 or 23 - compare with the 1990's!), the great energy that was put in and the sheer intensity of the dinghy sailing activity. There were about 20 race weekends a year and everybody had to muck-in. If you weren't on duty in the race box you were in the clubhouse galley.

Dinghy Sailing Achievements

The club effectively became a dinghy club in 1960 and the standard of sailing became high. The club had many National and European champions between 1968 and 1981 as follows:-

  • 1968 Chuck Shepherd Mirror National Champion
  • 1969 Chuck Shepherd Bonito National Champion
  • 1970 Ron Harrison Bonito National Champion
  • 1971 Chuck Shepherd Contender European Champion (Italy)
  • 1971 John Wright Minisail National Champion
  • 1971 Graham Hemington Bonito National Champion
  • 1971 Graham Hemington Bonito European Champion (Zurich)
  • 1972 Nick Croome Toy National Champion
  • 1972 John Wright Minisail National Champion
  • 1975 Spencer Pope Toy National Champion
  • 1976 John Clementson Fireball Eastern and Southern Champion
  • 1979 Graham Hemington Toy European Champion (Holland)
  • 1981 Graham Hemington Toy National Champion

Hugh Kinder and Jack Driver were also very successful Enterprise sailors in their day.

Martin Richards
April 2000

Date Published 27th Jun 2011