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Martin Richards' Story

I arrived in the Medway, with my partner Celia, in our boat, a Robber 3E called Rififi, in September 1989 from Ramsgate. After a brief sojourn in Gillingham Marina we moved to Hoo Marina. The boat was lifted out and various works carried out by Mark Marine, the then occupants of the marina workshop. This was an unhappy experience but it does not need re-telling here. Once she was back in our possession in the spring of 1990 a lot more work was done on Rififi whilst she was ashore.

During this time we met people working on adjacent boats (Mick and Shirley Morgan with Pinshu and Joe and Shirley Walker with a Limbo prototype - Limpetus? Later Etap - Duo). We were aware of Hoo Ness Yacht Club but initially nobody invited us in and we found the notices on the gates intimidating. Perhaps a mention of visiting yachtsmen being welcome would have helped. As a result we took up membership of the adjacent Schooner Club (which became the Swamp, and is no more) in order to refresh the inner man.

Sometime after that we met Bob Scott, the owner of a well known local Hustler 25.5 called Baccarat whom we had raced against at Ramsgate and Dover and knew quite well. Bob was a member at Royal Cinque Ports and Medway as well as at Hoo. He introduced us to Hoo Ness Yacht Club and after a brief introduction to Ada Threadgold, the then Membership Secretary, Celia and I were soon signed-up members.

We found Hoo Ness and its mix of people intriguing. We were impressed that the facilities available for DIY practical boat maintenance far exceeded those of the whole of Ramsgate harbour from whence we had come. We were even more impressed when the notes of the previous AGM revealed that the club had, apparently almost casually, approved the expenditure of over 20,000 to buy Bracken (the club launch).

We were also impressed by the club's races. We were used to cross-channel races and local races out of Ramsgate but did the Prudence Cup the first year at Hoo and were impresssed with the 50+ miles course on a Sunday. Later we did the Tongue Race as well and were even more impressed.

As we became accustomed to Hoo we realised that it was a complicated mixture of cliques and factions; an aspect that has continued to this day and is probably inevitable.

The existence of some antipathy between the members on moorings and those in the marina was apparent. Some suspicion of "those people from Erith" was also there, only to be replaced later by "those people from Greemwich". There was even mention of the influence of an "Orpington Mafia".

When we arrived Frank Burgess was Commodore with John Bevan as Vice and Kevin Dowley as Rear. It soon became apparent that Frank had had enough and the idea was floated that Kevin would attempt to become the next Commodore, ie. in December 1991.

Apart from any other motives this was apparently based on a desire on Kevin's part to have his name alongside his father's (Dennis) on the Commodores's board (1975-1977 D.G.Dowley). This seemed to be an inadequate reason for what turned out to be an ill-judged attempt as Kevin was studying for his police inspector's exams at the time and was not often in the club. There was also a body of opinion that did not want him in the job anyway for a variety of reasons.

In those days some of the "rules" were different. The Rear Commodore was responsible for the Freezer. No Freezer, no Rear Commodore job. Kevin and Frank needed to find Kevin's replacement and eventually they persuaded me to stand. I had come to their notice having joined the Sailing Committee a short time previously together with Alan Dann.

In the event Barry Francis was also nominated as Commodore in a "Stop- Kevin Dowley" role and in due course Barry got the job instead of Kevin. At the same time David Longstaff became Vice. As a result I became Rear Commodore just over a year after joining the club but batting for the "wrong" team. Fortunately I had no problem with Barry or David and we all got on with our jobs.

My time as Rear Commodore was very interesting. It was finally brought to an end by the re-occurrence of a serious back problem in the Spring of 1993 and the pressure of getting back into another career following redundancy the previous year. There was a move to get Alan Dann on board as Rear Commodore in my place in December 1993, but Alan refused to take on the Hoo Freezer. In order to solve this problem the decision was then taken to allow the job of Rear Commodore to be separated from the responsibility for management of the Freezer. Alan Dann was duly appointed on this basis.

This move followed the General Committee's refusal to take up the Sailing Committee/my suggestion of reverting to a previous club arrangement of having two rear commodores, one for cruising and one for racing. In the event that this had been done, the Rear Commodore Racing would have retained management of the Hoo Freezer.

In order to keep the Freezer going I volunteered to run it anyway and subsequently Barry Francis took over the reins from me when he ceased to be Commodore the following year. I also continued to be active on the Sailing Committee for some time to assist Alan Dann. When I retired from office at the 1993 AGM, Barry Francis was kind enough to thank me and say that I had raised the standard of the Rear Commodore role to a new level. I was very pleased with what Celia and I had achieved and was inclined to agree with him.

My early involvement with the Freezer was dogged by a succession of foul-ups in the race management/results department and despite great efforts by Barry Cann as Race Officer and his ever-larger timing team we just couldn't seem to get it right. I recognised that we were short of expertise as the Club's dinghy sailing experience ebbed away and tried to pursuade the Club to get outside help. This was refused at first but eventually the decision was made to allow Bob Jones of Wilsonian Sailing Club to become the Race Officer and provide his own team to time the boats through the finish line. After a few minor problems of communication between the team afloat and the team ashore this worked smoothly and we have once again got used to the results being correct as a matter of course.

My role in the Freezer has gradually diminished since Barry Francis took control and Celia and I now just carry out the job of looking after the official noticeboard and generally being supportive.

I was pleased to be responsible for a substantial revival of racing at Hoo and was sorry that this petered-out somewhat due to the usual problem of not enough entries and Rififi winning too often. It is very pleasing to see it being substantially supported once again.

I was pleased to have pioneered the issue of a more frequent Newsletter and the monthly information sheet which was eventually adopted as standard by the club.

I was pleased to be involved in the introduction of Committee Dinners to entertain local notaries instead of inviting them to the Club's Annual Dinner and Dance at great cost to the Club.

Another notable event was another "stopping" campaign. This time Ken Waller standing reluctantly as commodore, in the absence of anybody else being willing, to stop David Longstaffe becoming commodore again. This campaign was successful and Ken became commodore for the second time.

The western foreshore was protected by gabion walling and the eastern end by timber piling before I came to Hoo. I believe that these works were carried out under David Longstaffe's commodoreship. The major work of building Bower's Quay was carried out by Gary Garside, but unfortunately this did not properly address the issue of levels and as a result it floods on spring tides. The subsequent construction of the eastern tender park showed how it should have been done.

A major issue increasingly facing the Club seems to be the conflict between a desire on the one hand to run the Freezer and a desire to dramatically increase boat storage ashore on club land at Hoo on the other. The latter is inevitably associated with increasing boat trailer and cradle storage. The conflicting demands on space are already apparent.

The moorings income was for many years the financial powerhouse of the club and the role of Moorings Master was a very powerful position. Ian Beech was the man when we arrived and had the system in an apparently iron grip. When Ian finally gave up the job it was taken over by David Longstaff. Following a serious disagreement about David's subsequent behaviour and the issue of the proposal to purchase a hydraulic boat lift David was asked by Ken Waller, the then Commodore, to leave the Club.

Following David Longstaffe's departure his job as Moorings Master was taken over by Barry Gardiner and subsequently Tony Slater. In recent years membership has fallen off and mooring requirements and income have fallen as a result. This led to the substitution of less dense swinging mooring which were in demand instead of some of the trot moorings which were not.

In 1995 the Marina business went into receivership and was sold in 1996 to Maritime and Leisure Investments PLC. This was under control of Mr. Blatch.who subsequently split away to run Leisure Harbours separately.

Following the purchase of the ex Hoo Marina Medway land from the receiver by M+L I Plc various parcels of land were sold off to different businesses including the foreshore to the west of the club. This lead to the Dutch Barge houseboat business, now called Port St. Werburgh. This is owned by Mr. Dennis Swann and with some involvement by Andrew Brice. After substantial infrastucture investment it succeeded in getting a substantial hold and in 1999/2000 is seeking to extend their large boat mooring facilities right round to the entrance to Hoo Marina. At the time of writing there are moves afoot to re-arrange the entrance in conjunction with Hoo Marina.

Martin Richards

Date Published 27th Jun 2011