CHAPTER 10 – The ‘Varsity Year 1928

Club Moorings

The instant success of the Falcons and the prospect of more to come raised the vital question of extending the already congested club moorings. The Committee’s deliberations on this subject during the winter 1927-28 resulted in a bold application to the Harbour Committee for a group of seventeen berths opposite the Club-house in exchange for eleven existing club berths in the lower harbour, and this was followed up by Capt. [Councillor] Hamblin undertaking to interview the Town Clerk on the Club’s behalf. The result of his diplomacy was a letter from Capt. Cooke, the Harbour Master, on March 6th, ‘announcing that the Harbour Committee have approved the plan submitted to them in full.’ Capt. Cooke was thanked for helping to put the matter through, and the Club thus happily acquired a piece of the harbour right under its windows all to itself.

The next job was to procure and lay the necessary mooring tackle, including a considerable quantity of chain. For this the Committee accepted a tender from the Edison Steam Roller Co. for 280ft of chain [5cwt.] at 3d. per lb., and the responsibility of laying it was entrusted to a moorings committee consisting of Messrs. Bussell, Warren, Pitcher and R. C. Flisher. Finally Capt. Masters was elected at the A.G.M. to the new office of Berthing Master.

The X-Class

Smitten no doubt by the allure of one-design racing, certain senior members of the Club now turned their minds to initiating a class of larger O-D craft, and placed orders with Newman’s of Poole for yachts of the National X class, a deep-keeled 18ft Bermudan dayboat already popular with the Parkstone Sailing Club.

The arrivals of these smart little yachts, making the passage from Poole under sail [no engines were fitted], must have been a cause of great interest to club members in the early weeks of the season. The four boats constituting the class in its first season were Mr. Pitcher’s ‘Betty’, Mr. Graham’s ‘Ceyx’ [pronounced ‘Seeks’], Major Foster’s ‘Mersa’, and Capt. Brocklebank’s ‘Ariel’.

X-class racing started on July 11th and continued twice weekly in two series for cups put up respectively by Mr. Graham and Mr. McDwaine. A big thrill was provided for the cadets in August, when it was decided to let them sail their annual race for Capt. Hamblin’s Cup in the new class. This race was sailed in four heats by sixteen entrants, and was won by Capt. Brocklebank’s daughter in ‘Ariel’. T. Pitcher was disqualified.

Oxford and Cambridge Sailing Matches

Bright as was the spotlight on the X boats, it paled before the beam which now illuminated the Falcons, singling them out from all other one-designs [in the second season of their career] for two sporting events of national interest, to the lasting pride and credit of the Club. These were the Oxford v. Cambridge Inter-University Sailing Match, and the Cambridge University Cruising Club’s Marine Week, held successively at the end of June and beginning of July, 1928 and both sailed in four Falcons in Weymouth Bay. The ball was set rolling in February by a letter from the secretary of the Cambridge University Cruising Club [Hounsell-Damers] ‘concerning the proposed holding of the C.U.C.C.’s sailing matches at Weymouth, and the use of the Falcon boats.’ The owners of ‘Sparrowhawk’, ‘Kestrel’, ‘Buzzard’ and ‘Kite’ readily volunteering to lend their boats, a reply was made in the affirmative, and this gave rise to a further enquiry re the Oxford and Cambridge match. The second proposal being welcomed on the same terms, dates were fixed, the races were sailed under the burgee of the C.U.C.C. and the Falcons came through with flying colours.

The Inter-‘Varsity match was sailed off in six races in high winds on 29th and 30th June and was reported in a Cambridge paper as follows:- ‘The annual match with Oxford University Sailing Club was this year sailed at Weymouth in four boats of the Falcon class, 16ft. sloops, kindly lent by members of the Weymouth Sailing Club. The match has never been sailed so far west, but Weymouth Bay, beautiful and sheltered, is an ideal place for small boat sailing, and six races were sailed successfully on the last two days in June, when regattas all round our coasts were being held up by stress of weather, Cambridge winning decisively by 38½ points.’ Odd numbers raced against even with alternate change-over of teams, ‘but,’ says the report, ‘unfortunately No 1 [‘Sparrowhawk’] and No 6 [‘Buzzard’] were distinctly better than No 4 [‘Kestrel’] and No 5 [‘Kite’] and the even numbers rather better than the odd.’

In the third race ‘at the first buoy No 4 to avoid a collision with No 5, was driven on to No 1, and protest flags were soon flying … These protests might have resulted in both boats being disqualified, but at the last moment it was found that both were invalid, each protestant having failed to comply with the necessary conditions.’

The C.U.C.C.’s Marine Week which followed, put through a full programme in the same Falcons. Race A was won by No 6, and in race B No 6 was again leading at the end of the first round, when ‘rain began to fall heavily, and the other boats discovered reasons for retiring.’ As no 6 [‘Buzzard’] won every race she entered she was later left out. On the Thursday evening ‘a match was sailed with the Weymouth Sailing Club which the latter won easily.’ On the last day, after five heats and two semi-finals in which No 1 proved slightly faster than No 6, ‘the final should have produced a fine race, but unfortunately No 1 was over the line at the start, thus losing one minute. After three rounds No 6 won by 25 seconds, a happy close to a successful season.’ In the evening a well-attended dinner was held at the Victoria Hotel, at which officers and several members of the Weymouth Sailing Club were present.

The Committee’s report on this week, on the A.G.M . balance sheet, ended thus: ‘An outstanding feature of these matches, was the seaworthiness of the Falcons, which received an intense gruelling under the hands of the enthusiastic contestants.’

A New Commodore

H G Pitcher (Commodore 1928 - 29) in Windflower 1922

H G Pitcher (Commodore 1928 – 29) in ‘Windflower’ 1922

This year also marks the retirement from flag office of Mr. Hownam Meek, after a tenure of seven formative and eventful years. In proposing a vote of thanks [at the A.G.M. on 3rd. April] Mr. H. G. Pitcher, the new Commodore-elect referred to ‘all the unselfish work Mr. Hownam Meek had done on their behalf, and to the undoubted success of the Club due to his untiring and unremitting attention.’

Other officers elected at this meeting were Capt. Hamblin, Vice-Commodore, and Mr. S. J. Gallop, Hon. Treasurer. A vote of thanks was accorded to Mr. A. E. Clayton for auditing the books in an honorary capacity for the past four years, and he was now elected Club Auditor at a fee of £2. 2s. annually.

Club Racing

For signalling purposes the X code flag [recently allocated to Falcons] was now wanted for the new X class, and this led to a revision of class names to bring them into line with their flags. Thus C class [re-instated with five boats] became Y class, B class [ten boats] became W class and A class [five boats] became Z class, the Falcons being designated by the F code flag.

Two new Falcons were launched this season [1928], ‘Hobby’ [No 7] for Messrs. Pitcher, Wallace and Brown, and ‘Osprey’ [No 2], the last of the original order which the club sold to Mr. Bill Flisher in part exchange for his W class boat ‘Sonia’. Both these boats took part in the Bussell Cup races v. Lyme Regis, Parkstone and Bridport, each of which the Club won by a rather narrow margin.

Y class was allocated a new series race cup presented to the Club by Messrs. John Groves & Sons, and the fixture list waxed full. In addition to the numerous series races for the Club’s five classes and the matches afore-mentioned, racing events included Town and R.D.Y.C. Regattas, the ladies’ race [won by Mrs. Gallop in ‘Kite’] and an all-in handicap long-course single-banded race which was won by Capt. Brocklebank in ‘Ariel’.

The Committee’s Report referred to ‘keen sailing in inter-port racing, the Club retaining the Bussell Cup against the challenges of West Bay, Parkstone and Lyme Regis.’ Also the ‘Falcon O.D. class, as anticipated, provided the best sport of the season. Mr. Bussell, the designer and builder is to be congratulated on evolving a type of boat both seaworthy and dry, and capable of a good turn of speed.’

Torpedoing of ‘Merlin’

A sombre note was sounded early in this season by a regrettable mishap. Early in June Mr. Bratby, who had been forbidden to race by his doctor, was out sailing his Falcon [‘Merlin’] with his daughter Freda [now Mrs. D. Jacobs] at the helm, when a runaway torpedo from Whitehead’s firing range suddenly surfaced under his bows lifting them out of the water, swamping the boat with backwash, and staving in two planks near the waterline. A Torpedo Recovery Vessel soon took them in tow, and Mrs. Jacobs says she was none the worse for her experience, but her father, being for’ard at the time of impact, sustained a severe nervous shock, and never sailed again. The Committee wrote him a letter of sympathy, and took up the question of adequate warning signals with Whitehead’s, to prevent recurrences of the accident.

‘Buzzard’s’ Secret

The secret of ‘Buzzard’s’ success in the ‘Varsity matches and elsewhere came literally to light when she was lifted out and turned over at the end of the season, disclosing under-water planking with beautifully rounded edges. Taxed with effecting this unorthodox refinement Lt.Cmdr. Burton admitted responsibility and offered to make amends by [a] bearing the cost of similar treatment to all other Falcons, or [b] withdrawing the boat from all future racing. Declining both these offers the Committee decided to penalise the culprit by asking Mr. Bussell to cut a six-inch strip off the foot of his mainsail. This was not done, however, because in the following season Lt.Cmdr. Burton withdrew the boat from racing [alternative b], and bought ‘Sparrowhawk’ from Dr. Llewellyn Pridharn, who was now reluctantly obliged to abandon sailing through ill health. This incident had a sequel the following autumn [November 1929] when the Committee, at the recommendation of a Falcon-owners meeting, finally ruled that ‘Buzzard’ be allowed to sail in F class without penalty; the other members of the class to be allowed to make the same alterations to the edges of the planking. So far as is known no Falcon owner took advantage of this concession, and in 1932 the practice was finally forbidden.

Extension of Premises

Membership having now risen to 150, some addition to the two small upstairs rooms constituting the Club-house was becoming a pressing necessity. The downstairs rooms were still nominally requisitioned by the War Department, and the Committee [at the instigation of the House Committee] now asked Mr. Bussell to expedite their vacation by the end of the year, and to grant the Club a lease for the whole of the premises, subject to agreement as to alterations. In this Mr. Bussell agreed for an extra annual rental of £10, and subject to Club members undertaking all necessary alterations themselves, except putting in the front window. These alterations were put in hand during the winter of 1928-1929, and are summarised in the Committee’s report at the A.G.M . of February 1929 as follows:-

‘Owing to the growth of the Club, and opportunity favouring, the lower floor of the Club has been taken over. When finished the front portion will form a Corrunittee Room and secretary’s office, and the rear portion a spacious changing room with a wash-basin and seat lockers. In the upstairs sitting room all lockers have been removed, and two large settees provided, greatly improving the comfort and accommodation. A very fine oak sideboard, once the property of his late Majesty King Edward VII, and installed in his yacht ‘Formosa’ has been very generously presented by G. Spooner Esq. It will be a great asset.’

A subscription list was opened to alleviate the Club’s expenses in these improvements, of which the cost to date was £64. The work involved must have provided plenty of winter occupation for Club members, and the new rooms they made were a valuable heritage to posterity.

To complete the story it is necessary to quote from the Committee’s report on the following year, 1929:-

‘The enlargement of the premises – thus leaving the upper room solely for recreation and the back one for use as a bar and kitchen – has more than justified the expense incurred. The removal of the bunks from the reading room has enormously increased its comfort, especially since a modern gas fire has been substituted for the ancient arrangement for burning coal. Great credit is due to those members who actually assisted in making the alterations, and to those who subscribed towards the cost enabling the improvements to be carried out without touching Club funds.’