CHAPTER 2 – The Corinthian Yacht Club

1901-1907 The First Years

King George V racing his J-Class yacht Brittannia in Weymouth Bay.  Mr Bussell is in the right  foreground.

King George V racing his J-Class yacht ‘Britannia’ in Weymouth Bay. Mr Bussell is in the right foreground.

When King Edward VII came to the throne in 1901, he led a nation-wide revival in all forms of sport, yachting being not the least. Some eddies from this gale of enthusiasm must have awakened the sleeping sails of Weymouth, for the Club preserves an old Minute Book inscribed with the imposing title ‘The Weymouth Corinthian Yacht Club,’ and embellished with a membership card for the season 1902. The first entry of this interesting document records a meeting at the Victoria Hotel in March, 1902, at which those present were ‘desirous of having a Corinthian [Yacht] Club on the lines of the old Corinthian Club’.*  Mr. Harry Aylesbury took the chair, and undertook to subscribe £5 – 5s. and a cup for competition. ‘Surgeon-Major’ C. L. Cunningham also promised £2 – 2s. and a cup, and ‘suggested that ladies be admitted, should they be small boat owners.’ His proposal met with no opposition, but the first membership card shows none of the fair sex on its list of twenty ordinary members, which includes such well known names as Bennett, Hurdle, MilIedge, Sargeant, Thalbot and Webb. This also shows fifteen officers. including seven vice-presidents. The election of a Commodore seems to have met with some difficulty, for Dr. Cunningham, though listed, only took the office pro tem, after refusals had been received from Mr. Aylesbury and Major Crawford [neither of whom joined the club].

Later we read that ‘at a smoker in the clubroom on May 23rd; Dr. Cunningham proposed Mr. E. Mitchell Smith as Commodore, and Mr. Learmouth as Vice-Commodore, both being duly elected. This ‘clubroom’ was at 4 York Buildings**, a Georgian bow-fronted house near the Royal Dorset Yacht Club, and was rented at £1-1s. per week for the first two months ‘after which it must be settled where the club room is to be.’

The political tension of the time between the two great rival parties, Liberals and Conservatives, is illustrated by an early decision that politics must not be brought into the club in any way and also by a member’s objection to electing Col. Brymer [Conservative M.P. for Dorchester] as a Vice President ‘unless it were possible to have a representative of both parties’.

Dr & Mrs Cunningham in Olenda, Weymouth Corinthian YC 1902

Dr & Mrs Cunningham in Olenda, Weymouth Corinthian YC 1902

The re-formed club made its debut, rather inauspiciously, with an ‘opening cruise’ by three yachts – Olenda, Adriane andTheodora – which, we read ‘left the pier head at 3 o’clock on May 15th. The yachts cruised about the bay for about l½ hours, following the Commodore’s yacht. They tacked across the bay about five times, and then, owing to rain and coldness, had to come in.’  We can picture the Commodore, Vice-Commodore and Hon-Treasurer [Messrs. Cunningham, Learmouth and Mitchell-Srnith] stowing their wet sails with numb fingers and consoling each other with the knowledge that at least they had done the right thing by the club!

* The original organization was primarily a social club with premises near the Royal Dorset Yacht Club on the Esplanade.

** Once the present writer’s lodgings.

Another early entry in the minute book records the origin of the present ‘A’ course, it being decided that ‘the course for races should be a triangular one, a barrel being moored off the Old Toll Gate, and two pieces of triangular wood with a flag as the other two buoys.’ The layout of the course does not appear to have pleased everyone, for we read that ‘on July 19th a meeting was held on the pier-head at 8 o’clock, at which, after much discussion, it was proposed that the old [original] course be adopted.’ The fact that this resolution was carried unanimously suggests that all the dissenters were finally converted!

In its first season the club ran a series of eight fortnightly races for ‘Yachts’ on Wednesday afternoons, and Saturday races were scheduled for ‘open boats’ and ‘Raters’. Six boats competed in the Yacht class, but only two each in the Saturday series, of which only two or three races were sailed.

The club’s method of awarding points for series races is worthy of note. It is set out in the contemporary book of rules under rule 6, which reads:-

‘As far as funds will admit, the prizes will be awarded as follows for every race after the first three:- One prize to the winner of each race. Points will be awarded at each race to every boat completing the course, the last boat to receive one point, the last but one, two points, and so on to the winner; and at the end of the season the value of those points shaII be paid to the competing boats.’

The ‘value of the points’ was adjusted to suit the club’s finances, but in any case, everybody got something [£.s.d. rearing its ugly head!] and winners were rewarded in proportion to the number of boats in the race – a very logical idea which provides an interesting alternative to our present scheme of ‘winner always scores ten.’

The first Prize-giving took the form of the evidently popular ‘smoking concert’, given at 4 York Buildings [still] by the Commodore, Mr. E. Mitchell Smith. History does not relate whether the promised cups materialised, but first prize in the Yacht class went to a young boat builder named W. L. Bussell (the club’s official treasurer) with a cutter named May.

1903 A Fractious Season

At the A.G.M. of 1903 (held in the Drill Hall, St. Alban Street on January 23rd) the treasurer’s report showed a credit balance of £4 and this was received ‘with much satisfaction’. Mr. Mitchell Smith was re-elected Commodore, and Dr. Cunningham, who was elected Vice-Commodore, also offered to act as Secretary, his predecessor, Mr. E. Bag having apparently departed. A prophetic note was sounded at this meeting when our friend Mr. Bussell ‘proposed that the name of the club be changed from ‘Yacht Club’ to that of ‘Sailing Club’. This democratic idea was evidently considered in bad taste, however, for ‘no seconder being forthcoming’ the motion was withdrawn.

Other resolutions passed at this meeting included a reduction of the subscription for non-residents from a guinea to 10s-6d [the resident’s subscription] and a project for ‘the purchasing or hiring of the Minima clubhouse,’ a wooden hut at the end of the Nothe Quay.

The latter negotiation evidently fell through, because a subsequent minute refers to ‘the new clubroom in St. Thomas Street’, the arrangements for which were entrusted to the committee members. At one of their meeting the question of allowing spinnakers or booming out of headsails was hotly disputed. Opinions being equally divided, the Commodore gave his casting vote ‘against’ and we read that Mr. Learmouth [an old die-hard], entering the room about this time, was appealed to for his opinion and replied ‘against’. One wonders what would have happened if he had answered ‘for’.

Among other items of interest gleaned from the minutes are, [1] the receipt of a letter from Sir Thomas Lipton, thanking the club for its ‘sympathy and courtesy’ (presumably in reference to his loss of the America Cup and to the club’s custom of escorting the Shamrocks back to harbour after trials in Weymouth Bay]; [2] the start of a search for a paid timekeeper; [3] the acceptance of Dr. Cunningham’s offer to put out the mark buoys for £3 10s. per season, and [4] the adoption of sailing partially-decked and open boats, and to race them on alternate Wednesdays and Saturdays respectively at 3 p.m. . Presumably there was no afternoon Jersey Boat in those days!

A copy of the membership card for 1903 [thoughtfully pasted in the minute book] bears on the front the club burgee – dark blue with the town arms on a white shield. This card shows thirteen officers including seven Vice-Presidents. By an oversight the names of the four committee members are omitted, but the back cover gives the names of the twenty-four ordinary members, including three ladies [Mrs. Cunningham, Mrs. McCracken, and Miss Symes] and such further notables as

H. Vincent, R. R. Talbot, J. Sherren, and ‘Hawkes Freeman & Co.’

Also listed are the names, owners and rigs of eighteen boats – nine cutters, six lug-rigs, one yawl and one motor launch [a proud innovation]. The fixture list starts with an opening cruise for all [May 13th] followed by nine races for each of the two new classes; and the rules, which include an exclusive definition of the word ‘amateur’, end with the curious injunction ‘No political or theological subject shall be discussed at any meeting of the club or in the clubroom. ‘

In the pages that follow we sense an element of unrest in the club. The first protest is recorded on August 28th, when Mr. Learmouth wrote a letter ‘objecting to Major Alexander scoring two marks on July 29th; as, to avoid a collision he ought to have gone round through being on a port tack, which he did not, so I went about and got becalmed.’ This dispute was settled by the unorthodox expedient of re-sailing the race! Another entry, heavily scored out in pencil, reads: ‘Dr. McCracken, having accused the Secretary of ‘paddling’, the accusation was flatly denied by that official, [Dr. Cunningham] and, on the accuser qualifying his statement by saying ‘well, you moved your tiller about too much’ the next business was proceeded with. This entry seems to have caused a flutter, for at the following meeting we read ‘Minutes of the last meeting read, but not confirmed or signed. The acting Secretary thereupon handed the minute book over to the chairman, and took no further notes of the proceedings. ‘

Dr. Cunningham’s umbrage seems to have been permanent, for at the next meeting the minutes record the tendering and acceptance of his resignation, and the election of the unrepentant Dr. McCracken in his place. Soon after this Dr Ryding also resigned ‘because he did not think the majority of the members understood what an amateur was.Õ

The fractious season ended with the award of six prizes, four in class 1, in which Mr. Bussell’a May took Mr. Scartbrick’s new cup [Value £5-5s] and two in class 2, headed by Mrs. McCracken’s lone with Mr. Aylesbury’s cup [value £3-3s]. Owing to unfavourable weather at the end of the season, only five races were sailed in class 2, and we read that two of the prizes, a biscuit box and a cruet stand, were therefore not awarded.

1904 Mr.Bussell’s Prophecies

The A.G.M. of 1904 took place in the Guildhall on May 2nd, under the presidency of the Mayor, Major H. J. Groves, and is fully reported in a press-cutting thoughtfully appended in the minute book. The Secretary’s report is interesting in its foreshadowing of a one-design class, a concept destined to bear fruit [in the form of Falcons] twenty-five years later. This report was prepared and read by Mr. Bussell, who explained that the late Secretary Dr. McCracken had left the town. ‘The season 1903,’ said Mr. Bussell, ‘opened with great encouragement … and was fairly maintained to the close. The greatest trouble the committee had was to fix the time allowance for the several boats, they all being of different types. When I say we had a Fife’s one-design class racer sailing with a 14ft. house-boat, you will agree that it was a task very few gentlemen would care to undertake; but, after several test matches and sundry alterations, an allowance was arrived at which was considered by the majority as fairly accurate. In order to obviate this difficulty in the future, the committee are hoping that some gentleman will build a craft which will be adopted as a club design, suitable not only for racing but for pleasure and fishing; for, if such were the case, we feel sure several gentlemen would be induced to take the matter up and much greater sport would be derived than at present.’ Prophetic words!

Mr. Bussell continues with a moan about the weather which was ‘of a very unsatisfactory character – on several occasions crews had to return to their moorings in a very salty condition, which was nevertheless enjoyed,’ and referring to the public interest at the pier-head he says, ‘it has always been an unwritten law of the club that if anyone wishes to sail the course they are heartily welcome, provided accommodation can be found.’ He ends with the hope that ‘during the coming season several landsmen will be found enjoying the sea breezes, which cannot be properly felt on shore.’

The Treasurer’s Report again showed a credit balance of £4 after meeting expenses amounting to £25, the membership having risen from thirty-five to forty-six. In proposing the adoption of this report, our friend Mr. Bussell again foreshadows coming events by deprecating the expense of an inland club-room, rented so that ‘members residing out of town might have a room where they could sit.’  Personally Mr. Bussell did not think it wise ‘unless one could be had nearer the water.’ He also undertook to display the club notice board on his premises.

Mr. Mitchell Smith was re-elected Commodore [third term] and the new Hon. Secretary was Mr. W. H. Roberts of 64 St. Mary Street. The meeting concluded with a long speech from the Mayor in which he stressed the municipal value of a club fostering ‘the art and science of sailing,’ eulogised the natural beauties of the town [unrivalled except by the Mediterranean’] and went on to outline municipal developments including ‘gardens, recreation grounds and motor omnibuses.’

The rules in the 1904 membership card show no appreciable change, except that the course is defined as ‘to be sailed with marks to starboard,’ and time limits are fixed as ‘two hours for the first round, and three and a half hours for the second.’ The regulation about politics and religion is quietly dropped.

Committee meetings this year were mostly held at 4 Gloucester Row, by invitation of Dr. Liddon Green [Hon. Treasurer]; and in the minutes we read of the appointment of a Mr. Murphy, R.N. as timekeeper for the season with a remuneration of £2.

Reliance, Dolphin, Argula, May and Waterwitch off the stone pier

Reliance, Dolphin, Argula, May and Waterwitch off the stone pier

The season opened with the usual ‘cruise’ [June 1st.] followed by eight fortnightly fixtures in each class. It was decided to award an additional prize ‘not exceeding 5 shillings in value to the first boat in every race so far as funds permit,’ the actual sum being 3s 6d. The series aggregates in class I resulted in a very close finish, Mr. Steadman’s rater Waterwitch, described by Mr. H. W. Gill, who usually crewed her, as ‘a 17ft. skimming-dish with canvas decks, blood-red sails and a dagger plate,’ winning with eighteen points, followed by a tie for second place between Lieut. Hipsley’s Kelpie and Mr. Bussell’s cutter May with sixteen points each. These two shared the prize money and received 30s each. In class 2 only two matches came off, owing to lack of support, so a consolation prize of 10s 6d was the only award.

1905 New Rules

At the beginning of 1905 the sailing rules were completely revised, and the report of the A.G.M. of 1905 says that ‘they have now been made much more clear and satisfactory, as well as making provision for visitors having craft and wishing to sail in club fixtures.’  This ‘revision’ consisted in [a] omitting from rule 2 a clause obliging visitors ‘having boats and wishing to sail’ to become honorary members, and paying an entrance fee of 2s 6d, which entitled them to sail in two races only; and [b] modifying rule 3 to allow any amateur to steer in a race under the orders of a member, instead of forbidding the tiller to anyone other than a member of the club. The term ‘amateur’ is defined in rule 4 as excluding ‘any person who has ever given his services on board for money, or received wages at sea other than in the Armed Services or Mercantile Marine.’ The final rather snobbish clause ‘nor to any artizan or other similar person in the habit of working for daily wages’ was dropped. The other rules remain unchanged.

In the Secretary’s report Mr. Roberts made an eloquent appeal for stronger support. ‘In Class I seven matches were sailed and secured very fair attachment’ [he said] ‘But in Class 2, after only two matches, it was found impossible to carry on owing to so few boats entering. The Committee trust that the club will receive stronger support [in future] and consider that what today’s Daily Telegraph describes as ‘the essentially British sport of Yachting’ should be one of the chief institutions of so ancient a port with such unrivalled waters, affording a safe and pleasant cruising ground, not to be excelled around the English coast.’

In the ensuing election of officers, we find the first mention of a familiar name among the Vice-Presidents, that of the Town Clerk, Mr. A. H. Huxtable, now associated with his famous Rose Bowl. After the election. the Chairman [Mr. S. Milledge] invited all present to adjourn with him to a smoking concert at the Marine Hotel.

The veteran Mr. Learmouth had been compelled to sell his boat and resign the previous year owing to failing eyesight, and, on June 6th, we read of his death – ‘a loss the members keenly felt.’  As regards the racing, Mr. Wallis was now engaged to put out the marks at the usual charge [£2], and Capt. C. Smith [late of the Chinese Lightship Service] was paid 2s 6d per race as timekeeper. The direction of the course was reversed on alternate dates [irrespective of wind!] and the winner of each race was presented with a winning flag [an improvement on the little cash prize, and worth reviving].

At this point it is recorded that a certain Mr. Nash, who had been offered the Vice-Commodoreship, had been obliged to decline it because he was only part owner of a club boat, and therefore precluded from office under the club’s rule 4. So a General Meeting was called on July 18th, at which this rule was amended to read ‘All flag officers must be sole or part owners of a craft on the club register.’ The obstacle being thus removed, the invitation to Mr. Nash was now re-issued and accepted. This timely [if ad hoc] piece of legislation provided an automatic successor to Mr. Mitchell Smith when he tendered his resignation as Commodore at the next A.G.M. [1906].

Despite the impassioned plea of Mr. Roberts, the races in Class 2 again had to be discontinued early in the season through lack of entries. Nine boats competed fairly regularly in Class I, first place again going to Waterwitch.

1906 Local Apathy

In submitting his report to the A.G.M., the worthy Mr. Roberts again delivered himself of a tirade against local apathy towards sailing. ‘Your Committee have again to deplore the extraordinary lack of interest taken by the townspeople generally in promoting the advancement of Weymouth as a centre for yachting, and the sailing of small craft. The success of similar clubs in places of far less natural advantage and smaller population make it a matter for astonishment that in this ancient port there are to be found so few privately owned sailing boats, and such a scanty number of enthusiastic amateur seamen. To further and encourage amateur yacht sailing is the object of the Weymouth Corinthian Yacht Club, and we feel that much has yet to be done to bring into the prominence it should most certainly attain, the unique advantages of Weymouth and its adjacent waters for the sport at once so healthy and so interesting.’

This oration was Mr. Robert’s swansong, for he is now compelled by pressure of work to hand over his pen to a Mr. Wiseman [a chemist] described by him as a man having ‘an abundance of zeal and energy on the club’s behalf.’

As already foreshadowed [and perhaps foreseen] Mr. Mitchell Smith resigned his Commodoreship at this meeting, after four years of office, with expressions of regret from all. Mr. Nash became Commodore in his place, and Mr. Bussell was elected Vice-Commodore with acclamation, the proposer describing him as ‘a man well up in nautical matters, and who takes a great interest in the club.’

At the first Committee Meeting of this season, the new Commodore gave his opinion that Prizes on the points system caused lack of interest to competitors who could not attend every race, and he therefore proposed that prizes this season should be given for each race individually. This drastic resolution was carried without demur. Mr. Huxtable promised a cup and it was proposed to hold the race for this on the same day as the Swimming or Rowing Club Sports ‘in order to have a good attendance of spectators.’ It was finally decided to race for the Huxtable and Scarsbrick cups on Regatta Day, and to allocate cups for the other races by lots, 2nd prizes in the two classes to be 5s and 3s 6d respectively.

The 1906 season’s races resulted in three firsts for Mr. Steadman’s Waterwitch in class I. The first winner of the Huxtable cup was Mr. Bussell in May and the Scarsbrick cup was won by Mr. Warren’s Ethel, which also won the prize presented by her owner!

1907 Mr. Hitchcock Objects

At the A.G.M. for this year the Secretary’s report again deplored the lack of competing members, especially in class 2. One of the few races in this class had had to be abandoned ‘owing to a buoy having been cut adrift.’ The decrease in entries in this class as the season advanced was attributed to ‘the fishing’ .

Mr. Nash resigned Commodoreship in anticipation of absence during the season, and Col. Douglas was elected in his place, Mr. Bussell again being elected Vice.

Points worthy of note in Committee Meetings this year are:

  [1] Re-adoption of the points system for all races, plus a prize of 5s for the winner of each individual race.

  [2] Handicaps to be worked out on the results of the last two season’s races.

  [3] If the flag for a race was hoisted before 12.30, the race should not thereafter be cancelled.

  [4] A cup was presented by the Commodore, Mr. Nash.

The new Nash Cup was made the trophy for a special race, scheduled to be sailed on August 14th and open only to boats whose skippers had sailed in three or more previous races that season. The weather on this date turned out to be so bad, however, that only two eligible boats competed, and their owners both subsequently agreed that the cup was too good to be awarded under these conditions. It was therefore proposed to re-sail the race on September 18th.

On examining the records, it appears that the race on this stormy August 14th was actually won by a third club boat called Edna, newly acquired by a certain Mr. Hitchcock who was not eligible, by the terms of reference, to receive the cup.

Mr. Hitchcock evidently did not see the force of this argument, and although it was made clear to him that by sailing three races in the interim he had now qualified for the re-sail, we read that on October 7th he tendered his resignation from the club.

As a result of the season’s races, which included one in the Town Regatta [its first mention in the club’s annals], Waterwitch again carried off the honours with cash prizes totalling £2 14s. After paying out all cash prizes the club carried over a balance of £4 8s 2d.