The Life and Times of the Thames Estuary YC

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Aerial image of the Nore Yacht Club in the 1930s

 The Thames Estuary Yacht Club celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary in 1997 having been formed in 1947 by the amalgamation of two long established local yacht clubs – the Nore and Westcliff YCs. But the Thames story goes back much further and Tony Harrison has investigated the club’s ancestry.

Formed in 1900, the Westcliff Yacht Club did not have a home a such, being based around a shed located on the Westcliff foreshore. This was owned by a club member and was used for the storage of boat gear and for the occasional membership meeting.

In 1906 the club bought the former Thames barge “Why Not” which, after the addition of deck accommodation, was moored on the foreshore by Palmeira Towers to become the first official clubhouse. With this new facility offering a range of social activities, the club flourished and membership grew. In 1908 the former Great Eastern Railway Ferry steamer “Middlesex” was bought from the Woolwich Depot.

After nearly 30 years of sterling service during which she benefited from several refits she was replaced by “Middlesex 2” in 1937.

The new vessel offered a considerable increase in accommodation as the photographs show.

Formed in 1895, the Nore Yacht Club arose from the ashes of the minima Yacht Club which went into liquidation that year.

The main sailing class in the years between the wars was the 18 ft sailing punt. This was superceded after 1945 by the Westcliff One Design class which gave a couple of years close racing until the Thames Estuary One Design was adopted. This Morgan Giles designed class was already sailed by the Alexandra and Nore Yacht clubs and proved to be slightly faster than the Westcliff One Design class.

In addition to sailing a fleet of TEODs which achieved notable success in the inter-club racing series, the Nore YC promoted motorboat racing, a highlight of which was the 1924 Duke of York’s Trophy won by major Weber racing under the Club’s burgee.

A postcard of the time shows the original Minma YC (later as the Nore YC) clubhouse located at the foot of the cliffs opposite the present TEYC Jetty. Built in 1893 it was destroyed by enemy action during WW2 and to our lasting regret, was not replaced.

In 1949 it became obvious that in spite of extensive renovation after spending the war years laid up on Leigh Marshes, Middlesex 2 could not survive much longer on her exposed mooring. The Club decided that  shore-based premises were more suitable, and 3 The Leas, was acquired. A resident steward and stewardess (Mildred) occupied the top flat with the Secretary’s office, cadet room, committee room and galley on the second floor. The main club lounge and bar was located on the first floor with a ‘wet’ bar and storage facilities on the ground floor.

In the early ’50s the Club’s main racing dinghy was the National 12, a restricted class which offered scope for limited redevelopment which kept it at the front of the then current design and development ideas of the time.

Later in the decade, the Jack Holt designed Enterprise was adopted by the Club. This was a lower cost strictly one-design class and it’s heyday at Thames, some two dozen boats provided keenly contested racing between members and against the older clubs along the shore who had, like Thames, adopted the Enterprise as their main two-man class.

During the 60’s the innovative single handed OK dinghy became popular as did the Cadet class for juniors and late teens, with class rules limiting the helm to under 18. The 12 ft GRP Express class two-man dinghy also featured in the club’s fleet for several years. The launching and storage facilities offered by TEYC’s jetty were considered to be among the finest along the seven mile foreshore with changing tents and special racks for a slowly increasing number of Shearwater Catamarans.

During the ’60’s & ’70’s the 12 ft Tideway was sailed and reached extensively. This was especially pleasing as the tIdeway was designed and built by club member Lew Walker. The Tideway Association (which is still going) was formed by two club members namely Col. John White – Chairman, and John Glennister – Secretary. On one occasion the Thames Tideways took the first three places in the Nore Race: First Place – “Mr Chips” (Ken Bradshaw), Second Place – “Candy” ( Lloyd Walker), and Third Place – “Stingray” (Len Eastaugh).

In the early ’70’s the 14 ft Yachting World Day Boat became popular particularly as a transition between dinghy sailing and cruising. The 1980s saw the arrival of the Laser single hander in some numbers and up to 15 sailed from the Thames at one stage. The Topper was also popular among the cadets. These were the last designs to be raced as separate classes since, by the early ’90’s, the large variety of dinghy types within the club meant that handicap racing was the only way forward.

With a further refurbishment and redesign of the bar in the late 1970s. Thames moved into the last quarter of the century which brought many changes to both the sailing and social life of the club. Social membership was introduced and the Clubhouse became a popular meeting point with the fancy dress parties of the early 80s going into the annuls of Thames history.

Moving into the new millennium the Thames continued to evolve. The Dart 16 was introduced to the club, resulting in the club hosting the Dart 16 National championships on numerous occasions (most recently in 2006 and 2007). The Topper has remained popular with the Thames Cadets and as a consequence the club host an annual Topper open event which forms part of the Topper national racing circuit.

As there is not a single dominant class, racing is mostly handicap based, using an average lap system. This allows the club to cater for a wide range of boats of varying speeds (the faster boats sail more laps, the slower sail less). Typically, today on the jetty, you will find a menagerie of boats including Toppers, Lasers, Dart 16s, Enterprises, Topaz’s, Pico’s and many more.

The clubhouse has seen quite extensive renovations and in early 2007 a project was embarked upon to totally revamp the bar and lounge area and bring the decor right up to date. The project was a huge success in that it not only gave the club a modern and airy feel, it also made the lounge area significantly larger. In addition to this renovation, the club finally received planning consent to replace the windows and fascia on the front elevation of the building, and works were completed by the end of July 2007.

In September 2012, work began on extending the existing jetty and constructing a new club house, with new piles in early October 2012 ready to receive the support frame to hold the new decking. By June 2013 with decking in place, work began on erecting the steel frame to form the sea facing side of the new clubhouse, and with some excellent weather, work on the new jetty building thundered on, hampered only a little bit, by the fact that everyone just wanted to go sailing in the sunshine or go on holiday.