A Short History of the Stour Sailing Club

The Stour Sailing Club was formed in 1936.  There had been plenty of sailing craft racing at Manningtree before then, at annual regattas, known as water carnivals and when Manningtree was still a busy commercial port there would have been no lack of skilful sailors.  A 1848 Directory claimed there were about 460 vessels belonging to the joint port of Manningtree and Mistley.

Local Press reports of 1912 and 1914 regattas described all the shops closing, bands playing, with hundreds of spectators flocking to the riverside to watch the sailing, rowing and swimming racing.

Silting, and the railway largely put paid to Manningtree as a commercial port but when the Stour Sailing Club was launched, on January 24th, 1936, the 70 or so original members had a fleet of four one-designs, 15 to 20 bigger boats and, “many more smaller craft, but such as would qualify the owners to call themselves boat-owners”, – some of them barge boats with a keel tacked on.

At that foundation meeting – in the Masonic Hall – it was agreed that the club flag should be “Mistley Towers in white on a blue ground “, and that the object of the new club was “to continue the sailing races started in 1935, to arrange such races as the club might decide, encourage sailing and the improvement of small yachts and boats”.

The membership subscription was set at two shillings and sixpence, just over 12p in the current coinage.  An entrance fee, it was agreed, should be charged for each race, of one shilling (5p).  That initial membership subscription stayed at 2s 6d until 1947, when it doubled.  It doubled again in 1964 to 10s and hit £1 in 1970, when the membership was 143.

Racing was tightly organised by the early sailing committees.  Paid skippers and crew members were formally banned. Each boat racing had to fly its individual racing flag, the design of which had been filed with the committee.  Changes in rig had to be approved. Handicaps were vigorously argued, and in early days , the Club’s handicappers measured up one boat before , or after, each race.

The Officer of the Day (OOD) ran a tight ship. He decided, in the light of the weather, what sails could be set.  Protests were frequent.  One Commodore protested against the entire fleet, because the OOD had ordered reefed mainsails, and when the wind eased every boat had unlawfully unrolled its mainsail.

When the Club began it had no clubhouse and until 1970 met in the billiard room of the Crown Hotel.  As the membership grew so did the need for a clubhouse.  Several plans were submitted, only to be rejected by Tendring Council. The Council insisted on an unusually high quality structure – far too expensive for a small sailing club.

Only after 17 years did it emerge that the planning applications were being turned down because a clubhouse would have spoilt the view of the river for the mother-in-law of a leading councillor.

The breakthrough came when the present clubhouse, Number 10 Quay Street – then a private residence- came on the market.  The owner, the widow of a bargeman, wanted the Club to buy it, for an agreed price of £1,750, but for some never-discovered reason, she said that the option to buy would expire at 12 noon the following day.

The challenge was met.  The committee met in the evening, in the Crown, and agreed to buy -without being to consult the members. At 11 o’clock the next morning, the Club representatives went to a local bank and obtained a short-term loan.  Four days later the contract was signed and then on the 14th August, at an EGM, the membership was told what had been going on and approved the purchase unanimously.

When the SSC began, moorings in the Stour were controlled by the Harwich Harbour authority and, only a generation ago, the mooring fee at Manningtree was only £5 – payable every two years.  Then in the 90s, the Crown Estate began to lease out mooring rights and the £1,000 mooring became common. Fortunately, through smart work by a Club member, the Club won the lease of the Manningtree moorings which remain some of the cheapest on the East Coast.

When the Club started, wooden, clinker, gaff or gunter-rigged boats were the norm. Then came marine ply, and stitch-and-glue boats like the Fireball – no longer seen – and the friendly little Mirror , still regularly racing. Now fibre-glass rules, and Kevlar sails are being hoisted.

Unique to the SSC are the racing sailing punts . Used for centuries for eel fishing and punt gunning, they have now become racers. With big sprit sails, -usually home stitched – but no rudders or centre-boards ,steering is by oar across the thigh.
A hundred years ago, the “Evening Star” reported that the most interesting race of the 1912 Water Carnival was the open punt sailing race. The winners that year were three members of the Lucas family,some of whom lived near our Clubhouse on Quay Street. A hundred years on, it is still Lucas’s winning the Manningtree Regatta punt races.

In 1990 the first 18ft Micro arrived.  This class continues to flourish and now there are 8 – the biggest Micro fleet in the country.

With a pleasant first floor bar -with a balcony overlooking the beach and racing start line -, and the ground floor “Parlour” which can seat 20 or so for Club suppers- Stour Sailing Club is not the biggest sailing club in the area. The membership is now 360, but it is known as the most friendly.

John Fairhall 2012