This year marks the 70th anniversary of Downs Sailing club. What better way of marking this occasion than by creating a club history.
With this in mind over the course of the year there will be a series of articles on different aspects of the club history, including its founding and early days, events held at the club, the different classes sailed and how they have changed, the trophies, training and much more.
This will be a collaborative project and could well involve you!
Here’s Part 1
The founding of the club and the early years.
From tiny acorns great oaks are grown.
The tiny acorns began to be planted when Jack Hale and Don Arnold were in the RAF together as pilots on Lancasters. Don laid out the design for a Sharpie sailing boat called “Betty” which was subsequently built by Jack after he was demobilized, sailing it from the beach at Walmer.
In the years leading up to the formation of the club, there were a number of people interested in small boat sailing who owned a range of small traditional clinker built sailing boats, kept on beach plots between the current club location and Deal castle. At the instigation of Jack Hale, this group of sailors decided to get together and form a sailing club in Walmer.
The inaugural meeting of the club was held at the ‘ Fair Maid of Kent Hotel ‘ ( that is now Wellington Court just around the corner from the club ) and included the founder members of Sir Gerald Wollaston, George Crick, Percy Cavell, Peter Harris-Mayes, Mr Woods, Norman Atkins, Gordon Page and of course Jack Hale. It was agreed that the club would be called Down’s Sailing Club. It was to be an informal club and definitely not a yacht club. It would be open to all acceptable local people who had an interest in sailing! One of the founding members and first commodore, Sir Gerald Woolaston, was a member of the heraldic society and designed and created our club Burgee.
During the early seasons, boats were launched from the beach on greased boards and recovered using a hand-powered winch and the clubhouse was a beach hut adjacent to the club’s current locations… What NO bar!! I
The beach hut belonged to Percy Cavell, a lifeboat engineer who agreed to have a club notice board made by Norman Atkins fixed to it as well as allowing his flag pole to be used to start the initial races.
In the early seasons, racing was mainly in the locally built clinker boats, some of which were built by Norman Atkins and these were known as the Downs Class. However, by 1956 the first class boats started to arrive starting with the National 12 sailed by David Evans. Merlin Rockets closely followed this, one of which was sailed by Norman Atkins and crewed by a very young Brian Cory.
In the early days a Fitting Out and Laying Up events were held and during the winter a monthly social meeting was held at Caves Café in Deal ( were Iceland is now ) , the owners of the café were club members .
Jack Hale although emigrating to Australia kept in touch with the club and was a guest at the 50th Anniversary celebrations.
The founding of the club and its early development was a result of the members contributing according to their strengths and skills, this ethos has continued to current times and remains a strong attribute of the club.
Further posts will elaborate on different aspects of club history including classes of boats, the clubhouse, events held and the achievements of Downs members.