History of the Clyde Corinthian Yacht Club

From 1876 to 1976

On a summer evening the 23rd day of August, 1876, six gentlemen, Alan Clark, Charles Clark, Frederick Clark, James R.L. Smith, William Christie and Stewart Broadfoot, foregathered at Dunoon with intent. Their purpose was to form themselves into a sailing club and the name chosen "The Clyde Corinthian Sailing Club" was to last only until 1888 when the Club assumed the name still carried to this day. Alan Clark was appointed Chairman but, after the group had been joined by others, William Clark was appointed Commodore, Alan Clark Vice-Commodore and J.R.L. Smith Rear Commodore. As this account progresses it will be seen how great a part the Clarks played in the running of the Club throughout its first century. Upon that evening in 1876, and led by these gentlemen, a group of interested yachtsmen set about tabling the Rules of the Club and the Sailing Regulations under which racing matches would be held.

Incorporated in the Rules were the Club flags which, it was agreed, should be "a Red Burgee with a White St. George's Cross and Red Lion Rampant on Yellow Shield and a Red Ensign with Red Lion Rampant on a Yellow Shield". The ensign was never adopted but the burgee of course has survived the first century, in spite of a request in 1898 from the Royal St. George Yacht Club at Dun Laoghaire, which was some thirty-eight years senior to the Corinthian, asking that the latter should change its burgee as it clashed with that of the Irish Club. The only variation was the adoption, in 1949, of the white bordered and numbered burgees which winners of the Number 1 and Number 2 Tarbert Cups are permitted to wear for the rest of the season in which they achieved success.

There must have been a reason for these gentlemen to meet and to go to all the trouble of forming the Club. This was of course a period in yachting when there was a great upsurge in the "do-it-yourself" sphere. Not quite the sphere as we know it today but plainly that amateur yachtsmen really got the urge to steer and work yachts themselves without the aid of professional hands. These yachtsmen were proud of their amateur status and for well over twenty years they rejected any efforts for paid hands to be allowed aboard members' yachts while participating in matches. As yachts became bigger, however, in 1898 one paid hand was allowed aboard certain classes. In 1889 a professional skipper, aboard a yacht competing in a channel race under the modified rule, momentarily took over the tiller while rounding a mark. A protest was lodged, and after much debate was upheld on appeal to the Y.R.A.; a victory indeed for the avowed purpose of amateur sailing when the principle was far from easy to maintain.

The early members were no mean yachtsmen and a letter from the Secretary of the Royal Forth Yacht Club in 1890 started with the statement "The Royal Forth Yacht Club impressed with the position amateurs are now taking in yacht racing" continued with a challenge to a match between the two Clubs. As the Club was formed, because of the rejection of many of the "Royal" Yacht Club's requirements for paid hands to be aboard their members' yachts during regattas this statement did not impress our new Corinthians and for some undefined reason the match did not take place. The amateur status of helmsman and crew has always been jealously guarded by the members of the Club.

The founders of the Club had obviously taken a much needed step in its formation and it did in turn bring some surprising reaction. After only one year in existence an approach was made from The Loch Long Sailing Club suggesting amalgamation but this, too, never came to fruition. The offer of a prize, if the Club would open one of its races to members of a "Royal" Yacht Club, was no inducement to the members to permit professionals to participate in events "by the back door". By 1889, however, the Club most gratefully accepted the offer of facilities from the Royal Clyde Yacht Club for the use of the Clubhouse at Hunter's Quay on the occasion of Club's races and in the following year a similar offer from The Royal Northern Yacht Club was accepted for the use of their Clubhouse facilities at Rothesay at the time of Corinthian events.

These offers had followed a period of unrest for the Club because, although the original base on formation was Dunoon, a proposal to move the headquarters to Hunter's Quay in 1878 was declined only to succeed two years later but to be reversed within the same year to return to Dunoon. The headquarters question seemed to be the main topic of discussion during that two year period but the matter was finally resolved in 1889 with the Royal Clyde's offer of facilities and the headquarters were established at Hunter's Quay. Although the Club now spans most of the Clyde area, and further afield, the headquarters are still recognised as Hunter's Quay on the occasion of the annual race to Tarbert.

Throughout the century the Club has enjoyed the offer of facilities from other clubs including the Campbeltown Sailing Club in 1898 and the Royal Portsmouth Corinthian Yacht Club in 1934.

The basic sailing rules adopted at the Club's formation lasted for quite some time until the Club came into line with many others through the adoption of the then Yacht Racing Association Rules.

Yachts' ratings in the latter part of the nineteenth century were the subject of as much contention as exists today. At that time the 22, 19, 17 and 15 feet classes were those adopted by the Club and scratch racing has always been a feature of Club events and one of the main interests of members. Throughout the years, the early measurement classes altered through development with members being in the forefront of the formation of the 19/24 Class in 1899, the Plaeiads in 1914 (which were incidentally allowed to carry one paid hand), the Dragons and Scottish Islanders around 1936 and the Solings and Pipers in the 1960's. In the decade before the '60's there was a considerable upsurge in dinghy sailing and, on the formation of the Helensburgh Sailing Club, the Clyde Corinthian presented a GP 14 racing dinghy for the use of the Helensburgh Club members to help establish the class. This was the beginning of the close association with that Club in the Friday Evening Race in advance of the Club's May Regatta each year. Members enjoyed success, not only in local waters, but in international scratch racing, the most notable being the in the 1920's with Norman Clark and T.C. Glen Coates competing in 6 metres for places in the British/America Cup in 1922 with their efforts being rewarded by a club dinner in their honour in the Autumn of that year. In 1928 the Rear Commodore, W.F. Robertson, won the "Seawanhaka" in his 8 metre Caryl. This was some five years after the Club had made an attempt to have the event held in the Clyde, owing to the time and expense which would be incurred by a Clyde owner in competing for a place in the series on the South Coast of England; another problem still with us today. The Club was to go to great lengths to encourage top class racing even to the extent of writing to King George V asking for his assistance to encourage the "J" Class yachts to come to the Clyde for a Jubilee Regatta in 1933. A contribution had been made in 1910 towards the formation of an International Regatta at Ryde on the Solent which was postponed owing to the death of Edward VII. The Club also played a full part in underwriting the formation of the Mudhook Yacht Club's Schools and University Races in 1947 and by providing events at the 1951 Festival Fortnight, 1953 Coronation Regatta and the 1956, 1961, 1957 and 1973 International Clyde Regattas, and the intervening Clyde Weeks.

The Club did not concentrate entirely on scratch racing and has always featured handicap classes in events. The measurement of yachts, whether to a rating or to a handicap, seems to be, and has always been, a major problem. The Club showed great concern that the Yacht Racing Association's measurer in 1891 was resident in Edinburgh and wrote in such terms to the renowned Dickson Kemp, secretary of the Y.R.A., expressing the Club's feelings on the matter. The result of this was the appointment of a Clyde measurer, one John Mackenzie of Greenock, who served for many years and, in 1900, the appointment of an official handicapper.

In the same way that the Club moved from its own sailing rules to those of the Y.R.A. in 1896, it moved from its own ratings to those of the Clyde Length Classes before adopting the Clyde Yacht Clubs' Conference Classes in 1902. There were many other great developments in Yacht Racing at that time, none-the-least being the establishment in 1899, after long discussion, of distinguishing numbers for yachts. A problem still to the fore even in this centenary year. The carrying of sail and measurement does not seem to have been a problem other than the occasion in 1962 when it took a ballot of members to reject the use of spinnakers in the Tarbert Race.

There have been many distinguished yachts which have sailed with the Club in the past and the Race Committee at a Regatta in 1896 had the temerity to disqualify The Royal Yacht, Britannia. Exactly seventy years later, Clyde Corinthian members formed the Crew of the Royal Yacht Bloodhound when she participated in, and won, the Tarbert Race in 1966. From the Club's records there is chronicled an argument about prizes by the owner of Ayrshire Lass in 1879 and the involvement in a protest in 1894 of Hatasoo, two yachts still in Clyde waters. A look at the prize-winners throughout the years catalogues the boats which were best and well-known in Clyde waters during the last century.

The types of yachts raced by members have been mentioned already and it was for them that the early events were organised with the traditional form of Clyde Regatta which still forms the body of the Clyde season. From the time of the Club's formation, the May Regatta traditionally followed upon those of the Royal Northern Yacht Club and the Royal Clyde Yacht Club, who alternated each year in holding the first event. A suggestion in 1913 that the Club should rotate with the Royal Gourock Yacht Club and the Royal Western Yacht Club in the third, fourth and fifth Regattas of each season was rejected and the traditional form still exists.

The Club first turned its attention to providing races for large cruising yachts in 1890 with a race to Ardrishaig on a Saturday in early August with a return race on the Monday. By 1893 the large cruising yachts numbered 45 and the double starting line, which is still used for the Tarbert Race, was adopted to separate the class racers from the handicap yachts. The race to Ardrishaig lasted four years until the finishing point was moved to Tarbert in 1894. The race with the two Tarbert Cups to be won, sailed under strict amateur rule, and, until recently without spinnakers, has outlived almost every other event in Clyde yachting. In 1956 three of the largest yachts in the Clyde arrived at Tarbert within 20 seconds of each other and recently two International Dragons cross the Finishing Line in a dead heat after 7½ hours racing.

The Social Side at Tarbert, with the "Fair" on Saturday Evening followed by "Dougie's" late licence and the Club Cocktail Party, agreeably filling up the late Sunday Morning, has not been overlooked. How pleasant to stand, glass in hand, aboard the Commodore vessel of the day and survey the yachts crowded into Tarbert Harbour, many proudly flying Tarbert Pennants won in previous years, but dominated by the two current Cup Winners flying their Prize Burgees from the Starboard Yardarm.

Altogether sufficient proof of the continuing vigour of the Corinthians. If it was looked upon as bravado when the Club formed itself to provide races for amateurs; it must have appeared to onlookers in 1891 as madness when races were organised for ladies. Is this "women's-lib" really new?!!

As the Club was formed with the purpose of racing it is natural that it should be concerned in courses and "dangerous mark boats at Gourock" in 1892 which were being severely affected by the increased steamer traffic in the area! Being a leading light in yachting it was natural that the Club should be involved in an attempt to form a United Yacht Club in Glasgow in 1894 although this effort was abortive. What eventually emerged out of the proposals was the Clyde Yacht Clubs' Conference, incorporating the Royal Northern, Royal Western, Royal Largs, Clyde Corinthian, Mudhook and West of Scotland Yacht Clubs, with the main object of controlling measurements and limitations of yachts. The Clyde Yacht Clubs' Conference organised a Club Room in Glasgow shared by members up until the early 1950's. There was always a representative to the Yacht Racing Association from the membership of the Club and eventually to the Royal Yachting Association when the new style was adopted.

The Club has made contributions to yachting in general and has been prepared to consider many of the wider problems affecting yachtsmen. A response was made to the Board of Trade in 1908 with the view that heavy increases in French harbour dues were not likely to affect many members of the Club. The suggestion that there should be purchase tax on yachts in 1946 was considered deeply and attacked with force by the Committee.

In the present period of financial stringency it is a pleasant surprise to note that the Club enjoyed a surplus in its pre-centennial year. This was on an Ordinary Subscription of £2 and a Subscription which started at 10/6d. and increased after five years to 1 guinea, only to be increased to its present level within the past few years. By contrast, Race Entry fees are only now coming close to the £3 level of a century ago. While the Club has always survived on the generosity of the members and their contributions to the Prize Fund, it has not been plain sailing on the financial side and apart from times of hardship there have been occasions when the "auditors have been appalled at the records" or one when financial rumours in 1883 caused the members to call an Extraordinary General Meeting to enable the Secretary to refute these rumours. The non-appearance of the Secretary did not help matters and he was actually threatened with a letter "to be sent to your father" outlining the nasty situation if the records were not returned forthwith. These problems apart, the administration of yachting was not so costly as it is today. The Club's cannons could be purchased in 1902 for £1:10/- each and there was much deliberation in taking the decision to purchase them.

Many personalities have enjoyed membership of the Club. It is always difficult to mention names as omission may cause offence. Some, however, must be mentioned. We have heard of the part played by the Clarks in the Club from the founders to Stewart Clark who was Commodore for 20 years until 1907. Maurice Clark, elected a member in 1902, who apart from being a yachtsman of note was Commanding Officer of Clyde Division R.N.V.R. to which organisation of the Club made a donation in the First World War for comforts "for the sailors" and the creation of a Clyde Corinthian Cot in a hospital in France. A. King Clark joined in 1895 and in the centenary year Lt. Col. R. King Clark who joined in 1931 is proposed as a Steward.

Thomas Lawson was a member in 1879 sailing the Yacht Camellia and a direct forebear of the present Commodore J. Herbert Thom, winner of the "Seawanhaka Cup" in the 6 metre Circe joined in 1904. J. Howden Hume, Commodore 1958 to 1970, joined the Club in 1919, an International and Olympic competitor with Johan in 1968, was three times winner of the Napier Cup for the Tarbert Race aboard Vadura and is one of the Club's three Honorary Life Members.

For most of the Club's life the Commodores and Flag Officers spent long periods in office, each one appearing to be standing in the queue waiting to follow on in succession. Continuity in the administration of the sport however has merit.

Two Secretaries have served for long spells with the present one Ian J. Scott after 14 years needing only to complete another 16 to beat W.W. Aspin who served from 1907 until 1937.

Long service of many devoted Flag Officers and Members and the maintenance of worthwhile traditions have been the mainstay of the Club. Sailing has been competitive but in the true Corinthian tradition. With this spirit the Clyde Corinthian Yacht Club goes forward into the new century to fulfil its part in the sport of yachting.

Acknowledgement

The Club is indebted to Ian and Aileen Scott and Sandy Taggart for compiling the Year Book and Membership List and for the writing of the History of the Club.