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Jack Holt Centennial Event at Chichester Yacht Club

by Dougal Henshall 24 Apr 2012 14:55 BST 21-22 April 2012
Holt Merlins; 'Kate', the prototype Merlin and winner of the Concours event, shown alongaside Spriteful, MR507, which was the first boat that Jack built using glued planks rather than clenched nail construction © Dougal Henshall

In hosting the first of the events aimed at celebrating the centenary of the birth of Jack Holt, Chichester Yacht Club certainly set the standard for the other events to follow. Following his retirement, when Jack Holt finally decided to leave his home and workshop at Putney, he chose to settle near the sea in West Sussex, which was perfectly situated for Chichester YC, where his classes were very much in evidence.

Jack continued to sail until old age forced him to hang up his life jacket for good. Even so, he still used to enjoy watching the sailing and had a favoured vantage point, a seat that have him a good view of the Start Line and racing area for the Club.

Honorary Life Membership of the Club was to follow, but even though Jack died back in 1995, Chichester Yacht Club were not about to forget one of their most famous members. They planned a weekend of activities that would celebrate the legacy that Jack had left the sport, which includes designs for more than 40 boats and something in excess of 200,000 dinghies built to his designs. The Holt story also included how Jack, in company with Tony Allen, was responsible for advances in lightweight fittings for racing dinghies, then the production of alloy masts and sailmaking.

After suffering a number of occasions when the sailing establishment treated him shabbily for the simple reason that he was a ‘working' sailor, Jack set out to change dinghy sailing into a sport that could be enjoyed by all. He did this by designing a range of boats that could be easily built and sailed, with such favourites as the Mirror, Solo, GP 14, Enterprise and Streaker still proving popular today.

A quiet and unassuming man, Jack was not a lover of ‘fuss' and was never at ease when he was the focus of attention. However, he would have been amazed at the way the world of sailing came together to mark the occasion of his Centenary. On the Saturday night, it was standing room only at Chichester YC as the club held an illustrated presentation on the life of Jack, followed by a relaxed session of drinks and snacks. The Club welcomed a number of high profile guests, including RYA CEO Sarah Treseder and Sue Holt, Jack's daughter, who had flown in from Canada for the event.

Chichester YC had certainly put a great deal of effort into decorating the clubhouse, to the point that they even had a Mirror dinghy in the bar!! Throughout the Club the story of Jack, with details of his boats, was told on strategically placed display boards, allowing visitors to follow the path that Jack had taken as he drew the lines of his ever popular designs.

The Sunday saw a regatta for the Holt Classes with a mixture of ‘ancient and modern' boats on display. Even the weather played its part, for after a week of strong winds and heavy rain, the day dawned to sunshine and a perfect breeze for sailing. A good turnout of boats enjoyed a day of Chichester's customary well organised racing, whilst for the older boats there was a hard fought Concours competition, which was won by the oldest boat there, the 1946 Merlin prototype ‘Kate'.

As the day progressed the wind freshened, which saw the older boats coming ashore, whilst the modern examples of Holt boats battled round, with the thrills afloat providing excellent entertainment for the BBC, who were reporting on the event and the many visitors watching the fun from the Clubhouse.

Well done to all the competitors and those who worked so hard to mark this important milestone and again, a special word must go to the Chichester Yacht Club for hosting such an informative and enjoyable weekend. The final word has to go to Sue Holt, who at times was visibly moved by the warmth that Jack's memories evoked. Sue closed off the proceedings for the weekend by handing out the prizes for the sailing and as she did so, commented that her father would have been touched that the life of a London boatbuilder could be the subject of such an amazing weekend.

Overall Results:

Fast Fleet
1st John & Pauline Cox, National 12 (CYC)
2nd Chris & Lois Barlow, Merlin Rocket (Vintage!) (Shearwater SC)
3rd Peter Hansall & David Gorrard, National 12

Slow Fleet
1st Ian Barnett, Solo (CYC)
2nd Andrew Smith & Rory Burdock, Cadet (Frensham Pond SC)
3rd Grace Yeoman & Izzy Barker, Mirror (Itchenor SC)

Concourse d'élégance
1st Mervyn Allen, Merlin 1 (1946 - the prototype Merlin) (Ranelagh SC)
2nd Chris & Lois Barlow, Merlin Rocket 507 (507- 1st Merlin Holt built using glued, rather than clenched nail construction)
3rd Andrew & Toby Martin, Miracle 3296

Toby was also the youngest competitor in his 2nd ever race on his 6th birthday.

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