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Henri-Lloyd - For the Obsessed

Looe Sailing Club's 90th anniversary celebrations

by John Collings 11 Apr 14:24 BST
Looe's distinctive Redwing fleet - the class was specifically designed for Looe Bay by the legendary Uffa Fox in 1938 - races across the starting line at one of the twice weekly events held during the summer months © Neil Richardson

It has always 'boasted' one of the least attractive facades of any sailing club in the world - a dark varnished door opening on to a tiny back-street thoroughfare, with kiss-me-quick holiday souvenirs and food outlets as neighbours.

Yet, inside such unlikely surroundings is a club that has built a shining reputation around the globe for not only being good at hosting events but also for being, quite simply, a class above.

Looe Sailing Club will this summer celebrate 90 years of raising sails and delivering expectations.

It was formed in the days when one global pandemic was still a recent memory but another was, thankfully, an age away; when the shooting of Bonnie and Clyde was a reality more than a film, and when there were no cat's eyes on the town's roads because Percy Shaw's invention had still to cross the Tamar.

But ever since the club was established in 1934, the varnish on that door has been dulled by the continual knock of young people eager to learn the art of seamanship and dinghy sailing and, in more recent years, of household-name sailing classes wanting to come to the South East Cornwall resort to hold their national and world championship events.

Back in 1934, local boatbuilder Arthur Collings swept away the wood shavings on the floor of his quayside boatyard so that a handful of like-minded souls could hold the first of many meetings that eventually led to the 1947 establishment of the Buller Street headquarters, now one of the town's oldest sporting clubs.

Since then, successive families of water sports enthusiasts have come through those doors, honing their skills to such an extent that they have taken the name of Looe on to the national and international stage - the Looe Sailing Club pennant has even been flown in the dinghy park of an Olympic qualifying regatta.

Many of those dedicated members have also fulfilled a host of essential behind-the-scenes positions that has kept the club afloat for so many decades.

Past years are littered with bouquets and plaudits, including being shortlisted for the Royal Yachting Association (RYA)'s August annual award of 'Sailing Club of the Year' - that 2012 accolade eventually went to Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy which had just organised the highly-successful London Olympic Games sailing regatta.

Four years after the first spit-and-sawdust encounter on the quayside, founder club president Wilfred Neale dreamed up a plan for Looe to have its own sailing dinghy, one specifically tasked to reign supreme over the vagaries of Looe Bay.

Telephones were only just becoming common place, and mobiles and texting were still four decades or more away, but philanthropist Mr Neale still managed to contact the eminent boat designer Uffa Fox and, somehow, persuaded him to channel his renowned skills into drawing the lines of a brand new sailing boat - and so the Redwing, a 14-ft clinker-built dinghy was born.

Its success was not immediate because of the 1939-45 hostilities but it soon grew in popularity and by the 1950s there were fleets across the West Country and even farther afield.

In truth, the clamour for cheaper and arguably faster 'plastic' boats would inevitably lead to a decline in Redwing numbers but it still holds a romantic place in the heart of its birth place and Looe will yet again host the boat's national championships this summer.

However, Looe is known for so much more than Redwing sailing.

Over the years the light blue-sails of the Enterprise class has given the town podium places on the UK stage, while also hosting world and national championships - and the 'Ents', too, will be returning to Looe in this special birthday year for their own national sailing week.

Meanwhile the Jack Holt-designed Mirror dinghy, mass produced on the back of Barry Bucknell's do-it-yourself 1960s television programme and financed by the national newspaper which gave it its name, continues to provide a pathway into the sport for the young people of the town and the surrounding area.

As Looe's reputation as a family holiday resort and ideal sailing venue grew, so came the demands for the club to stage week-long national championships for a variety of other classes.

Over the past 40 years there has been a queue of fleets anxious to sample the Cornish hospitality and the complexities of far western English Channel weather systems and tidal flows.

Probably one of the proudest days in the club's history came in 1998 when the RYA decided to bring their annual National Youth Championships to town with 300 young competitors and their families in tow.

Among the guests were Cornwall's own Olympic sailing medallist Ben Ainslie and the RYA president, Princess Anne, who climbed those famous clubhouse stairs to be welcomed by the commodore, the late Brian Carvey.

Looe Sailing Club continues to be at the forefront of the sport, holding twice weekly races for Lasers, Enterprises, Redwings and Mirrors and maintaining its proud reputation as a sailing training centre for young people.

New commodore Simon Bennett, an accomplished Laser and Enterprise helm, will be overseeing the 90th anniversary year with support from his flag officers, vice-commodore John Crabb; rear commodore Jack Pope, treasurer Colin Crabb and also club president Callum Dingle.

The celebrations begin with an 'open house' after club racing on Saturday, April 27, when it is hoped that as many past and current members as possible will be able to attend from 4.30 pm onwards to enjoy some light refreshments and live music as well as renewing old acquaintances and admiring a display of nostalgic memorabilia.

Looe's clubhouse, too, has kept pace with the times and many internal alterations and improvements continue to make it a welcoming and comfortable haven for both sailing enthusiasts and non-sailing members alike.

And a paint brush and tin of varnish for that door are never far away...

For more information about Looe Sailing Club, please contact secretary Paul Sedgbeer on Looe (01503) 264 053.

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