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Club history 1958-2018

2018 is a Diamond Year for Ullswater Yacht Club as we celebrate our 60th Anniversary.

To commemorate our Diamond Jubilee I have put together a history of the first ten years of UYC which shows how it was founded by a group of dedicated and hard-working enthusiasts and grew rapidly into a well-established and respected club. There are also early memories from founder member the late Harold Couzens and a few recollections from sailors who were there at the very beginning - Sue Giles

      

FOUNDER MEMBERS From left: Harold Couzens, Hon Secretary 1958-1962, Honorary Vice Commodore for Life from 1964; Joe Harrison,  Honorary Vice Commodore for Life from 1964; John Farrer, Commodore 1958-1965, President 1965-1978; Alec Snaith, Commodore 1966-1968, President, 1987-1998

The first ten years by Sue Giles

Sailing conditions on Ullswater were excellent with a fresh breeze from the North-west when seven boats and their crews launched themselves into history on Sunday, July 13, 1958. Five boats eventually crossed the finishing line off Howtown in the first yacht club race ever held on the lake.

It had all started earlier that year when friends Harold Couzens and Joe Harrison, who both loved to spend their spare time pottering around on the lake in motorboats decided to form a club. They thought everyone who enjoyed boating on the lake as much as they did should get together. They both lived and worked nearby so they placed an advert in the local paper, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, on March 4, 1958, left, inviting anyone interested in forming a club to write them.They were delighted with the response and eighty people, motorboat owners and sailors, turned up at the Queen’s Head, Tirril, on April 10, 1958, to officially form the Ullswater Motor Boat and Yacht Club.

A temporary committee was formed and the search began for a suitable site for the club. The committee first met at the Oldchurch Hotel where the rent required was too high at £300. Then on to Rampsbeck where Herbert Grundy suggested £15 a year for part of a field. But the deal fell through so they went on to the Howtown Hotel where they finally managed to rent some land next to the landing stage for £30.

In July, at the second general meeting, the annual subscriptions were fixed at three guineas a year (that’s £3.15) for full members and the club adopted the GP14 as its first class dinghy although members were accepted with a wide range of different boats, both power and sail. John Farrer, a local businessman and colleague of the two founder members, became the club Chairman and Harold Couzens was Secretary.

And on Sunday, July 13, the historic first yacht club race was held with a 3.45pm start. Joe Harrison in his motorboat Sharko laid the marks and Chairman John Farrer was the race officer, assisted by Harold Couzens. Competitors changed in their cars which had to be parked near the Howtown landing stage – wet suits for dinghy sailors were unknown at that time and lifejackets were optional.

With a fresh breeze and the notoriously fickle winds around the Howtown area of the lake, there were several capsizes during the race and the winner on handicap was Bob Gibson in a GP14. Tea was provided on the foreshore after the race by Frank Allison and his wife. Among the starters was Alec Snaith, crewed by ‘Master’ Brian Overs. The wooden mast of his Enterprise fell down in the middle of the race. He made his way back to the shore, tightened up a bottlescrew, went back into the race, and still managed third place! He later admitted that didn’t say much for the standard of sailing in the early days.

Alec, who went on to become Commodore and was an active and much respected club member for many years, had been sailing his Enterprise alone on Ullswater for some time. There were very few boats on the lake then and it was so unusual to see another sailing dinghy that sailors always stopped to talk to each other. Alec had always wanted to race and he went on to win the club’s first trophy for the best overall results in the five handicap races held during 1958.

During that summer, Joe Harrison and Harold Couzens had a go at sailing on Ullswater themselves – and became hooked. They boosted the club’s GP14 fleet by buying six from John Swinburne who had a boat-building yard at South Shields, keeping one each and selling the others to members for around £165 a time, including sails.

All the five races held by the club that year were from Howtown and officials soon realised the limitations of the site. Car parking was bad and there was nowhere to erect facilities. Secretary Harold Couzens was driving home from Howtown one night when he saw Mr Allen of Seat Farm bailing hay in his lakeside field at Thwaitehill Bay. He thought it would be an ideal place for a club, so he stopped and asked the farmer straight away. Negotiations were successful and working parties started on Boxing Day to prepare the new site for the 1959 season. The club’s land was fenced off and a new access road built.

1959

Pictured: An original UYC burgee signed by founder members J N Farrer, Harold Couzens, Frank Harrison, Morton Nash, P J Dowson, J Heskett Bell, J C Harrison, Bob Gibson and Frank Allison.

The club burgee had been specially chosen to reflect the range of craft in the club, a golden winged horse on a blue background. The horse represented the motor section, the wings, sailing, and blue, the water. But in January 1959, after a heated debate, the committee decided to accept no-one to the club with a boat that could exceed 10 knots. It was felt that a large water-ski section could be detrimental to the development of the club on the new site and prevent the granting of planning permission for a clubhouse.

At the first annual general meeting in March 1959, the emphasis was switched entirely to sail and motorboat was dropped from the name, leaving simply Ullswater Yacht Club but retaining the distinctive blue and yellow Pegasus burgee.  Chairman John Farrer, whose firm had provided much of the labour and materials for the establishment of the new site free of charge, was elected the first Club Commodore.

The first club race of 1959 was held in March from the new Thwaitehill Bay site with nothing there but members’ cars – a car was often used as the race office – and a few benches bought from a village hall. In early summer, a wooden toilet building, the one later used as a chandlery, was erected for £120.

Pictured: Harold Couzens and Joe Harrison get busy at the new site with the wooden toilet building in the background.

Despite the lack of facilities, membership was up to 119 in July. Around 17 GP14s turned out regularly for racing on Sundays and another eight boats usually made up the handicap fleet. Members enjoyed the personal and friendly atmosphere and racing was so keen that sometimes there wasn’t a single boat on the shore, they were all on the water.

The club was run in an easy-going way with very few rules. At first it was not even compulsory to wear lifejackets. Members tended to carry them in their boats and put them on if the wind blew up. That was until one race when a huge black gust caught the whole fleet beating from the club to Beauthorn mark. Some crews didn’t have time to put on their lifejackets and out of the fleet of 32 starters only one boat managed to complete the race,  and he missed a mark out!

In August, club boats raced the full length of the lake, round Norfolk Island at Glenridding and back, for the first time. The winner of the 1959 Island Race was Alec Snaith. During that summer, planning permission was granted for a clubhouse to be erected on the foreshore.

Subscriptions were put up to five guineas, £5.25, a year for full members in December and work started on the new clubhouse. It eventually cost around £3,000, most of the money given by members in interest-free loans. Although outside contractors erected the new building, the other work on site was done by members including laying the foundations, putting in roads, slipways and jetties.

The burden of much of the work fell on the shoulders of founder members Harold Couzens and Joe Harrison and Commodore John Farrer. They all lived locally and their business connections meant that the club could do many important jobs without great expense.

1960

When the sailing season started in 1960, the new clubhouse was ready, complete with a Lakeland stone fireplace which soon developed a reputation for its smokiness. The committee wrote to Uffa Fox, designer of the Flying Fifteen and the sailing ‘superstar’ of the day, asking him to officially open the clubhouse, but they received no reply. The new clubhouse, pictured,  was much admired and a letter praising the design was received from Bala Saling Club asking for the name of the builder.

  

The club had also adopted two new classes, the Enterprise and Flying Fifteen. A total of 27 Sunday class races were planned for the year in three separate series. During the summer, the club’s first open meeting, an invitation team event, was held. A team from Bassenthwaite won the GP14 Trophy but the club won the Enterprise Team Trophy and the individual Flying Fifteen event was won by a club member.

By now the club was lucky enough to have two members who were willing to be race officers almost every weekend, Brian and Effie Heath. Not only were they competent at running the racing but their two daughters and two sons were all good crews. Frank Allison donated a ship’s bell which hung outside the race office and it was generally agreed to be an improvement on the previous method of starting, a brass cannon. Membership rose to more than 160 and in December 1960 the club made a formal agreement with the Dalemain Estate to pay £25 a year for moorings in the club bay and another £5 a year to moor racing buoys on the lake bed.

1961

Over the winter of 1960/61, the dinghy park was redesigned to cope with more boats and members worked on the roads, gate, fences, car park, toilets and jetties. The Albacore sailors in the handicap fleet were anxious for the class to be adopted by the club but early in March 1961, after a long and heated discussion, the committee decided that a junior class should be adopted in preference to the Albacore. Later that month, the third annual general meeting overturned the committee’s decision and adopted the Albacore. It was soon to become one of the most popular classes in the club.

As the sailing season of 1961 got into full swing, membership has risen to 200 and the club was no longer just a small group of enthusiasts. Weekend open meetings for each class were held during the season and the first Enterprise Week was in August when the steamer was hired for a dance.

There was great concern at this time among club members over a plan by Manchester Corporation to use the lake as a reservoir as this would restrict its recreational use. During the winter of 1961/62, Manchester’s plans for the lake were defeated in the House of Lords but sadly Lord Birkett, pictured, who made an impassioned judgement on the importance of retaining Ullswater’s natural beauty for all, died soon after.

1962

Early in 1962, the committee decided to open a fund to buy a trophy in his memory and permission for this was given by Lady Birkett. Discussions on the form of a Birkett Trophy event went on throughout the year and club members were split over whether it should be for members only or open to outsiders.

1963

In January 1963 it was so cold that the lake froze over completely and it was used for skating. Still the sailing season started on time on March 31.The club had finally decided to buy a rescue boat of its own, instead of relying on members’ motorboats. The sturdy red boat became known as the ‘Red Peril’, pictured

The committee also made a final decision on the Birkett. It was to be an open event for any boat with a Portsmouth rating and a silver salver was bought for the winner. The trophy that was to become the ‘Holy Grail’ for competitive sailors all over the North was first raced for on July 27 and 28, 1963. The winner was notable National Twelve sailor Robin Steavenson, pictured at the prizegiving with his crew Ewen Stamp.


Open meetings at the club had become so popular that a strip of land along the foreshore was rented for camping and more and more members were taking part in open meetings at other clubs.

Later in the season, calor gas lighting was installed in the clubhouse and at the annual meeting at the end of the year, Alec Snaith, a keen racer from the very beginning and the winner of the first Island Race, was elected Vice Commodore. Manchester Corporation’s plans to pump water out of Ullswater to a holding reservoir were released over the winter of 1963/64 and members became concerned about the effect it would have on the water level of the lake.

1964

During the 1964 season, the weather was generally good for sailing, but the Island Race, by now an established tradition, had so little wind that the first boat finished 22 seconds outside the five hour time limit and all the starters were disqualified. At the annual general meeting in 1964, the Commodore John Farrer, who had put so much into establishing the club made the often-heard comment of officials that the same “faithful few” were doing all the work. “Much as I deplore the passing of what was once a small homely club with everyone knowing everyone else, we have got to be progressive,” he said. Membership then totalled more than 250.

Founder members Harold Couzens and Joe Harrison, who had placed the original advert in the Herald for “any persons interested in the formation of a club for sailing and power craft” to write to them, decided to take a back seat in the running of the club and were both given the title of Honorary Vice Commodore.

1965

In violent storms over the winter of 1964/65, the water level rose so high that the car park was flooded. Subscriptions for 1965 were increased to £10 for family members and the club adopted another class boat – the International 14. Race officers Brian and Effie Heath left the country so for the 1965 season it was up to club members, often the Commodore John Farrer, to act as race officer.

The newly-adopted International 14 fleet became very keen racers and crews from Tynemouth Sailing Club were invited to race every other month at Ullswater. Also in 1965, the cruiser fleet raced for the Pegasus Trophy for the first time and a sailing school for juniors was held on Tuesday and Friday evenings. Cadets were adopted as a class boat and the club owned one for juniors to learn to sail in.

At the end of the 1965 season, John Farrer resigned as Commodore. He could not be persuaded to stay on and was given the new position of President in recognition of all the work he had put into the club. In eight years he had seen it grow from a bare lakeside field to an established club with good facilities and an excellent sailing reputation. And he had never been sailing in his life! Alec Snaith took over as the new Commodore.

1966

It was a cold start to the season in 1966 with the Albacores the only keen racing fleet. Gas central heating was installed in the clubhouse and midweek racing was organised for Thursday nights.

1967

In 1967, the club became the first in the North adopt the Tempest, which was being built by Richardsons of Darlington and became an Olympic class in 1972 and 1976. At the same time the Flying Fifteens and International 14 classes were dropped. The Flying Fifteens no longer had a large enough fleet and the International 14s joined the just-formed sailing club on newly-built Derwent Reservoir.

During the year the Albacore fleet sailed for the Foord Trophy for the first time, donated by keen Albacore sailor Ray Foord and his family. And after years of bringing drinking water to the clubhouse in containers, a well was sunk and a petrol engine bought to run a water pump.

Pictured: Albacores race from the club

1968

The winter of 1967/68 was mild, then on January 14, the edge of a hurricane struck the lake with winds of over 100mph. The clubhouse roof was almost completely torn off and volunteers were called for to carry out urgent repairs.

The club celebrated its tenth birthday in 1968 with 205 members and 139 boats. There were 50 cruisers from Silhouettes to Folkboats.

The club agreed to contribute £25 towards sending club member Mike Glannister to the Tempest International Championships in New York and at the annual dinner a toast was made to Austin Pybus for becoming Silhouette National Champion.

The great debate that year was the Ullswater Preservation Society’s campaign against water skiing and power boats on the lake. It was a debate that was set to continue for many years until a 10mph limit was imposed on the lake in the late1980s.

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Honorary Vice Commodore the late Harold Couzens wrote his own account of the foundation of Ullswater Yacht Club which details his involvement in the early days. Here are some extracts from his personal recollections.

The idea:

In February 1958 two friends, Harold Couzens and Joe Harrison, pictured,  were in conversation at the bar in the Edenhall Hotel, Edenhall. They were directors of two local companies, The Blencowe Lime Co Ltd and Edenhall Concrete Products Ltd respectively.

At that time, Harold had a dinghy with a small outboard motor which he carried about on the top of his car and Joe had a motor cruiser, a converted lifeboat called Sharko. Harold’s other connection with water was that he had been an officer in the Royal Navy during the war and a pilot flying off aircraft carriers. Their conversation turned to boating on Ullswater. In the fifties there were not many yachts or motorboats on the lake and the two friends were talking about the lack of a boating club and the fact, that to their knowledge, there had never been one. Harold said to Joe: “Why don’t we start a club?” Joe agreed that this was a good idea.

The search for a site:

Harold arranged a meeting with Mr Jackson who owned Oldchurch on the lake shore but the £300 rent that he required went far beyond what the club could afford. Then he went to see Herbert Grundy who owned the Rampsbeck Hotel and who, after some discussion, said he was prepared to consider leasing part of his foreshore to the club. So the committee met him on the site and he agreed.            

The solicitor, Quinton Little, of Little and Shepherd, who was well known to Harold, was asked to act for the club. Herbert Grundy had a change of heart and decided that a yacht club on the foreshore would be detrimental to his hotel business so the whole matter was dropped. Harold then went to The Ullswater Steam Navigation Co. which at that time was owned by Sir Wavell Wakefield, but no progress was made.

His next step was to approach Michael Baldry who owned the Howtown Hotel and a considerable amount of land adjoining the lake. One of his fields was on the South side of the Howtown steamer jetty and Harold asked him if he would lease part of this land to the club. After some discussion, he agreed to let the club have a strip of the foreshore in this field about thirty feet wide for £30 a year.

Unfortunately the site had two drawbacks, a public footpath ran through it and there was no vehicular access. But at least the club now had a base from which it could operate. Harold and Joe bought a load of fencing material and soon had the area fenced off. Michael Baldry allowed members to park their cars in the field next to the entrance to the steamer pier and the first race was held on July 13, 1958.

The move to the present site:

Even though the club was thriving and the members were enjoying themselves, it was realised that the site was not satisfactory and that eventually a new base would have to be found.

Towards the end of the first season, Harold was driving from Howtown one Sunday afternoon towards Pooley Bridge when he saw Mr Allen of Seat Farm bailing hay in the field on the North side of what is now the club site. Harold drove into the field and after discussion about the weather and the size and condition of the hay crop, told the farmer that the Yacht Club was looking for a permanent site on the lake edge.

He pointed out to Mr Allen that the adjacent field to the South would make an ideal place for the club and asked if he would he be interested in leasing part of this. The farmer appeared to be vaguely interested and at subsequent meetings at the farmhouse his interest grew and he eventually agreed to lease to the club about a third of the field with a right of way to it from the main road.

A potential snag was that the Ullswater Ski Club was using the southern end of the field’s foreshore as their base. The driving force behind the ski club was Keith Hall who was a friend of Harold, so talks between the two resolved the matter and the Ski Club agreed to move to the Yacht Club’s site at Howtown, subject to Michael Baldry’s approval. Michael agreed to the move and negotiations continued with Mr Allen. The lease was signed and the club was in possession of an ideal site, ripe for development.

The first task was to fence off the club’s land and construct a road into the site. The members soon had a fence in position leaving the problem of the road, which would have cost a lot of money which the club didn’t have. The Chairman John Farrer was the owner of the Blencowe Lime Co., a limestone quarry near Blencowe Station. Harold was also a director of this company and he persuaded John that all the work necessary for the construction of the road could be done using the company’s men and machines. All the stone and other materials would also be supplied free of charge. His reward was to be made Commodore.

All the boats were moved from Howtown ready for the 1959 season and members started work constructing a jetty and a concrete launching strip.

Moorings:

Urgently required were buoys moored in the lake to facilitate the laying of courses for racing. Major Hasell of Dalemain owned the lake bed where the buoys were to be placed so Harold went off to see him. Major Hasell wanted to visit the site and have things explained to him. Harold had heard that he had an aversion to being driven fast so he took him to the site at a steady 25mph to keep him in a good mood. When all was explained, he agreed to allow the buoys to be moored and moorings to be placed in the club bay for an annual fee.

The clubhouse:

There was a pressing need for a clubhouse and Alan Miller-Williams, an architect member from Richmond, offered to draw up a plan for a building to be erected on the site. This was approved by the committee and submitted to the planning department of Penrith Rural District Council in 1959. It was passed without any problems.

Bob Mackey was a club member who owned Beacon Trailers Ltd. As well as producing agricultural trailers they built large farm buildings. Bob was asked to submit a tender for the erection of the clubhouse and this was accepted. The members dug the foundations and laid all the concrete. The clubhouse was erected with member Frank Harrison supplying all the insulation for the roof and walls free of charge from his factory.

The stream:

It was then decided to divert the stream that ran down the South side of the site, straight into the lake instead of it going round the corner into the club bay. So a new trench was dug and the stream then discharged straight into the lake through a large diameter steel pipe (courtesy of Blencowe Lime) to the right hand side of the T-shaped jetty that had been constructed. The original course of the stream was filled in and levelled and this gave a useful area for storing dinghies etc. Very soon it was realised that this was a big mistake as the lakebed around the new jetty began to rapidly silt up so the stream was put back to its original course through a concrete channel.

Resignation:

Harold resigned as Secretary at the AGM on February 23, 1962, after having held the position for four years. The meeting requested that an appreciation of the work he had carried out during the formation of the club and the first four years of its existence be recorded in the minutes.The Commodore commented that Ullswater Yacht Club came into being largely through the Secretary’s efforts and that he was sorry he was resigning. At the AGM, held in the clubhouse on October 24, 1964, it was decided unanimously that Harold Couzens and Joe Harrison be made Honorary Vice-Commodores for life in recognition of their services to the club. Harold continued to be a committee member until October 1965.

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The late Alec Snaith

 Alec Snaith, lived in a village in County Durham. He went to the Norfolk Broads in the early 1950s and got interested in sailing. In 1956 he built a Heron, then he built an Enterprise, number 239, which was one of the first in the North. He spent his weekends in a caravan at Water Nook Farm, Ullswater, sailing on the lake, often with his niece Valerie. He saw no more than four boats sailing at one time and recalled that it was such a pleasure to come across another sailor that he always stopped to talk to them.

He was keen to race and would often say he wished someone would start a club. One night in 1958, Harold Couzens and Joe Harrison were in the Howtown Hotel and were talking to the landlord Michael Baldry about the possibility of forming a club. The landlord said: “There’s a man here who I know will join straight away.” That man was sailing-mad Alec Snaith.

Alec threw himself whole-heartedly into club life. He loved racing and also the friendly personal atmosphere of the club. He was proud to have won the trophy for the best results in the club’s first year, 1958, although he said that Howtown was “the worst place on the lake to sail from”. When he saw an Albacore he thought it was beautiful so he decided to build one for himself, at a cost of £150. The Albacore became a very successful class with up to 25 boats regularly out sailing. “A fine sight”, he said.

He remained an active and committed racer and was a dedicated club member for many years. He was Commodore from 1966-1968 when he was made Honorary Vice Commodore and he was Club President from 1987 until his death in 1998.

Pictured, from left, John Farrer, Harold Couzens, Alec Snaith, Brenda Couzens and Nora Snaith

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The late Jim Jackson

Jim Jackson, of Guisborough, sailed a Heron on Ullswater in the 1950s from his caravan which was on Mr Allen’s field at Thwaitehill Bay. His caravan was in a prime spot, under a tree in front of where the clubhouse is now, and he strung his radio aerial in the branches to get the best reception. When the newly-formed Ullswater Yacht Club acquired the site in 1959 he wasn’t very pleased because it meant he had to move his caravan. “I couldn’t beat it so I joined it,” he said. He moved his caravan over a wall into the next field and became a keen club member.

He remembered an early race in which there were 19 capsizes, mostly G14s and Enterprises, and no safety boat. Bill Sharp, who had a caravan at Waterside Farm and also owned a motor boat, volunteered to tow the capsized dinghies to the shore. He ran out of petrol and as Jim Jackson was the only member with an outboard he had a spare can which was passed over to Bill to keep him going.

“He later joined the club and often reminded me of the day he saved the club with my petrol,” said Jim. In the early 1960s Mr Jackson joined the Flying Fifteen fleet. Pictured: Jim Jackson's son with their Flying Fifteen