The first ten years, 1958-1968
A history of the first ten years of UYC - how it was founded in 1958 by a group of dedicated and hard-working enthusiasts and grew rapidly into a well-established and respected club.
To see an album of pictures from the early years, click here:
UYC The Early Years
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 from around eighty people, and many of them, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, who made an impassioned judgement on the importance of retaining Ullswater's natural beauty for all, died soon after.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 late 1980s
- Sue Giles
Last updated 18:28 on 25 January 2023