The Royal Western Yacht Club of England
This famous club began life in 1827 as the Port of Plymouth Royal Clarence Regatta Club. It was re-named the Royal Western Yacht Club in 1833 and a year later the first Royal Warrant authorising a distinguishing ensign was granted - a white ensign with a red cross. In 1837 the club obtained the lease of its first clubhouse near Millbay docks and the first Royal Warrant authorising the blue ensign of the Fleet was granted in 1842.
In 1863 plans were submitted to the Committee for a new club house in Elliott Terrace which was opened in December 1866. In 1882 another new club house was completed at a cost of £12.635. It was situated on the Hoe next to the Grand Hotel and was completely destroyed in the Blitz of 1941 with the loss of all the club silver and historical records.
The former West Hoe Baths and Reading Room on Grand Parade had been used by the club since 1890. New premises on the site were opened by Prince Philip in 1965. An attempt to build another story onto the building was thwarted in 1979 by nearby residents in fear of the loss of their view which led to a final move to the present purpose built premises at Queen Anne's Battery.
The Royal Western ran their annual regatta for over 100 years and older Plymouthians will remember the graceful J-class yachts - they raced for the last time under the club's burgee in 1934. Many famous long distance races have been started by the club including the world's first ocean race, the Fastnet, in 1925. In 1960 Blondie Hasler, a former Royal Marine, challenged Francis Chichester to a single-handed race across the Atlantic reputedly for a bet of a half a crown. There were five starters and the race was won by Francis Chichester in Gypsy Moth. In 1966 another famous race was started, the Round Britain Two Handed Race.
History was also made at the club by a SWMHS member, Susan Cattley. As a lady member of the club in 1975 she caused a bit of a flutter by asking for the same rights to vote on the running of the club as the men had. So too did Patsy Blagdon, wife of Plymouth boat builder Alex Blagdon, who also wanted to raise her status from wife -of- member to full member in order to stand for the committee. After a lot of canvassing and heated discussion they were successful but it was not until the mid 1990's that the category of lady member was dropped.
The club celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2002. The Duke of Edinburgh will start the Round Britain and Ireland Race on June 9th an event which will also mark his 50 year patronage of the club.
By Judith M.L. Godfrey
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