Prestigious Emsworth Sailing Club marks 100 years 

Centenary of Emsworth Sailing Club - (back row l-r) Jeremy Greaves, Oliver Clift and Commodore Michael Geary and (front row l-r) younger members Unity Bowns, Becki White and Eloise Clift with some of the club's boats behind
Centenary of Emsworth Sailing Club - (back row l-r) Jeremy Greaves, Oliver Clift and Commodore Michael Geary and (front row l-r) younger members Unity Bowns, Becki White and Eloise Clift with some of the club's boats behind

Set in its idyllic location within Chichester Harbour, Emsworth Sailing Club (ESC) is one of the country’s oldest water-based activity clubs. It has been home to a pantheon of great sailors during its 100 years. 

After its formation in 1919 having originally been a sea-bathing establishment from 1800, the club has gone on to become one of the most decorated on the south coast.

Former and current commodores celebrate the centenary of Emsworth Sailing Club

Former and current commodores celebrate the centenary of Emsworth Sailing Club

Steeped in history, the clubhouse of today, in Bath Road, still incorporates the original building which was constructed in 1792 before it was acquired in 1919.

Affiliated with The Royal Yachting Association (RYA), the club also boasts its fair share of Olympic contenders and national champions – with it currently counting more than 30 national or world titles from among the male, female and junior members since 2000 alone.

Arguably its most famous scions are Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten and the round the world yachtsman and record breaker, Sir Peter Blake.

With the club beginning celebrations to mark its centenary, it is both a chance to look back on its achievements over the last century as well as reflect on how the club, based on Bath Road, has progressed during that period to establish itself as an institution within the picturesque former fishing village.

Sir Peter Blake

Sir Peter Blake

‘It is the oldest club in Chichester Harbour and among the oldest in the UK,’ Jeremy Greaves, member of the centenary committee, says. ‘Marking 100 years of the club is something that is being celebrated by young and old, water-lovers and land-lovers.

‘The club is a real community and is a bedrock of the village where people love to visit. Most people are local but we have people come from all over including Surrey and London. It’s set in a beautiful location and has great atmosphere and facilities.

‘We have a very strong sailing scene with dinghy racing and cruisers, through to kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding. For those who love to be on the water there is no place like it in the world – we are very fortunate.’

With 2019 such an auspicious year for the club, activities to mark the occasion are already in full swing. More than 150 people attended a drinks reception in November, along with eight former commodores of the club. A special commemorative cake was cut by the longest serving club member and the junior captains.

This marked the first of a series of activities both on and off the water, which will include a centenary regatta, a sailpast, a moonlight race, kayak and paddleboard events, as well as an East Head family invasion and beer and band festival. There will also be a centenary ball, vintage tea party and a hardback book on the history of the club. In addition, a range of centenary themed clothing is being produced.

Celebrations will culminate in the weekend of June 22-23 with flagship events, activities and parties catering for the wide, diverse membership.

The club’s ability to change with the times over the years has allowed it to flourish and enjoy the strong membership of 1,600 people it has today – with youngsters and females far more represented now than in days gone by.

‘The club has changed a lot over the 100 years, including us expanding the site and improving facilities but also seeing the membership increase and now being more representative of society,’ says Jeremy.

‘At one point it was quite exclusive with the club mainly made up of upper classes but now it has a much wider range. We now have a lot more females and a strong youth section which makes up 20 per cent of the membership. A lot of members dedicate their time and expertise to help bring through the younger generation.

‘The club is not all about competition. We just want people to enjoy being on the water and if people want to take it to the next level then we feel we have the resources and training capabilities to be able to do that.’

John Straw is one of the older members of the club who joined in 1953 in the days when they would repair cotton sails and the swimming pool could on occasions be filled by the tide.

It was also a time when the fire brigade used to practice flushing out the mud as part of their hose drill, taking water from the mill pond. 

Speaking of how the club has changed since the days when he first joined, John explains: ‘The development of junior sailing has been one of the main changes. There are now as many young members as old members which is good for the future of the club.

‘The club management has changed a lot too, especially from the late 1950s after members became fed up at being dictated to by the establishment. It was run as more of a closed shop back then but now everyone is more involved.’

Junior captain Henry Chandler, 16, who is helping to organise events and activities to mark the centenary, believes the club has a strong bond between young and old. ‘The last 100 years have been important and the club has a lot of history,’ he says.

‘The older and younger members get on well with each other but marking the centenary will help bring us even closer together. They are great for us younger ones because they offer us advice and tell us stories about how things have changed.

‘There is a real team spirit at the club – it is a great family-friendly place to socialise. We have a lot of younger members and there’s always lots of fun things going on whether you enjoy being on the water or prefer the social side and being on land. It’s a real honour to be the captain in the centenary year which we’re all very much looking forward to.’ 

Junior members benefit from fund in memory of a sailing hero

Emsworth Sailing Club established the Sir Peter Blake Memorial Fund in 2001 following the tragic death of the celebrated New Zealand yachtsman who had lived in Emsworth for more than 30 years.

Sir Peter was murdered, aged 53, by pirates in the Amazon. He competed successfully in six Whitbread Round the World races, sailed 600,000 miles over the world’s oceans, and led Team New Zealand to two successive America’s Cup victories. He was knighted in 1995.

He came to Emsworth after one of his first round the world races so his boat could be repaired, joined Emsworth Sailing Club, and married the then commodore’s daughter, Pippa Glanville.

The objective of the fund is to provide grants to encourage young members to improve their sailing skills.