It was a hot and sunny day in August 1970 and the world and his wife, children and dog, were enjoying the River Thames in every sort of craft imaginable. The afternoon race at Thames Sailing Club was abandoned due to lack of wind. With a pint in his hand, Peter Cowie remembers asking Monty Brown, commodore of TSC, if Thames had ever asked the Metropolitan Water Board if they could sail on one of their reservoirs. They had but had been turned down so he suggested that they should call a meeting of all the local commodores and to see if a combined effort would be more successful.
Tamesis, Minima, Thames, Hampton, Aquarius and Staines sailing clubs duly met and formed “The Association of Thames Valley Sailing Clubs”. Its sole purpose being to start a sailing club on a reservoir in the Thames Valley. Peter was appointed secretary and told to get on with it. They made up printed headed stationary and duly asked to meet with the MWB to discuss the use of one of their reservoirs for sailing. Whilst they waited for a reply a working group formed ideas on how they would run a sailing club some 40 feet in the air!
Eventually the MWB replied – and it was not a flat “NO”. Recent legislation had required the various water authorities to provide leisure facilities on a proportion of their reservoirs; and Walton Sailing Club was being forced off its gravel pit and was bringing political pressure on the MWB to allow Walton the use of Island Barn Reservoir.
Suddenly in the spring of 1971 an advert appeared in the Daily Telegraph saying that those interested in developing the recreational use of MWB facilities should contact them. Peter immediately replied and asked if they could look at suitable reservoirs so that they could have an informed discussion. This was agreed and within a week he met Tom Connor, the MWB surveyor, his assistant and Alex Cowie (no relation) of the Sports Council. Their first viewing was to drive between Staines North and South reservoirs. They looked possible, but these reservoirs were used quite often to balance flows and the water levels often moved. Next they were taken to the pumping station at the SW corner of Queen Mary (where the gravel was taken out of the reservoir). Tom pointed out that this site had electricity, water and sewerage facilities, access already existed ; the car park space could easily be extended and that some buildings could also be leased to save costs. Finally they were taken to the NE corner, through the gate and up the ramp to the one acre site we now know. WOW. That was it.
Shortly afterwards a meeting was called by the MWB for interested parties. Their introduction covered canoeing, ornithology, fishing, rowing and diving as well as sailing and the possibility of a combined facility. Power boats were not included.
Peter introduced himself and stated that the AoTVSC had done its homework on the facilities required, costs and logistics and was ready to start negotiations with the MWB for Queen Mary Reservoir. There was a stunned silence. Before the meeting closed this was agreed – but the RYA would have two representatives on the working party. Peter was appointed secretary of this working group with Derek Somerville of Staines SC as chairman. They appointed Peter Brewer, Peter Charles, Peter King, and John Smith. The RYA appointed Alex Cowie and eventually Mike Evans. They met every two weeks, allocated tasks for immediate action.
They negotiated, costed and built up business plans for the two sites. The SW corner was cheaper, but all the boats would have to be winched up and down. The main clubhouse would be at ground level. There were no services or car park at the NE corner but the clubhouse and boats would be on top. The project would be funded by the MWB with a mortgage at 8%. They related all conditions of the lease to “the likely effects on membership” and hence the viability of the club.
The team met at Staines Sailing Club often going on until midnight and beyond (returning home at 3.00am was my record). They sat with our coats on as there was no heating! Sometimes it was nearly too cold to think. They called a meeting at Staines Town Hall in the autumn which was well attended following support from “Yachts and Yachting” and local advertising. They collected names and details from would be members to demonstrate viability and support. They had no money, and could not collect any until we could offer membership. Nobody asked for expenses.
The group had the financial accounts from Thames, Staines and Laleham so they all knew cost items to be considered in the financing of the new club. They also had many years of experience in doing just that all be it on a river with small memberships and low capital costs.
Eventually the NE corner won the argument, and just before Christmas 1971 agreement was reached. The final sticking point was the request by the MWB for a bond on the monies loaned – at another 8% - which we said made the project too expensive to be viable. However, the RYA stepped in and provided a guarantee which was accepted by the MWB. In consideration of this the RYA were to have two members of the club council to keep an eye on their liability and these were Brian Southcott and Beecher Moore for the whole 7-year period of the guarantee.
They were off. – all they had to do was get a sailing club organised by April 1st 1972.
It was essential they started in April as this was the start of the sailing season. No one could be expected to join two clubs!
Their priorities were
- Announce the formation of the club and offer membership. (They needed the money).
- Call an inaugural General Meeting
- Set up a properly constituted club with a management structure
- Provide the management team with regular membership and financial data
- Purchase rescue crafts
- Provide, through the MWB, access to the water, a car park.
- Provide toilets and some shelter
- Arrange a start boat and buoys to mark the course
- Create a berthing plan and for tiedowns
The inaugural meeting was held in February (I think) and was again well attended. Derek Somerville was elected Commodore and Peter Cowie as Secretary and Company Secretary. Peter King continued as treasurer and Peter Brewer as a director.
Peter Brewer ordered 6 13ft. Del Quay Dory boats at the Boat Show, the first two for QM at cost price. Peter also organised the tiedowns and laid some buoys. The MWB cut through the wave walls and organised portaloos. We cobbled a constitution from Staines/ Thames versions; we agreed a management structure and responsibilities. Twelve classes were decided upon as acceptable for members to own (all racing to be class racing) and class captains founded for each to serve on the sailing committee and to plan the berthing arrangements.
There was no computer. A card index was cross referenced with a membership ledger and application forms held in a ring binder. Membership cards were issued by return and the monies received were recorded and banked.
A small sub group designed the club flag based on the Middlesex scimitar and colours. There was a hut we could use – but we invited the “Aero Café” to provide refreshments and he had the only hut until at the last minute when Tom Connor found a hut somewhere and transferred it to our site where it became known as 'The Green Hut'.
The MWB designed the club house to be built in phases as the membership rose. Gosling won the contract for the car park and stairs (The Club got a good price as Gosling joined QM with his family and went on to win the Clubhouse contract). All necessary work was completed in record time to enable the club to start but it was an exciting time if not nail biting.
They did it.
It may have looked like organised chaos but we started our first race at 10 O’clock. There was light cloud with a force 3 wind. The Green hut was divided in two with Hessian to create a makeshift changing room or shelter. The food available included a 10 second doughnut, a chilli something with tea or coffee to keep you warm.
They were constantly reminding members not to park at the top. (Keep the perimeter road clear at all times).
The wearing of lifejackets by all person afloat was a condition of the lease (You were allowed to drown – but your body must float so it could be removed from the reservoir).
Children must wear life jackets at all times.
Much frustrating time was wasted reminding members of these rules which were being observed by the MWB and at first we would receive reminders of rules broken.
Security was a problem and early on they had an outboard motor stolen whilst on a mooring. Fortunately the Metropolitan Police Sailing club joined the Club so they formed a security committee. The main problem arose when the club house was first in use. Peter Brewer and Peter Cowie turned out in the middle of the night on several occasions to turn off the alarm system and check the building. Silver Wing Sailing Club donated a small dory which they could use to get to the larger boats on moorings.
The plans for the clubhouse were soon approved in detail and building commenced. The foundations are thick, solid and heavily reinforced. The club house is solidly built to withstand the strongest gale. Downstairs was designed to be “wet” with heavy duty paving slabs with coloured mortar joints. Upstairs was to be more comfortable; supporting a bar, café and committee room.
Membership rose steadily and rapidly as our profile rose in the yachting press thanks to Bob Fisher and Wendy Fitzpatrick. Whilst the first phase of the clubhouse was under construction we had the courage to ask the MWB to continue with the second floor. We were told that they had already made that decision and that the MWB were impressed and delighted with our progress and the way the club was being run.
It was about now that we had to sign up to the repayment of the MWB loan. (Circa £125,000). I think the necessary loan today would be £3m.
What happens if we don’t recruit sufficient members to run the club.
Will the signatories be held liable for the loan?
Just sign – we haven’t come this far to turn back now!
They were running hand to mouth. As they recruited members they could afford to buy something. Financial control and priorities were essential. They ran a tight ship. Members were amazingly supportive, helpful and hardy. Pioneers in fact. Peter Cowie happened to notice that an applicant with a Mirror 14 dinghy was a company director with an envelope franked by Bateman catering. Pat Lichenstieger was their MD. he had built a Mirror dinghy (an approved QM class) with his son and wanted to sail his pride and joy - so the Mirror fleet got a new members and Pat was recruited onto the House and Grounds committee.
They had a Sailing Committee which Peter Brewer started to run but handed over as new members volunteered. It was mostly made up from fleet captains. Peter Brewer located a prototype Del Quay 20 whose fibre glass hull was too thick for commercial use. He arranged for the hull and cabin to be joined; fitted out the interior of the boat and delivered it to QM. They had their starting boat and it was a bargain.
Peter ran the House and Grounds Committee. He had no difficulty in recruiting members half of whom were women. They also had an executive committee which Mike Evans chaired and he also ran a small finance committee. They began to use the changing rooms and wet club room before the upstairs was complete, thus we were able to able to survive the winter season in relative comfort. There were some teething problems; the urinals in the gentlemen’s toilet were too high up the wall for most members – solution – put duckboards underneath.
They were able to get changing room furniture through a contact. Office equipment seemed to appear. Pat Lichenstieger organised the design of the kitchen and the equipment arrived and was installed very cheaply. Peter Brewer took over as secretary and Peter Cowie became Rear Commodore. Things began to run more smoothly. During the first year many committee members were committing at least 20 hours per week
Five significant events happened in 1973,
- Mike Evans suceeded Derek Somerville as Commodore (in the early days Commodores only served for one year due to the demands of the job);
- Peter Brewer became the Club Secretary as a full-time employee;
- The Laser arrived;
- The Bloody Mary was invented.
- Chris Simon became Treasurer and started what was to be a 26-year stint on the Club Council.
The Bloody Mary was introduced in response to a wish by attendees at the London Boat Show to have an open race in the London area during the show (which was held at Earls Court in those days). Bryan Willis, then chairman of the Sailing Committee, invented the pursuit race concept where handicaps are applied to starting times rather than elapsed times. The first Bloody Mary pursuit race took place on the first Saturday of the 1974 Boat Show - the day that it has stuck to ever since - and was sailed in light winds and won by club member Chris Eyre in an International Moth.
The arrival of the laser was as a result of a request from Performance Sailcraft. The Club recognised the potential for marketing QM and some 50 or more boats arrived on the day for their races. QM had been formed from boats currently owned by members who had previously sailed on different waters. Sailing 40 ft up in the air above Middlesex was different and the laser seemed to fit the bill. Boats currently sailing at QM demonstrate the changes in the sport over the last 40 years.