The South West Shingles Yacht Club (SWSYC) was born of adversity and recognises those of similar experience. Above all, it understands that out-of-the-ordinary occasions, acknowledged in good faith by their perpetrators, are to be considered both amusing and slightly reprehensible.
The founder, and Commodore, David Latchford, was on passage from Cowes to his home berth in Poole Harbour on a summer’s day in 1983. The sun was shining and the visibility was from here to there and back again. The only fly in the ointment was that there was a problem with the headsail furling on his Moody 39, “Backchat”. But with two sons aboard and an auto-pilot, he planned maintenance on passage.
All was set fair as he reached out through the Needles Channel on the ebb tide, tool-bag on deck and the three male members of the family gathered in the pulpit to attend to the furler, while the distaff side of the family was happily engaged in reading a novel in the cockpit The auto-pilot was set to take Backchat on course down the narrow channel and work began in earnest.
What David had omitted to note was that at the Needles there is a change in the set of the ebb, when a new, more westerly component from the south side of the Isle of Wight has to be taken into consideration. Oblivious of this, “Backchat” reached on past Bridge buoy with the Latchford trio totally engaged in their task, until…
Looking up and forward, David saw the South West Shingles buoy no more than two boat’s length dead ahead and realised he could not get back to the cockpit to switch off the auto-pilot and hand steer Backchat clear of the navigation marker in time. The collision was inevitable, and painful.
Most surprised was the reader of the novel who had no idea of what had happened, but the Latchford males were all sheepish as they surveyed the damage. Fibreglass was missing from the bow and the elegant pulpit was twisted diabolically into a post-modern sculpture.
Entering Poole Harbour, David had no intention on picking up his usual mooring opposite the Royal Motor YC, where every member could see what had happened, so he proceeded to a yard at the top of the harbour and promptly ordered repairs to take place without third party knowledge.
When he went the following evening to the Royal Motor YC, questions were asked as to the whereabouts of his boat, and further questions as to why he had chosen that particular yard, but David was protective of the information. He did, however, enquire of his friends whether any had ever had an “accident” afloat, and one or two were forthcoming with hair-raising exploits, which they duly laughed off.
David pondered on this for several months and decided that there was perhaps the need for camaraderie among those whose misdemeanours afloat had finally proved amusing. So, on 13th June 1984, David founded the SWSYC – it was, by pure chance, the day that HMS Jupiter, under the command of Commander Colin Hamilton RN, was “parked”, albeit inadvertently, against London Bridge. Colin was to become one of the early members.
Membership of the SWSYC, which has often been referred to as “the world’s most exclusive yacht club,” is by invitation only. Invitations are issued to those who it is considered have performed a humorous and out-of-place incident afloat, and are prepared to admit it to their peer group ashore. Such invitations are the bailiwick of the flag officers and custodians by mutual agreement.
Notable members include Ben Ainslie – for goosing Hasso Plattner’s Morning Glory with the bow of Mike Slade’s Leopard at the start of a race in the 2001 Jubilee Regatta (Slade was already a member for a quite unrelated episode); John Bertrand – for snapping his America’s Cup contender in two and sinking it; Harold Cudmore – for slicing open the bottom of Graham Walker’s one-tonner Indulgence on a wreck of Bembridge during an RORC race and subsequently sinking her (on the day of a SWSYC Rally); Tony Bullimore – for his five days in the overturned Exide Challenger in the Southern Ocean; and Bob Fisher, who has to be reminded that it is not necessary to qualify every year.
The SWSYC is fully international with chapters in Australia, Europe, South Africa and both coasts of the United States.