The Royal Northumberland Yacht Club, 120 years and still counting

PUBLISHED: 16:50 25 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:21 26 February 2013

MV Tyne: The club house is one of the grandest and oldest of any yacht club in the UK. Still retaining her splendid Victorian interior

MV Tyne: The club house is one of the grandest and oldest of any yacht club in the UK. Still retaining her splendid Victorian interior

For more than 120 years members of one of our most popular yacht clubs has been enjoying life on the ocean wave,and even a freezing winter won't stop them. Worords anand Photography by Steve Newman

Even on the coldest of days you will find a few brave souls fishing off the pier at the mouth of Blyth harbour. Tucked away behind them in the shadow of the old lighthouse and the newer wind turbines is the home of the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club. Its presence betrayed by the forest of white masts reaching up to the sky.

Like the club itself, the clubhouse yacht HY Tyne has a long and fascinating history. In 1952, the club learned that Trinity House had a lightship for sale. She was lying in Harwich Roads at the mouth of the Orwell so the club agreed terms and the vessel was towed north through the generosity of Frank Batey, and his tugs, arriving at Blyth on August 3rd 1952.

Built in 1879 she maintains her brass and wooden Victorian interior and, says Commodore Tony Freeth, She is structurally sound but we will be taking up part of the foredeck and replacing some rotten timbers, as like of all us, she sufferers from age.

She has got some leaks at the moment on the fore deck and bulwarks with rain water getting in so we have to do this repair work which will be done by volunteer members, its amazing what the membership can turn its hand to.

We are a very sociable club too, Tony added. HY Tyne is the place where members gather together for drinks, meals, meetings, evening classes for RYA shore based courses, dances and parties. In the summer, HY Tyne is open every evening, Wednesday lunchtimes and at weekends. She has a saloon seating over 60, bar, galley and changing rooms.

It is also becoming very popular for members weddings and other events, after all shes pretty special.

Wherever you look in this yacht club there is history, some of it relatively modern and very surprising. Moored on one of the pontoons, built by the members themselves to increase berths for the expanding membership, is the small 23foot motor launch, Dawn Huntress.

Built in 1964 she is one of the class that achieved fame in From Russia with Love with Sean Connerys James Bond throwing oil drums off the stern in a high speed chase to escape the evil villains. More recently, owners Hugo and Anna McGowan with their three children sailed her in the Queens Diamond Jubilee Pageant along the Thames.

That was quite an experience, said Hugo She may be 48 years old but she can really fly across the water and on fine summer days shes a joy to be out on.

The club is far from being an elitist group. On my visit there was a complete cross section of society with everyone mingling and talking some of whom dont even sail and have no intention of doing so!

Susi Robertson the clubs PR officer, said: Many people think were a bit grand and they cant join. But of our 700 members quite a lot dont sail and have joined for the social side and having a lunch or a drink in such amazing surroundings.

What I love about the club is that you can come down here and meet people you have never met before and make new friends or those youve known for years. Everyone gets along so well with each other.

Further out on another of the pontoons is the 31ft wooden sailing yacht Joesphine of Hoo, owned by Bruce Grant. She has been raced with some success, and cruised widely to St Kilda, the Faroe Islands, the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, Denmark, Germany and Holland.

She was built by Hampers of Fareham in 1960, of Honduras mahogany on Canadian rock elm, said Bruce She sails reasonably tight to the wind, will make about five knots in flat water and reminds me of the type of sailing I grew up with.

Indeed cruising is important to club members and one of them, David Scott Cowper, has even sailed single handed around the world six times and is due to be presented with the prestigious Blue Medal in New York this month.

The longest race in the club calendar is the annual Bass Rock Race, 155 miles from Blyth, leaving the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth to port and then to Blyth.

It developed from the Holy Island meets of the early 1900s and an annual race to Holy Island still takes place.

A look into the galley on the Tyne found chef Graeme Biggs hard at work. On a Sunday lunch time we can get 40 sitting down, he says. And when we have weddings or functions it can get pretty hectic in here.

And sailing isnt just a summer pursuit, a winter series takes place on every second Sunday however cold the weather.

Skippers often need crew, experienced or keen learners, to help them take part in the many events organised during the sailing season, said Susi.

But it doesnt stop there as yachts are laid up for the winter and fitted out again each spring.

There is always something to do. Our members are drawn from all ages and all walks of life, bound together by an interest in yachts, sailing and the sea.

The launch of the club

The Northumberland Sailing Club, as it was then known, was founded in 1890 by a group of enthusiasts who kept their yachts at Alnmouth and laid them up for the winter on the foreshore there, on land leased from the Northumberland Estates.

By 1896 there were 230 members sailing a variety of craft, and the new club rivalled the longer established clubs at Tynemouth and Sunderland.

The clubs Royal Warrant was granted in 1935, after which it became the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club, and in 1955 the club was honoured to receive the Patronage of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and in 1963 provided crew for His Royal Highnesss yacht, Bloodhound, for part of her round Britain cruise.

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