How it all Started & The First Rally

Posted by Mary Coles on 13 April 2020

First Rally 1993

Jim Race, our founding Commodore, lived in Balsall Common and was running the RYA Day Skipper and Coastal Skipper classes at the Heart of England secondary school in the village, as part of the local education authority’s further education programme.  In those days, there was money available to subsidise this sort of class!

Having learned to dinghy sail as a boy, I had always harboured a desire to sail in bigger boats, so in 1992, living in Balsall Common with my family, I signed up to do his RYA Day Skipper classes.  That was followed a year later by the Coastal Skipper/Yachtmaster theory, passed in 1994.  The majority of the Day Skipper class continued on to Coastal Skipper.  In the meantime, Jim Race had suggested we establish a club to enable the alumni of these classes to continue sailing together and thus the Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association was formed.

The inaugural meeting of the Association took place on 18 May 1993 at the Equestrian Centre in Balsall Common.  This was an indoor riding school, colloquially known in the village as ‘the Donkey Club’.  It had a bar where there were frequent lock-ins and was situated on the land now occupied by the Barchester care Home.

Jim provided a suggested agenda for this first meeting, items 1 and 2 dealt with the practicalities of establishing the Association; item 3 was ‘Retire to Bar’.  Thus, we started as we have continued!  Sailing is a very sociable sport…  At this inaugural meeting, there were already 21 members.

The first committee meeting took place on 24 May 1993, at The Railway Inn in Balsall Common.  This pub was the normal ‘watering hole’ after the night school classes so was a very familiar venue to lots of the members.  Jim was our founding Commodore, with Vic Stuthridge Rear Commodore Training and I was Treasurer.  A programme of speaker nights was organised and John Venus (sadly no longer with us) agreed to produce a design for a house flag.  This then became the design we still use today, the Warwickshire bear with a fouled anchor. I don’t know whose idea the design was, but I’ve always felt it to be an inspired logo.

The club held its first November Rally in November 1993.  From the partial records I have, I believe that 33 members signed up, probably at that time the vast majority of the total membership.  We were all very keen to sail as we were mostly very much beginners.  I was on a Legend 33.5 with 4 others, chartered from Lymington.  We left Lymington at 14.30 and set sail for Port Hamble.  Unfortunately, the tides were completely wrong to go east and we didn’t berth in Port Hamble until some 6 hours later.  The folly of inexperience and not studying the pilot book!  I can recall that the night entrance into the Hamble, not the easiest port to attempt a first-time night entrance, was also interesting (for interesting, read downright scary).  Remember that we didn’t have GPS or chart plotters on boats at that time.  At the time of boarding the Legend, I had around 150 sea miles under my belt.

After an overnight at Port Hamble, we went to the Medina River for a lunchtime stop at the Folly Inn (pictured) and then to Ocean Village for a rally dinner at the Mermaid. In those days, we probably weren’t the best-behaved visitors in a restaurant.  Of course, we’re mostly older and wiser now…

Our boat then visited Bembridge (all my logbook says is that it was a bit shallow!  Probably an understatement), Cowes and presumably back to its home port.  My logbook is silent on the issue but I’m sure we did return the boat – probably still suffering from a hangover.

I don’t recall that any of the boats suffered major trauma, but Jim apart, that was probably more by luck than judgement.  I’d like to say that most of us know a lot more now than we did then – and that’s probably true.  Unfortunately, some of us are getting to the point when we’re also forgetting it.  Happy days!

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