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Home / The Club / Club history

Club history

The early days

At the start of the 19th century Emsworth was experiencing a bathing boom, with good use being made of its sea-bathing machines. In 1810 a local businessman established a bathing house at the end of what is now Bath Road. In 1858 an old oyster bed, south of the house, was converted into a swimming pool which would retain the water when the tide ebbed.

Then came the First World War, and whilst in the trenches, two Guards Officers, Major George Cecil Whitaker and Viscount Bury, later the Earl of Albemarle, were discussing what they would do when the war was over. They felt sure that many young officers would like to become helmsmen once peace came. Soon after the war ended Major Whitaker spotted the Bath House which by then had fallen into disrepair, and, with some friends who had agreed to form the management committee of a new sailing club, he bought it.

The committee held their first meeting on 21 June 1919 and Major Whitaker lost no time in writing to invite membership applications. Club life flourished. Couples were appointed to act as stewards & boatmen, and meals & bedrooms were available. Ladies were made welcome from the outset. More background can be found here.

Development of the property

The property purchased included not only the Bath House but the Coastguard Hut at the west end of the complex, a ramshackle assortment of buildings between them and the swimming pool which had been created from the old oyster bed. Inside the Bath House were a number of bedrooms, small and sparsely furnished, which were available until the 1950s for members wishing to stay overnight, for five shillings per night.

Left - the Club building in the 1920s. Right - the Club after a kitchen extension in 1937.

In 1935 the Club bought the ground in Bath Road which now forms its car park.

1937 saw the first large extension - a kitchen and accommodation wing at the west end. The lean-to extensions were replaced by a sun lounge in 1963 and this was further extended in 1972 when the concrete terrace was constructed.

A further major reconstruction of the main clubhouse building was carried out in 1997, and later the outbuildings were refurbished, an outboard store built and the Coastguard Hut remodelled as a room for junior members.

The last major development of the clubhouse took place in 2012, providing a dedicated Training Room, Wet Bar, revamped main bar and lounge area together with improved changing rooms, a new sail store and an extended upper deck. Finally, the North Room was improved and extended in 2014. An animated video of the changes to the main building can be found here.

Left - the Club in 1970s. Right - the Club after major extension in 2012.

The Club rented a portion of a field on its western side for many years and in 1989 managed to acquire the freehold. Two years later it acquired most of the remaining part of the field. When it had been properly laid out as a dinghy park, it was named the Mountbatten Dinghy Park and was officially opened by Countess Mountbatten in 1990.

Club boats

One of the Club's first tasks was to find itself a suitable class of sailing boat. After much discussion, six Sharpies (19ft overall, 6'6" beam) were ordered. Their first full racing season was in 1921, but they were found to be unsuitable and were sold the following year.

Six boats of a new 16ft Emsworth One Design (EOD) with gunter rig were delivered in 1923 and served the Club well for 27 years. In 1934 a further two boats were delivered. They were all laid up during the war but were racing together again from 1945. Between 1950 and 1952 seven boats of a new design, still 16ft but with Bermudan rig, were introduced. They raced together until 1962, when it was felt that usage did not justify their costs and the decision was taken to sell them. More information about the Club boats can be found here.

Left - Sharpies in 1921. Right - Emsworth One Designs in the 1940s.

By the turn of the century the Club was becoming increasingly involved in training and three RS Fevas were purchased. Over the next few years it became clear that lifestyles and attitudes were changing and that many members would prefer to hire boats when they had the time to sail, rather than have the responsibility for maintaining their own boats. An RS Vision and three Laser Bahias were bought. Since then there has been a steady expansion of the Club hire fleet, which now includes also Lasers, 2000s, kayaks, RS Teras, Optimists, a Scow, windsurfers, stand-up paddleboards and new for 2024, a Celtic longboat. More information about the boats sailed at the Club can be found here.

Left - The first 'Escort'. Right - Naming of the Club's first RIB 'Escimo'.

The Club has also owned a number of boats for support purposes. They started off as dinghies in which the boatman rowed crews out to their moored boats. By the 1930s there was also a motorboat, followed in the late 1950s by Escort, 'a fine new motor launch'. She was replaced in 1991 by another motor launch which was unfortunately wrecked during a storm and replaced in her turn. In 1995 the Club acquired its first Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB). It now owns three RIBs as well as three rigid hulled 'Commando' dories.


In the late 1800s, before the formation of the Club, regattas were held regularly at Emsworth. In 1885 an Emsworth Boating Club sailed 16ft half-deckers in the harbour. However, that club did not last and a new one was formed in 1895, but that one too, had ceased to exist by 1902.

Our Club started as a small boat sailing club. Members with an interest in larger craft would normally keep them elsewhere. As late as 1949, out of 80 privately-owned boats in the Club only 13 were seagoing yachts. Regattas have been held annually since 1921 except during the war years. Other races were held throughout the season, with members being able to take the boats out for a fee. Only Club boats sailed in the races until 1929, after which dinghies were permitted to enter with appropriate handicaps. Organised inter-club racing began in the harbour in 1927.

By the 1930s Club racing had settled into a pattern, with racing taking place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Crew members had to wear rubber-soled shoes and each boat carried at least 2 life-saving cushions. The number of reefs to be taken in was determined by the Officer of the Day. Ladies had become proficient at the helm and were often winners. No rescue boats were provided. Capsizes were unusual but serious when they occurred.

Left - Regatta prizegiving in 1950s. Right - the Yoke being returned to ESC in 2013.

In the summer of 1945, after the war, the EODs were all racing again. The 1950s were years of transition, with many new dinghies such as Wayfarers, Jolly Boats and Mirrors joining in the racing and the cruiser fleet was expanding too. In 1961 the Club held its first junior regatta, and in the mid-1960s frostbite racing was introduced. In 1977 RYA training, with qualified coaches, was introduced. During the 1980s sailboarding became ever more popular but the numbers entering dinghy races fell away. In the Great Storm of 1987 many cruisers were washed ashore or damaged. Further afield, Peter Blake, a Club member who was to go on to win the America's cup for New Zealand, was making his mark by winning the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race.

New classes of boats at the Club in the 1960s

During the 1990s, with the introduction of many new classes, the numbers of racing dinghies picked up. Increasingly, dinghy racing was organised jointly with Emsworth Slipper Sailing Club (ESSC). Short course racing was introduced to encourage Scows, Toppers and other small boats and safety cover was increased with the introduction of RIBs. More emphasis continued to be placed on training, with the bringing into use of the nearby millpond and the formation in 1995 of the Martlets, an Optimist training group for very young would-be sailors.

The emphasis on training continued into the new millennium, with the number of instructors increasing and more safety boats being acquired. Many of the young sailors went on to move through the RYA development programme and by 2008 more than 20 ESC juniors were in national and regional training squads. At the same time there was much activity amongst the cruisers, both locally and further from home, with regular Club rallies and two team races annually against ESSC The Yoke to the Hamble (see photo of the trophy above) and the Folly round the Isle of Wight. The Shrimper fleet grew dramatically. Further afield, amongst other successes, Geoffrey Palmer and the crew of his Contessa 32, Shardik, won the trophy for best amateur crew in the Three Peaks race.

The Club's tenth decade saw its sailing move from strength to strength. Amongst the many notable events were James Blake, son of Sir Peter Blake, rowing across the Tasman Sea; Vikki Payne winning the 29er Volvo Youth nationals; Dave Acres becoming Master and second overall in the RS 300 nationals. Closer to home was the 2014 'Bart's Bash', in memory of Olympic gold medallist Andrew 'Bart' Simpson, in which 139 ESC boats and their supporters took part. Social sailing included the formation of a group regularly sailing, originally as 'Women on Water' but now as 'social sailing' for all, whilst the annual Children on Water (COW) offered a week of summer fun for children of all ages and abilities.


Given the Club's origins it is perhaps not surprising that one of its objects has always been to provide bathing facilities.

The converted oyster pond south of the clubhouse was the first Club swimming pool. It comprised a low bund of timber shuttering strengthened by stones and shingle which filled at high tide. It was enjoyed by many members and non-members such as local schoolchildren, but by the late 1950's it was leaking and had become very muddy.

Left - the pool in the 1930s. Right - the new pool in the 1970s.

After much debate the decision was taken in 1964 to extend the terrace and include a new pool within it. This was achieved in 1972 and gas-fired pool heating was installed in 1994. Solar heating panels were installed in 2023.

Members and the social side

Membership was limited initially to 500 and had reached 64 by the time of the Club's first General Meeting in 1920. It was not a club for the Brigade of Guards, but neither was it a club for the locals. Being close to Portsmouth naval base, officers of the Royal Navy played a prominent part in its life. The well-to-do ethos persisted until the 1960s, when the popular enthusiasm for sailing took off, and in the late 1970s membership had risen to 1,200 adults. This remains the case today, plus some 500 juniors.

Many of the Club Commodores for the first 30 years would have been 'Constitutional' commodores who seldom set foot in the Club. Nowadays the Commodore and Flag Officers live locally and are actively involved in its day-to-day management.

An exceptionally distinguished person or a member who has rendered outstanding service to the Club may be appointed Admiral of the Club. There have been three to date: Vice-admiral Curtis, who served as Commodore from 1937 to 1953; Earl Mountbatten of Burma who accepted the position for the Club's Silver and Jubilee years and after whom the dinghy park is named; and Nigel Pusinelli, in recognition of all that he had done to advance the Clubs standing and prosperity prior to 1990. More information about the Admirals can be found here.

Left - Admiral Curtis. Right - Nigel Pusinelli.

Over the years the annual programme has featured many regular social activities such as formal and informal dinners, terrace parties, swimming galas and others including themed suppers, monthly talks, Scottish dancing, quizzes, bridge club and many parties/discos. Especially memorable have been the balls in marquees on the terrace celebrating the Club's jubilee and centenary years, together with a visit from HRH the Princess Royal in 2019. Some other notable events can be seen here.

Left - Centenary Ball in 2019. Right - Princess Anne visits the Club.

Many of the day-to-day tasks necessary in the running of a successful club are carried out by volunteer members. However, with the increasing complexity of the modern world the administrative workload has grown hugely and the Club now employs three part-time secretaries. Their work, and that of their predecessors, is vital to its smooth running.

With the increase in the number of boats owned by the Club, a part-time bosun was engaged in 2004 to maintain them.

From its early days the Club employed a steward. Initially the job was combined with that of boatman, preferably with a wife to provide meals for members. As the need to transport members to their boats declined, the work focussed on the catering side.

In 2000 a new arrangement was introduced under which the arrangements were reformed as a franchise and the Club is greatly indebted to its present franchisee, Oliver Clift, for the wonderful service that he and his wife Eloise have provided since 2007.

As one former Commodore remarked: 'How lucky we are that past members have left us such a legacy - not only a valuable property but a Club where we can all enjoy what we fancy - sailing, swimming or just sitting and watching the tide in the company of present members and many happy memories.'

A timeline of the Club's history can be found here.

More about the Club's history can be found in Liz Sagues' book "Emsworth Sailing Club A Centenary History" which is on sale in the Club's office.

Other sources of information used in this summary history are:

  • The Story of Emsworth sailing Club by Patrick Millen (1979)
  • The Story of Emsworth sailing Club Update 1994 by Hugh Robinson
  • A History of Emsworth Sailing Club talk by Roger Bleasby (2005)
  • ESC website and archives

Summary history produced by John Williams and Don Manson (2022)

Edited by Jane Mellor (2024)


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