A Remarkable Story: 100 years of Waldringfield Sailing Club

By Robert Deaves

WSC on its centenary (Robert Deaves)

The story of Waldringfield Sailing Club is a remarkable story. In 2021 the Club celebrated its centenary, 100 years of sailing on the River Deben, and as part of those celebrations started work on writing its history. The result is ‘A Century of Sailing – Waldringfield Sailing Club 1921-2021’, which has just been published.

Gorse Cabin in the centre in the 1920s (WHG archive)

Waldringfield Sailing Club was established in 1921 in a small First World War Nissen hut at Gorse Cabin beside the picturesque River Deben in Suffolk. An eclectic group of 11 enthusiasts set some basic rules and arranged a programme of races.

A club programme from the 1930s

The formation of the Club came after a period of heavy industry in the small riverside village when leisure pursuits, especially sailing and racing, became more popular. Over the next 100 years it would grow to more than 800 members, who would go on to win numerous national and world titles.

The Club was originally based on glebe land, leased from the local church with annual tenancy agreements, as well as on further land leased from the Maybush public house, and others, but over the course of three-quarters of a century it would gradually become one of the largest landowners in the village.

The new clubhouse built in 1932 (John Palmer Collection)

The Club soon outgrew the confines of Gorse Cabin and in 1932 a purpose-built wooden shelter was built just to the north. The early leases were handwritten and lasted for one year, and even though the incumbents of the local church – the Waller family, which held an unbroke line of Rectors from 1832 to 2013 – were amenable to supporting the sailing club and offered reassurance that they would not require the club to move, they were reluctant to enter into long term leases or to sell any of the land to the Club.

Opening of the new clubhouse in 1981 (WSC archive)

Then in 1976 the glebe began to be managed by the diocese and a 30-year lease was finally agreed in 1979. This allowed the club to rebuild the clubhouse in 1981, and to replace most of the aging wooden structure that had been built in 1949, and adjoined to the original 1932 clubhouse, part of which stood until 1989.

Alongside this, the lack of car parking was a perennial problem, and again largely dependent for many years on the good will of the brewery operating the riverside public house, The Maybush. A long-term lease was finally agreed in 1980.

Then, from the late 1990s to early 2000s the Club managed to buy both the freehold on the clubhouse and dinghy parks from the church, as well as the car park from the brewery. For the first time in 80 years, it was finally in charge of its own destiny and had security over all the land it needed to operate.


Lark racing in the late 1980s (Chris Baker)

Racing started at the club in 1921, though records only begin in 1922 and the early fleet was a handful of open and half decked small yachts. Keelboats continued to be raced from the club until the 1980s but increasing number of moorings and the size of the yachts gradually meant it became impracticable.

Before the Second World War, a range of 12 and 14 footers were raced, with Cyril Stollery and Nicholas Palmer winning the first ever National 12 championship and Burton Cup. Post war, the Club introduced the 14-foot Dragonfly, unique to WSC, which is still sailed today. Soon after this the Club began to focus solely on one-design racing for its Saturday afternoon races, leaving handicap racing for the allcomers and evening races.

Cadet Week in 1959 (John Palmer-Collection)

Cadet dinghies were also introduced in the 1950s, followed by Fireflies, National 12s, Enterprises, OK Dinghies, Squibs, Wayfarers, Lasers, Larks, RS200s and many other classes, some of which lasted only a few years before being dropped. The one-design policy has been seen as a strength of the club and is perhaps one of the reasons that since the war, club members have won more than 50 national titles and four world titles.

Famous members have included Carl Giles, Hammond Innes, Sir Lawrence Bragg and Jack Knights. The first President was the renowned scientist, Sir Clifford Patterson, famous for his work on an aircraft height finder for which he was awarded an OBE in 1916.

Yachtsmens service outside the clubhouse in 1951

From those first 11 members the club grew to 100 members by the Second World War. After the club was restarted in 1945, numbers grew fast, but because the club was limited by leases and limited car parking, numbers were eventually capped at 600, but once the club owned the land this limit was removed and numbers grew further, peaking at just over 800 members.

On its Centenary, in 2021, Waldringfield Sailing Club was a thriving, busy and successful club running more than 500 individual races each year for a range of dinghy and keelboat classes.

The Book

Meticulously researched and pieced together from the Club’s records, as well as many personal narratives and contributions, ‘A Century of Sailing – Waldringfield Sailing Club 1921-2021’ is a detailed history of one of the leading sailing clubs in East Anglia. Its fascinating story, the key characters, its complicated relationship to the local church, to the brewery that operated the pub, to the Fairway Committee and to the village and those who worked there, are explored in detail.

Club members in 1936 (WSC archives)

The history of the club is covered in four vast sections: Between the Wars 1921-1939; Growth 1945-1971; Consolidation 1971-1996; and Independence 1996-2021. In addition other chapters explore the clubhouse development, the land and property, each of the main classes sailed, the gallery, some of the club’s extensive trophy collection, and profiles of some of the more famous members and those who helped build the club.

The book is 200,000 words in length, 460 pages long and is illustrated with more than 1,000 photos – many of which have not been previously published as well as containing a huge number of anecdotes and stories. It provides both am in-depth portrait of the modern club as well as a unique insight into its development and history over the past century.

Copied can be ordered through the WSC website at: https://waldringfieldsc.com/centenary-book/

‘A Century of Sailing’ was edited, compiled, and largely written by Robert Deaves with contributions from a huge number of club members.

Robert Deaves

Robert Deaves is a freelance yachting journalist and photographer working with several dinghy and keelboat classes worldwide, and also an author and book publisher. He first joined Waldringfield Sailing Club in 1985.