Club History

The Club is indebted to Ian Jackson, one of the founder members, for this history.

The St Mary’s Loch Sailing Club grew out of the vision of two men; William Addison, a Fellmonger in Galashiels and Alastair Bilton, a Director of Laidlaw and Fairgrieve, Spinners, in Galashiels.

The vision

Bill’s vision was of an all-purpose water sports club with sailing, water skiing and rowing all going on on the loch, which is why the original name of the club was “St Mary’s Loch Boat Club”. He had for a while been trying to speak with Wemyss Estates, the dominant Riparian Owner about the possibility of using the loch but they would not talk. So one coolish spring Sunday I was persuaded by Bill to sail my Firefly across the loch to see if that brought a response; it did, an injunction. But thereafter they did speak and negotiate. Bill’s prime interest was in water skiing while Alastair’s was sailing and it was probably the idea of the former that made Wemyss Estates so difficult and probably prompted the seven knot speed limit which effectively ruled out water skiing. It helped that Percy Sherrifs, Bill’s brother-in-law, owned Tibbie Shiels Inn at the time, and was willing to let the field which the Club now owns.

The founders

With all that established Bill called a meeting early in 1961 in the Douglas Hotel to form a club at which all five of the people in the local Borders known to be interested in sailing were present. There were the two prime movers along with Ian Jackson, Graham McLaren and Colin Brown. The meeting founded the Club and wrote its first constitution and rules. At the insistence of Alastair Bilton it adopted the Enterprise as the sole boat to be countenanced on the Loch despite the fact that the only boat then owned by a member was Jackson’s Firefly. Undoubtedly the Club’s current strength flows from that first decision.

The founder members then began recruiting. Anyone remotely connected with L & F was enlisted, as were all close friends and relations. Boats had to be bought, the first fleet being a batch of three, Antilochus and Icarus and one other, all from the Swalwell Pattern Company in Darlington, for £120 each (ex trailers). Antilochus’ sail number was 5303. At one time there was a boat with a number below 2000, Pat Dorward’s Psyche, 1570. More than those first three came from Darlington, but others were got from other builders and some secondhand.

The clubhouse

We needed a clubhouse, and Alastair found a prefab house, one of a lot being sold by a Lanarkshire local authority who were replacing those wartime anachronisms. Our builder members installed foundations and the members, over a fine summer weekend, put it together. Needless to say it had no running water and had only the clubroom, a kitchen and two changing rooms. Enough for a start. For our early regattas we hired a marquee for catering the event, which was fine until one year it blew down the night before the first race!

From amateurs to racers

The early sailing was strictly amateur; of the total membership the only two who had seriously sailed before were Bilton and Jackson. The rest learned as they went along. Harvey Wilson, one windy day, when someone commented that he had tacked instead of gybeing at the March Wood mark responded “What’s gybeing?”. Rescue facilities were the outboard Falmouth Pilot named “Myma”, which had quite a high freeboard making it difficult to get survivors into the boat and, of course, our inexperience made sure that there were plenty of those.

Very early the pattern of Spring, Summer and Autumn series and the Commodore’s and Vice-Commodore’s Cups, with the open Annual Regatta was established. Entries of over fifty were the norm for the latter event and the Saturday evening dinner held at Tibbies, with an overflow at Rodono, then an hotel, became famous events. There was also an annual series of matches against other clubs the regulars being Helensburgh, Ullswater and Berwick, for the Travellers events did not then exist. David Hume, an early Commodore, whose boat was the swift “Monette”, used to come away with us to act as manager, responsible for important things like drinks being ready when we got back to our hotel after the racing. Each winter there was the Dinner, usually in the George and Abbotsford, with speeches by the Commodore and an invited guest, and toasts, and all that, modelled to a degree on the Manufacturers Corporation Michaelmas Dinner, for both Bill and Alastair had been Deacons of that august body.

The first jetty

The first jetty, an angle iron and planks affair, was constructed by a local firm of engineers and allowed us to keep our feet more or less dry, but it wasn’t long enough so the first pontoon was put together at Gardiner’s mill in Selkirk, from timber salvaged from alterations to the buildings. Erected there, it was dismantled and re-erected at the waterside, upside down so that its multitude of five gallon oil drums could be fitted. Then, with sheerlegs and a chain block, it was rolled over and over into the water and moored to the end of the jetty. It served for many a year.

Coming of age

In 19.. the floors and roof of the prefab were collapsing and the Club felt strong enough to borrow money, mostly from the members, to build the present clubhouse. This was only made possible by our being able to persuade the then proprietor of Tibbies, Mr Hutcheon, to sell us the field. This was not an easy negotiation and while it was going on we did look at an alternative site. The Bowerhope farmhouse was empty and semi-derelict and its purchase was considered, with access from the southern end of the loch, but negotiations succeeded and we stayed where we were. The members’ loans were in £10 units, free of interest, repayable by ballot at the AGM over a long span of years, which made for well attended AGMs. The prefab was dismantled, what would burn was burned and what would sink was floated out on the pontoon and dumped in deep water.

By 1976 the Enterprise-only policy was still in force but there was a demand for a keelboat that would stay the right way up. Ray Mill pressed the case for the Flying Fifteen but, probably wrongly, was not heeded. Instead, at about that time, Edwin Armitage was persuaded to buy a Tempest and conned three more of us into following suit. It was a truly dreadful boat, a real brute, and its life on the loch was short. A single hander was also suggested, the OK, then a popular class. When the test helmsmen went to Berwick to try them, all capsized because we were not agile enough to duck under the boom and that idea was abandoned!

Then the Mirrors arrived, and flourished for a while. Then the boards and now the skiffs, and here we are today.