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Club History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ROYAL CHANNEL ISLANDS YACHT CLUB

IN GUERNSEY

 

The RCIYC was founded in 1862, as a Jersey yacht club, although there is no doubt that there were some Guernsey residents present from the beginning. For the next 92 years it so remained, with all decisions being made in Jersey and any member wishing to attend a club function, having to travel to St Aubin’s. However in 1954, the Guernsey membership, having grown to several hundreds, it was felt appropriate that this island should have its own premises, control over its own finances, and its own flag officers. Saving that the superiority of Jersey was maintained. Guernsey could have a Vice Commodore, who remained junior to the Commodore in Jersey. All resolutions passed by the Guernsey committee were subject to ratification although such ratification was never actually withheld.

In 1954 Colonel Symons, ex Indian Cavalry officer, owned the Guernsey Brewery and the Ship and Crown pub. He let the RCIYC have the two top floors for a peppercorn rent. The Senior Steward lived in the upper floor above the Clubroom; the Club Secretary’s office was on the Entrance level. The first Vice-commodore was Commander Loftus Peyton Jones CVO, DSO, MBE, DSC.

In the early days the club was the social hub of the upper echelon of the Guernsey community. Ladies used to meet regularly at the club for a coffee having been shopping or having visited the library at Boots.

Some pressure was brought to bear in the early 1960s when the opportunity to purchase the premises then known as the Buccaneer Restaurant, now Pier 17, arose. Property prices then were relatively low. However purchasing the property would have meant either increasing the subscription by a considerable amount or taking out a bank loan. After due consideration, the then committee decided the project could not be afforded.

Two prominent members who did a great deal for the club in the early 60s were Colonel Nason (Tiny) and Dennis Foster who, in those days, owned and ran La Collinette Hotel. They were the ones who started teaching the young how to sail.

At first there was only one Steward so, on his day off, members took it in turn to run the Bar.

From 1954 to 1979 Guernsey could only have a Vice-commodore as it was considered a branch of the RCIYC Jersey.

However in 1975 Christopher Nicole was elected to the committee and he then became Rear Commodore in 1977. He would have been elected Vice Commodore had he not been the instigator of a very important part of the history of the Guernsey RCIYC. His official duties were attenuated by the fact that he was out of the island, sailing, from spring to autumn every year. He was put in charge of Entertainments. This involved organising the Annual Dinner and Dance, always held at the Royal Hotel, at which there were never less than 225 people. These were all accommodated at one table, that is the top table with three huge arms. This, in his opinion, generated a great feeling of togetherness which would have been lacking in a separate tables arrangement. After dinner they all adjourned to the Ballroom, where Christopher always commenced proceedings with a Paul Jones, another bringing together of various members who might hardly know each other.

He also instituted the Sunday curry lunches, an idea he picked up from the Royal Malta Club and brought over a succession of yachting celebrities to give talks. These talks were normally held in the club house, but when Chay Blyth came over, word got around that he was coming and the event was over-subscribed so a hotel ballroom had to be hired.

Christopher’s biggest achievement of all was the creation of a Guernsey Commodore, with the  independence that involved. He gives principal credit to Jack Babbe, but claims having organised the revolution.

During the vice-commodoreship of Ian Lovell the committee became aware of a growing feeling within the club that the Guernsey membership should have complete control over their affairs. This was debated, some members feeling that the difficulties were too great to be overcome.  When Jack Babbe became Vice-Commodore he took up the matter seriously. Thus a reconnaissance was undertaken. Jack, Christopher and a couple of other members went down to the AGM in Jersey in Christopher’s Rampart. They were welcomed and, as club members, took part in voting on various matters. There were about 40 people present apart from the committee and the Guernsey contingent. At Any Other Business Jack stood up and put the proposal to the meeting, which was that the Guernsey club should have total control over its affairs. A lively debate ensued in which several Jersey members seemed willing to support the proposal. But the committee was against giving up any of its prerogatives; their rhetoric persuaded the majority and in the end the proposal was defeated; only about 10 Jersey members were supportive of the motion.

They all returned to Guernsey more rebellious than chastened. Christopher consulted Tony Gillett, who had accompanied the party to Jersey; he was not only a lawyer but had spent a large part of his life as a magistrate and, therefore, had experience of both offence and defence. Having consulted the Rule Book, Tony advised that there was no legal way without creating a totally different club. This would mean that the club would no longer be the Royal Channel Islands, but simply a club as the Guernsey Yacht Club had the other worthwhile title and would lose the right, for example, to fly the defaced Blue Ensign.

However, he also counted heads and had a possible solution. As members of the RCIYC, they had the right to vote on any resolution put before the Jersey AGM so a possible coup d’etat was mounted. The whole membership went for it when the idea was put to a secret, special EGM; obviously the plan was not to be leaked and negated by a huge Jersey turnout on the day.

Tony drew up a resolution which had to cover every loophole. The proposal was to become a separate entity, changing the name of the club from RCIYC Guernsey Branch to simply RCIYC Guernsey. Importantly he made it clear that existing rights and privileges would remain; that is, any member of the RCIYC Jersey visiting Guernsey had the right to use the club and vice versa. This rule applies throughout Europe as, for example, an RCIYC member visiting an English royal club has full rights and privileges as he would with the Real YC de Barcelona. Naturally the club would have the right to its own Commodore.

By now Christopher had changed his Rampart for a fifty-four footer. They filled the boat with thirty people, leaving after lunch so that they would arrive in St Hellier at about five. They all remained on board until it was time to go to the meeting; they chartered a fleet of taxis and arrived in St Aubin’s just before the meeting was called to order. The committee members were speechless as the Guernsey contingent entered the room and took their seats. They realised that it was too late for them to summon additional votes of their own. The mission had been accomplished and Guernsey got its commodoreship. So in 1979 Christopher Nicole became the first Commodore of the Royal Channel Islands, Guernsey.

Christopher’s principal achievement as Commodore was to end the hitherto haphazard arrangement in what was then called the Piccadilly Race, in which boats of all shapes and sizes were entered with the result that Jersey, which had more wealthy yachtsmen than Guernsey, always won the trophy. Christopher achieved this by inviting the then Lieutenant Governor, Sir John Martin, to join the sub-committee he had formed to conduct negotiations with the result that Jersey finally agreed to the rule that the trophy should be competed for by two teams each sailing identical yachts.

Alberta Ashton was Vice-commodore in the early 80s, but unfortunately she passed away before having the chance of being the first, Lady Commodore of the Club and in fact of any Royal Yacht Club.

Various small changes took place to the Club House during the years, but it remained in the same premises up to the 31st December 2007. From the mid-nineties the landlord of the building advised that the premises should be vacated by the RCIYC as he wanted to develop the building.

Many proposals were offered to the membership such as a new build on the Albert Pier Arm, a floating yacht moored on the side of the Crown Pier, a new clubhouse beside the Boathouse on the Crown Pier. None came to fruition. Finally in desperation, having looked at many sites, it was agreed to move to the present premises on the Esplanade above Da Bruno’s Restaurant on 1st January 2008.

I should like to thank Christopher Nicole, Ann White and Paddy Randall for their valuable contributions.

Enzo Diacono
Commodore (2010-2012)