Snippets from the Archives - The School Sailing Club

Please see the fascinating article below from the school archivist, Ms Hirst, on the school's sailing club which started during the 1950's:

In the days of the Grammar School in London the boys enjoyed and achieved success in a variety of sporting activities that we no longer have – notably boxing, rowing and fencing. But did you know that one such activity bridged the gap between London and Chorleywood and that is sailing.

The Dane magazine of December 1955 contains the first report of the newly formed sailing club. Initially profits from a Harvest Camp enabled the school to buy an old 14ft clinker- built boat with an outboard engine. For the first year the boys spent many happy hours cruising the Thames between Hammersmith and Richmond.  However, a loss on Harvest Camp the following year necessitated the sale of the engine so the very resourceful Mr Cleaver got to work building a sailing dinghy. Club Secretary G Easton wrote “Every Friday evening we gather as a select group of senior boys and spin yarns amid the sawdust and the screeching whine of an electric saw. We see the pleasing form of our boat gliding, swan-like under Hammersmith bridge. Yes, our boat, the boat we built!”

In 1956 the boat was taken to a school camp in South Devon where there were plenty of opportunities for sailing.  But not all went smoothly.  One of the sailors wrote in The Dane “When first taken out it was found that some of the repairs to the dinghy were not adequate. The result was that one luckless fellow had to lie in 3 inches of doubtful looking water with his fingers in two large holes. After this, apart from running into sandbanks, nearly leaving the cox to swim for the shore or having to abandon the boat in mid-channel and march 3 miles over the mud flats to get back to camp, all enjoyed themselves”

Sailing became very popular despite the boys having to travel significant distances to find suitable waters. By 1963 teams were taking part in dinghy racing and came first in the London Schools’ Regatta. Two of the boys represented London in the National Schools’ Regatta and the school took second place in the Inter-Counties Championships. One of the most popular events was the annual cruise on the Norfolk Broads – 1964 saw 31 boys and Masters on the Broads in nine boats and Mr Cleaver promoted from boatbuilder to Commodore!  

The first mention of a sailing club here in Chorleywood was in the 1985/86 magazine. The members met on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings at Bury Lake in Rickmansworth Aquadrome  under the very enthusiastic leadership of Headteacher Peter Conway. They enjoyed the use of a large fleet of dinghies including some suitable for completer beginners. In 1987/88 Mr Conway reported on a 3-day cruise with 7 of the junior members as part of the crew of a new 72ft yacht.  “It gave me the opportunity to join in 3 full days of experimental learning at grass-roots level. It was a true “schools of the sea” but we didn’t only learn sail-trimming, steering, ropes and knots we also learned how to cook, clean, cope with others as well as ourselves. We learned how to share, to co-operate, to follow instructions precisely, to apologise, and compromise as well as face the challenges of cold, damp, wind, a heaving sea and heavy canvas and rope. It reinforced my convictions that the “total education” concept which has become the hallmark of St Clement Danes is absolutely right for to-day’s young people in todays world”.  The club was very successful – facilities improved year on year and several of the sailors were selected for the county sailing squad in 1990/91. By 1992/93 there were 30 members of all abilities. In 1994 more than half the entrants in the Schools Nationals in Redcar came from the school.

It is tempting to think that Dee Caffari, Old Dane and renowned International yachtswoman who was at school between 1984 and 1991, may have honed her early sailing skills in the school club.

On Mr Conway’s retirement in 1998 Mr Dubuis took over the running of the club and students continued to enjoy competition and leisure sailing until he stood down at the end of 2001.


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