Old Pier

It's not entirely certain how old we are. Until the first Sailing Club website (circa 2000?) we believed we'd existed since the 1930's as that was the date we took over our current premises. While listing the website on search engines I came across an entry from Brighton and Hove library services entitled "Brighton Sailing Club Minutes book 1872 -1934". As an archive we haven't been able to look at it however, Simon (then Rear Commodore) did some research and came up with references going back to 1870. His star find was the Annual Regatta 1872 newspaper report. A certain amount of confusion is due to the existence of more than one Sailing Club on Brighton Seafront. I have seen (usually on that reliable source of information the internet) references to Brighton Sailing Club, Brighton Yacht Club and Brighton Cruising Club. The latter is easier to identify as it closed in 1994. It too appears to be very old. If anyone has definitive information we'd love to hear it.

Recent History 1970-1990

Cruising Club penant

Current members memory stretch back to the 1970's. The bar decor, until we did it up a few years ago, was done in 1978. The Wooden roof vaulting was done then and still remains. Big changes occurred in 1994 when the Brighton Cruising Club on Brighton beach closed.

Until 1994 there were 2 Sailing Clubs on the beach, Brighton Sailing Club raced monohulls. Popular classes included lasers, mirrors, larks and fireballs. Brighton Cruising Club sailed (but didn't race) Catamarans, mostly Hobies. They also had a rowing section, windusrfing section and ladies darts team. The club was wound up after rent hikes. After some delicate negotiations the catamaran sailors, and their boats, moved down and joined us. Most of them found they did like racing after all and new trophies were created, a fair few BSC members also bought cats and additional space was acquired. The new arch was promptly vacated to allow the Council to prop the roof up, then shortly afterwards they filled half of it with concrete to meet Euro road legislation. I believe the rowing section went to Shoreham presumably Shoreham Rowing Club

See the New York public Library's Cigarette card of Brighton Cruising Club - date unknown.

Until 1996 the Universities had their Sailing Clubs at Brighton Sailing Club. Up until the 1987 hurricane their were 3 Sussex Uni Sailing clubs. The University of Sussex Sailing Club, racing larks at Wierwood SC, the Topper Sailing Club sailing topper's at Brighton SC and a Yacht Sailing Club centred around the Marabu Syndicate (closed 2005). In 1996, my successor moved the Uni of Sussex to Wierwood again. The Uni of Brighton departed about the Same time. They are now (officially or unofficially) merged. At one point there was a Uni of Brighton Windsurf Club affiliated to Brighton Sailing Club.

Between 1996 and 2005 membership has grown, fortunately the plans to build a shopping centre where we store the boats were cancelled when the heritage lottery fund withdrew support from the West Pier Development. I won't go into the details here but at one point things looked very bleak.

In 2005 the Brighton Explorers Club became affiliated. They've been operating their canoeing out of the arch next door for some years and meeting in pubs, when not away on trips. They are a great lot and have been a great addition to the club.

On the horizon is the I360 plan to replce the West Pier, hopefully this one will not kill us off. The development is due to start construction 26th October 2007. These plans appear to be be reasonable and good for us and Brighton. Saving the Pier has always been improbable, even the rebuild's legitimacy went up in smoke with the fire's.

Not so Recent History 1947-1962.
Notes from an audience with Roy Ockendon, 25 February 2009

Roy was a member from around 1947 to 1962 sailing Herons, Fireballs, 505s and a clinker built 'one' design peculiar to Brighton beach. According to Roy, the original Brighton Sailing Club met at the arch where the cafe is just to the west of the West Pier. Apparently there is a plaque somewhere on the cafe door. This club folded in about 1935 and in 1936 Brighton Sailing Club (originally called Brighton Sailing and Angling Club) was set up starting in Arch 108. Arch 110 (the current changing rooms) was an ice cream parlour.

In the early 1950's BSC obtained Arch 111 (the locker arch) and set about waterproofing it by tanking it (this tanking is still there). The arches were all dry until the second world war when the council put barbed wire all along the prom. The barbed wire was fixed to metal posts which were driven down into the arches thus breaking the membranes which protected them from the streams running off the original cliffs. Roy was part of the team which did the tanking. This tanking caused all the water to run off into the ice cream parlour who were not best pleased!

At the back of each of the long arches is a duct leading up to the flowerbeds on the pavement which provided ventilation. I looked in the flower beds the other day and was not able to spot the duct exits even though you can see them in the club both in the locker arch above the ladies, the changing rooms arches again above the ladies and in the main bar arch.

At some point in the 1950s BSC got arches 109 and 110 and then let 108 go. Roy remembers sailing with some of the people who appear on our oldest trophies, Stanley Mason, Bill Peerless and the Tewkesbury children. Eric Tewkesbury was the dad who donated the cup. Nearly all the boats which were on the beach were built by club members. They used to have an arch the other side of the West Pier which was used just for boat building, where they made the 505s and the Herons. Roy recalls setting off one day to take part in the 505 races at Cowes week. They left Brighton at 6 in the morning and got down to Cowes around mid day in time for the class race, then sailed home the next day! No wet suits, no buoyancy aids and no decent waterproofs to speak of.

Terylene sails had just come in but many boats had cotton sails so that a capsize meant the end of your race and sailing for the day. At first they had no rescue boat and used to tow the marks out using the bigger boats. Rescuing was done by the pleasure craft taking day trippers out who the Sailing Club used to have an agreement with. The average turn out racing was between 10 and 14 boats sometimes up to 25 - so not wholly different to now. Roy remembers Jon Freeman joining and sailing a beautiful home built boat. Jon sails at Newhaven and Seaford now but is still seen occasionally at Chichester sailing a beautiful home built boat (I think it was an dinghy called an OK).

Not so Recent History 1920-1930.
Extracts from the memoires of Garry Marsh, October 2017

Click here for a very amusing read 

 We are indebted to Gillian Brown for providing this little insight into our history. Indeed, it is now irrefutable that history does indeed repeat itself.

Gillian wrote to us. “My grandfather was an actor called Garry Marsh. There is lots about him on Google. I inherited all his paperwork when my mother died last year. Amongst it was his unpublished, uncompleted autobiography and in it he talks about sailing with your club from 1920-1930, ‘a den of most delightful iniquity’".

It would seem that Brighton Sailing Club has changed little in the last century though we do now have more than one boat!


The arches we currently occupy, or the main one (Arch 109) at least was formally the Brighton Lifeboat Station. The large Ring on the rear wall is (I'm told) where they used to pull up the lifeboat, we've been there since 1935. Outside is a very weathered plaque, commemorating the lifeboat. Just along from it is a transcription of the plaque.

Brighton Sailing Club - from "The Brighton Guardian", Wednesday, October 16, 1872.

Ilustration: old postcard

The annual Regatta of this club was sailed on Saturday last, after two postponements on account of inclement weather. One o'clock had been fixed for the start; but that hour originally applied to the previous Wednesday, and on Saturday the start had to be delayed for some time in order that the boats might go off upon the commencement of the flood tide. The weather was cold and the chilling wind was brisk from about S.W. by W. Tide and weather prevented the Shoreham squadron of the club from leaving their harbour, so that the Regatta was confined entirely to Brighton craft. The course was much the same as in the ordinary matches of the club; - a flying start from the West Pier to a spot boat near the Chain Pier; thence to a boat moored a mile to a mile and a half seaward off Middle street; back to West Pier, passing an imaginary line from the committee boat to the club flagstaff. Alderman Cox, V. P., was on board the committee boat and bravely stood out the afternoon as starter and judge, though some younger hands who had gone off to keep him company were soon taken ashore, leaving him , before the racing was half over, with only two official assistants. For the first race, - 1st class boats of 24ft and upwards - the following quartett lay-to to windward of the Pier till the starting gun sent them away with eased sheets on the starboard tack: - Isabel, 28ft Messrs. Scott and Rutter Black Joke, 26ft. 4in. Mr Dixey Homer, 25ft. 1in. Mr H Cox Minstrel, 24ft. 11in. Mr Jenner The weighty Isabel, helped on by an effective jib-top-sail boomed out on the weather beam, speedily ran to the front, the Minstrel making a capital race for second place. After rounding the eastern spot boat, the competitors in this and the other races had to adopt one of two courses; 1st to make a short reach seaward close hauled, and then to go about on the port tack for a reach to the westward, so that on again tacking to the southward, they could fetch a close lee of the southern boat and round her on the starboard hand for the run home; 2nd to continue close hauled on the starboard tack till well to weather of the southern spot boat, when a short bout on the port tack and another reach seaward on the starboard would enable the mark to be turned according to rule. There were two rounds of the course in this first race, and the craft had to jybe round the committee boat from the port to the starboard tack in order to commence the second round. Upon this, the Black Joke won the second prize from Mr. Jenner's handsome and gallant craft, the Isabel maintaining her lead sufficiently to take the first. The Homer made a poor show in this race. The times of the two winning boats were as under:-

Start Finish
Isabel 2h. 16m. 17s. 3h. 23m. 48s.
Black Joke 2h. 17m. 44s. 3h. 27m. 38s.

After the first round of the first race had been completed, Alderman Cox started the second race, which was for second class boats, under 24feet. Five started, as follows:-

Aline, 22ft 3in. Mr Willard.
Pearl, 20ft, 9in. Mr Carden, Senior
Swallow, 21ft. 4in. Messrs Bramwell and Ridge.
Lurline, 21ft 3in. Mr W. R. Wood, Junior
Midge, 20ft Mr Sutherland

The Midge was off first, followed by the Aline, the Swallow leading the way for the Pearl, and the Lurline bringing up the rear. The latter, ever fruitful in racing expedients, set a spinnaker, an example which the Swallow was not slow in emulating, the boats thus maintaining the starting positions round the eastern limits of the course. When close hauled, after passing the eastern spot boat, the Swallow seemed to forereach the Aline; but the latter did not give opportunity for a decided issue, soon going about for an inshore reach, the Swallow following her example almost immediately. The Pearl also adopted the same tactics, and kept upon this reach much longer than the other boats. The Aline rounded the southern spot boat first and held her lead to the end of the course (once round for this race), the Lurline finishing second; the Midge third; and the Swallow forth. The Aline did not save her time allowance, consequently the Lurline takes first prize. The Midge protested against the Swallow and, if the protest be upheld, she will take third prize. The times were as follows:-

Start Finish
Lurline 2h. 47m. 38s. 3h. 26m. 45s.
Aline 2h. 46m. 13s. 3h. 35m. 45s.
Swallow 2h. 46m. 30s. 3h. 28m. 8s.
Midge 2h.46m. 0.s 3h. 32m. 10s.

The third race was started immediately after the second, but Mr Dixey thought it would be postponed, and ran his boat ashore at her station opposite the Warwick Mansion. When he heard the "ready" gun fired, he made all haste to get afloat again; but the boats were well on their way before he could get his canvas set and all taut for beating up to the starting point. The rest of the boats which had taken part in the two previous races, started for this on their handicap allowance under the Club regulations. They went off as follows:-

Midge, Minstrel, Isabel, Homer, Swallow, Lurline, Pearl, Aline, the last mentioned being unusually tardy in going past the starter.

The Isabel and Midge got spinnakers out smartly; but the Swallow and Aline had some trouble with the extra canvass, consequent upon the freshening wind. The Isabel overhauled the two leading boats on the eastward run and rounded the spot boat first; the Minstrel 2nd; and the Midge 3rd. The Midge soon went on the port tack for the inshore reach, the Swallow and Lurline making for some time a nice race to the southward, the Lurline doing the best work, and the spurt being ended by the Swallow going about while the Lurline continued on her original reach. Further on, the Homer and the Minstrel were having a pretty threshing match, the Homer gaining till the boats were put about. The Aline sent up a gaff top sail on this round, and carried it well. She went on the port tack soon after rounding the spot boat, and while standing to the westward, made rough acquaintanceship with a boat which was not in the race and which came tilting up on her lee beam. The unwelcome stranger smashed his bowsprit short off, taking with it his jib, and had sufficient damage aloft to lower his peak halfway to his boom. The Aline seemed to escape very well but the incident spoiled her chance in the race. The Isabel again led on the first round; the Minstrel second; the Homer a good third; and the Swallow fourth. The Minstrel, on her second run to eastward, set a boomed jib top sail. This rather tested her topmast, which stood the strain so well that the canvas gave way near the sheet. The sail, however, held up till the time came for it to be taken in. The Lurline and Midge gave up the race on arrival at the committee boat. The race eventually ended in the Isabel taking the first prize; the Minstrel second; and the Aline third, the latter coming very close to Minstrel on time allowance. The annual dinner of the Club was held at Mutton Hotel, Kings road, on Wednesday evening, the original fixture for the regatta. Alderman Cox was in the chair. During the evening, the prizes won in the series of Club races which we have reported in the past season were distributed. Those won in the regatta of Saturday will be distributed on Friday evening next.
Saturday will be distributed on Friday evening next.