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The History of Tranmere Sailing Club

Tranmere Sailing Club - A History

This history of the club is taken in the main from a series of notes compiled by Stuart Todd in 1986 from a collection of minute books from meetings of the club dating back to 1905.

In 1888, the Mersey Canoe Club sailed and raced canoes in what was then Tranmere Bay - this has now been mainly filled in for docks used by the Shell Oil terminal. There were a number of half decked sailing boats moored in the bay and they banded together to form a sailing club. Some of the canoe club members (Dr Hayward, D. MacIver, C Livingstone and P. Nisbet) were well known for sailing as well and became members of the club at its inception so they may well have been instrumental in its formation.

The club was formed mainly with the idea of providing racing for various half deckers which had been racing at Egremont Sailing Club but had been handicapped out of (their races) this season. The president at this time was Mr James Buckley, with Mr John Frazer of Market Street Birkenhead was Hon. Secretary.

So many races were held in 1890 and 1891 between these boats that a proper Sailing Club was formed. Premises were secured on the Tranmere Pier Head next to those of the Mersey Canoe Club. The name of the new club was Tranmere Sailing Club.

The first mention of Tranmere Sailing Club in public record is from The Yachtsman 1st September 1892. It is accompanied by the phrase yet another sailing club on the Mersey which gives an indication of the level of sailing activity there was on the river at this time.

The club remained at Tranmere until 1900, when that whole section of the North End of what was then Tranmere Bay was required for commercial development, which may have included the development of the Lairds slipways. The club was therefore required to move and the Clubs headquarters moved to Rock Ferry. A piece of land on the riverfront was leased from the Birkenhead Corporation Ferries and a small club house and boat store were built. There was also an enclosure to store dinghies. Races were started from the floating stage at the end of the pier and guns and flags were stored in a shed on this stage. The clubhouse was paid for by a loan in shares made by club members. This was paid off in 1908.

The Rock Ferry floating stage was built in about 1899 and the ferry service started running in about 1901. The ferry was the usual mode of transport for those members arriving from Liverpool, and the ferryboats sailed every 20 minutes. Rock Ferry prospered and the houses and roads of Rock Park were kept in an immaculate condition, with a man on the gate who asked your business as you entered. The Royal Rock Hotel - which was residential and the Rock Vaults were situated on the south side of Bedford Road with Donavans Refreshment Rooms (what then went on to become the Admiral Pub) opposite.

By this time the fleet was mainly composed of fully decked yachts, a large number being Morecambe Bay Prawners, or Nobbys and this meant that down river, Offshore races could be held. The courses included buoys in Liverpool Bay and open races were held in the club programme.

In 1908 it was agreed to extend the existing clubhouse. Further shares were sold to club members to cover the cost of the new extension. These shares were to pay interest of 5. The new extension was ready for use in July 1909. The Club membership increased with the good facilities, locker room, washing accommodation and the new extension suitable for social functions.

There were facilities for storing oars and dinghies in the adjoining boatyard, Bonds, and use of their slipway.

The first hotpot supper in the new clubhouse was held in September 1909, a piano was purchased for the club and the pianist was paid 5 shillings to play at the supper.

Arrangements were made to have lectures on nautical subjects in the clubhouse over the winter months and the following rule was agreed at the 1909 AGM:

The Club premises shall be open to members and their guests between the hours of 8am and 11:30pm, also that no intoxicating drink shall at any time be brought onto the club premises for consumption on the premises except with the express sanction of the committee and such sanction shall only be given for some special club function and shall cease and become inoperative the day following the event for which the sanction was given. Any member acting in contravention of this rule shall be liable to be struck off the role of membership.

The committee also decided that the piano should be locked on Sundays.

In 1914 the first world war broke out. It was agreed that year there would be no AGM and 30 members were away serving in the forces. It was agreed that subscriptions for these members were suspended. Club activities virtually ceased throughout this time except for a few meetings. Five members of TSC were killed in action in the war, and it was agreed that a role of honour would be displayed.

Ladies were finally admitted to the club as members in 1920 with a fee of 5/- with no entrance fee.

In 1922 there was some concern that the club would have to be wound up due to debts and liabilities. A guarantee fund was set up by members and a it was agreed that a bar would open and be run on a rota basis. Around this time there was some calls to rename the club Rock Ferry or Birkenhead Yacht Club but these were defeated.

Isle of Man Midnight Race

Tranmere took over the running of the Isle of Man Midnight Race in 1925. The race was a success mainly because all involved agreed to contribute to the costs of prizes and race expenses. A race programme was printed every year with a list of entrants and previous entries. Advertising space was sold and the programmes were sold for 1d.

In the 1930s the course required vessels to stick to a channel course and leave the channel between Q3 red and Q3 black. Before the second world war, Mersey Buoyage conformed in shape only to the uniform system and the port hand marks were black and starboard red.

In 1934 it was agreed that the race should be held on June 22nd but due to gale force winds on this day, it was postponed and the race was rearranged for 6th July. This is the only time the race has been postponed and sailed at a later date.

In 1935 the race was started in gale force winds and only one boat finished, Kathleen, owned by Mr Steve Woolley.

In 1936, an arrangement was made with the Steam Packet Company that a radio message be transmitted via the GPO giving the weather conditions one hour out from Douglas, by one of their steamers. The message was to be received at Tranmere before 6pm so that competitors would have this information before going aboard. The message would be transmitted in morse code. Unfortunately the message was not received in time and a letter of complaint was sent to the Head Postmaster in Liverpool.

Types of boats doing the race:

It was agreed in 1937 that a one Rater, Roulette would be able to participate in the Isle of Man race. It was thought be some unwise to let a day sailing boat to go offshore with a large open cockpit, but they sailed the race and came second that year.

Two long standing traditions of the club were started in 1926 and 1927, with the first Ladies Race being held and also the first Club Night. This has been held on a Wednesday night ever since. Social functions also started to be held in the clubhouse including a dance which was held in 1930 despite opposition from older members. In February 1932 a similar event was held and it was agreed that no entry charge would be made but that gentlemen attending would be expected to make a small donation towards the expenses of entertaining their ladies.

A separate sailing committee to the management committee was also set up around this time. In 1933 the fleet moored at Rock Ferry now numbered about 35 boats. The club also had many members who were anxious to crew and the committee asked boat owning members to assist in giving sailing experience. Two notices were placed on the notice board - one for boat owners needing crew and another for available crew. This was the first recorded crew list in the club. It was an unwritten rule that crew members would help work on the boat in the winter months and sometimes contribute financially to the running costs. At this time there was often a surplus of crew and failure to help out in these ways could mean your services being declined for the following season.

In June 1939 the last ferry boat sailed from Rock Ferry to Liverpool. The lack of the ferry now meant it was much harder for members travelling from Liverpool to reach the club and they had to rely on the train service.

The War Years

War was declared in September 1939 and all club activity effectively ceased from this time. All boats had to be removed from the river and the adjacent yard to the club was filled to capacity. All flammable material had to be removed. Many Club members were called up to active duty, or served in the merchant navy or the Auxillary Fire service and later the Home Guard.

A small committee continued to manage the clubs affairs. Members serving in the forces were exempt from paying their subscription and fees to other members were reduced and locker rents suspended. In 1940 the commodore informed a small meeting that the Royal Air Force balloon Barrage Boats were were using the Rock Ferry Pier as a base and the clubhouse was to be commandeered and used as billets for the boats crews.

The club yard was commandeered by the Ministry of Fuel and piled high with tons of coke. The club house at this time was used to billet the RAF. A few meetings were held over the years in the club locker room, but it was not possible to hold any meetings in the evenings due to the blackout and the fact that in an air raid all transport was suspended. By 1942 the bottom bar of Donovans Pub (later the Admiral Pub) became the unofficial meeting place on Sunday mornings for all who could get time off work or was on leave.

During the the heavy air raids on the Mersey over that time, the club came off very lightly subject to a few incendiary bombs, one through the roof of Bonds yard and onto the deck of yacht Moulette.

After the war had ended in 1945, a meeting of the club was held at the Royal Rock hotel. The chair informed the members that the Rock Ferry pier was to be demolished as the Ferry Service would not be restarting.

Finally in the 1960s the club moved to its present home on Bedford Road East next door to the Admiral Pub, just a short walk from the top of the slipway. Stuart Todd, Commodore from 1949 - 1952 and then again in 1959-1966 was the main driving force behind clearing the new site, acquiring and erecting the new clubhouse and supplying the dance floor. He had surrounded himself with a large gang of helpers including Dickie Richardson, John Edge, Len Dickinson, Owain Roberts and Eric Ford (treasurer). This really started a golden age for the club with a cruising fleet of over 70 boats, Hilbre Class of 10 and dinghies over 40 plus social activities which included a new year party, Burns night, Ladies Dinner, Hotpot dinners all at the clubhouse with an annual dinner and prizegiving every year.

In the late 1980s the Liverpool Marina was opened and had a major effect on the club. The Marina is much safer and inevitably members moved their boats there to be kept in safety rather than the moorings at Rock Ferry.

The membership dwindled and the Liverpool Yacht Club at Liverpool Marina became more dominant. In 2008, the two clubs became affiliated and all members now get the benefits of membership of both clubs. Social events are split and the Clubhouse is used for meetings and training.

Annie Farrell June 2012

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