The history of Mombasa Yacht Club must be told in the context of the history of Mombasa itself since the Club’s foundation and development were the results of events taking place in Mombasa and, indeed, Kenya as a whole. In particular the Club’s history has been closely tied to the development of the Port of Mombasa and the nature of the various Port users over the years.
Mombasa has for centuries been one of the major trading centres on the East African Coast since the natural harbour formed by the deep waters around Mombasa Island provides one of the few safe anchorages on an otherwise inhospitable coast.
The original development of Mombasa town with its Arab / Swahili culture, now known as the Old Town, took place on the North side of the Island and, following the visit of the explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498, the Portuguese built Fort Jesus, completed nearly a century later, on its seaward side to protect the entrance to what is now known as the Old Port.
The history of Mombasa with its tales of conflicts between Portuguese, Arabs and local tribes makes fascinating reading but in the latter half of the nineteenth century a more general European presence began to be felt and by 1895 although nominally Mombasa still belonged to the Sultanate of Zanzibar it was de facto a part of British East Africa. British warships present in the area largely in an effort to control the slave trade to the Arab world charted the sea around Mombasa and the Officers of these ships, Midshipman E. O. Tudor and Lieutenant J. J. Reitz have given their names to the waters on the north and south of the island respectively.
At that time Uganda was seen by the British as the jewel in the East African crown and it was decided that, to provide reliable access to Uganda from the Coast a railway line should be built from Mombasa to Lake Victoria.
It was immediately found to be impossible to import the material for the construction of this line though the narrow streets of the Old Town lying behind the Old Port and a new Port, Kilindini, was thus developed on the south side of the Island which provided the easier ship to shore transfer which was required.
The business provided by the railway resulted in a great expansion of Mombasa and in the period immediately following the turn of the Century the two major European Clubs, the Mombasa Club, and the Mombasa Sports Club were formed to provide for the needs of the mostly male, European business people and colonial administrators stationed in Mombasa.
THE FORMATION OF THE CLUB – 1910
Pleasure sailing had become popular among the upper classes in Britain during the Victoria era and, given the mostly steady winds and warm seas of East Africa together with the presence of visiting Naval and commercial vessels, whose officers would all have been trained under sail, it was inevitable that yachting would become a popular pastime in Mombasa.
Races between yachts equally inevitably followed and records exist of ad hoc races being held in 1906 and 1907 between:
- “Mbuni” Mr. H.C.E.B Barnes
- “Charlotte Jackson” Judge A. T. Bonham – Carter
- “Mdudu” Mr. W.H. Tanner
- “Noma” Judge R.W. Hamilton
with occasional participation by Public Works Department boats.
In March 1908 the first Kipevu race was contested between
- “Kagee” Bonham-Carter
- “Mbuni” Winkler
- “Seagull” Lemm
- “Agnes” Rayne
- “Ubique” Ford
- “Noma” Hamilton
- “Falcon” Aarup
- “Inhalanzi” Sykes
and in September of that year the second Kipevu race was sailed by no less than eleven boats, the winner being Judge Bonham-Carter
Several races for trophies donated by visiting Royal Naval and other vessels followed in 1909 by which time it was obviously becoming clear to those concerned that racing should be placed on a more organised footing and, accordingly, at a meeting on 18 April 1910, the Mombasa Yacht Club was formed, the following Officers being elected:
- Commodore – Judge A. T. Bonham – Carter
- Vice Commodore – Judge R. W. Hamilton
- Secretary – Mr. W. S. Wright
- Treasurer -Mr. A. Lemm
Judge A.T. Bonham – Carter was a High Court Judge and Judge R.W. Hamilton was no less than the Chief Justice of British East Africa and it may seem strange to a reader in the twenty first century that such senior Judicial officers should be resident in Mombasa. It should, however, be remembered that at that time the Government of British East Africa was based in the Old Kilindini house located behind the present Mission to Seamen building and that its Law Courts were located near Fort Jesus. It was not until 1923 that the Government of what then became the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya was moved to Nairobi.
At the time of the formation of the Club there were forty seven members, including two ladies, but only nine Members actually owned boats.
EARLY DAYS – 1910 to 1918
Once the Club had been formally constituted a search was made for a suitable piece of land on which a Club House could be built. Possibly using the influence of the high powered Flag Officers of the Club, the Uganda Railway was persuaded to make available a Plot at Ras Kilindini for a nominal annual rent of one Rupee and a small wooden Club house on brick piers with a shaded verandah was constructed. At the same time the Club obtained permission to moor the boats belonging to its Members in Mbaraki Creek since the beach and water in front of the Club House was then the main operational area of the Port and the mooring of boats there was clearly unacceptable to the Uganda Railway management.
Having the Club House located a considerable distance away from the boat moorings must have caused considerable inconvenience to Members but this became the least of the Club’s worries shortly thereafter when the Club’s lease was terminated in order that the first real pier for the discharge of cargo from lighters could be constructed in that area.
There followed another search for a location for a replacement Club House and eventually in September 1913 a suitable plot was leased at Mtongwe on the South Mainland. While this site had a splendid view of Kilindini Harbour it again had the disadvantage of being separated from the boat moorings in Mbaraki Creek on the Island, so that Members, who must all have been based on the Island, were required to sail between the Creek and Club House before and after racing.
No records exist of the types of boats then owned by Club Members or other Organisations which took part in the Club’s activities but it may be assumed that these were relatively heavy, timber built open or half decked boats with a main sail and jib, gaff rigged and of differing detailed designs and sizes. There is no record of how handicaps were calculated for this mixed fleet in order that competition between them could be made equitable but no doubt a gentlemanly consensus on how this should be done was established and accepted.
It was during this period that the practice of presenting the Club with trophies to be sailed for annually, with miniatures only being presented to winners, was instituted. The first of these was the Vice Commodore’s Cup presented in 1911 by the Hon. Mr. Justice W. R. Hamilton then the Chief Justice of the East African Protectorate. This was followed in 1913 by the presentation of the Kilindini Cup by Mr. W. Albers.
The Club is fortunate to have a photograph of its first Commodore, Judge A.T. Bonham – Carter standing confidently on the verandah of the first Club House in his uniform of dark trousers with a side stripe, blue blazer with brass buttons and a peaked yachting cap, and with a brass telescope beneath his arm. On the table in front of him can be seen the Vice Commodore’s Cup, the Kilindini Cup and other trophies which cannot be identified. The presentation of such annual trophies then became the practice at the Club and continues to this day.
During the First World War from 1914 to 1918 little activity is recorded at the Club and the post of Commodore was left vacant between 1916 and 1919. No doubt many of the Members left Mombasa and returned to returned to Europe to enlist in the Armies and Navies of their home countries and others would have volunteered their services to the British Empire forces involved in the East African campaign which was fought against the Imperial German Schutztruppe formed in German East Africa in 1914.
One of the men who did return to Europe was the Club’s first Commodore, Judge A.T. Bonham-Carter who resigned from the Club and from his responsible and well respected position in the High Court in 1916 and joined the Hampshire Regiment. This brave and gallant man, then no less than 47 years old was killed leading his men in action on 1 July 1916 in the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.
BETWEEN THE WARS – 1918 to 1939
After peace was declared in 1918 the Club’s activities resumed and it was decided that, to make racing more exciting, efforts must be made to have more boats of a similar design. Accordingly in 1918 the 18 foot long Solent Class designed by the legendary Capt. H.H. Nicholson in Britain was selected to form the basis of a Class fleet. The Solent Sea Bird Class to give it its full title was a gaff rigged, clinker built boat with a half deck, and was fitted with a centre board and a bowsprit. The foresail could be set as a spinnaker when running before the wind and the boat had the reputation of being virtually uncapsizable owing to the pig iron that it carried as ballast. In 1920 an order for the construction of six Solents was placed with a boat builder in Durban and three were delivered in 1921, three more arrived in 1922 while a further boat to the same design was built locally some years later.
While the Solents could be sailed against each other without any dispute over handicaps the complete fleet still comprised many boats of different designs and, to add to the confusion, still others were brought to Mombasa by Club Members. It is interesting to note, as an example, that while some boats were of the conventional, two man type familiar today others were considerably larger and “Spindrift”, registered as V 23, was sailed on occasion with no less than six crew members in addition to her helmsman!
Courses for each of the premier Cups and Trophies sailed were determined at the start of each season and were published in the Club’s printed programmes. Marks like South Reef, Flora Point (then a buoy not a beacon), Mkunguni and M Buoys, which were then known as the Battleship buoys, would be familiar to a sailor today but others would not. Marks then in use and now lost included a buoy marking shallow water off the Dockyard, the East, West and North beacons marking Kilindini Reef, a buoy and beacon marking Buchanan Rock off the entrance to Mweza Creek and a buoy off the end of the Magadi Soda Co. loading facility then located in the present location of Berth No.9. These were all made redundant and removed as a result of dredging and development in the Port area in more recent years.
Sailing at other places in East Africa was also developing in the period between the First and Second World Wars with the establishment of Nairobi, Naivasha, Dar es Salaam and the Lake Victoria Clubs and inter Club competition began in 1938 with a cup being presented by an up-country resident, Count de Perigny for an annual match between Mombasa Yacht Club and Naivasha Yacht Club.
The advent of such matches intensified the need for a smaller boat to form a single Class fleet which could be used for equal competition between teams and which would then also enable domestic Club racing to be placed on a more equal footing.
A serious attempt was thus made to find a suitable two person boat and the Coot dinghy from Britain was chosen to form this fleet. The Coot had a rather unusual history in that the original was built in 1936 by Charles Purbrook, by trade a silversmith, for his own use and to his own design but before he had completed it an admirer purchased it and before long he found that he was doing more building of Coots than silverwork. His boat building business did in fact expand so quickly that he abandoned the silver trade altogether and in 1938 he moved his boat building operations to a boatyard on the River Avon at Christchurch, Hampshire to meet the demand for Coots. It is of interest to note that in 1949 Mr. Hugh Rossiter, a Naval Architect, joined the firm and that in 1951 he took over from Charles Purbrook to form Rossiter Yachts Ltd which is still in business today.
The 14.5 foot long, clinker built Bermuda rigged Coot with main, jib and spinnaker sails providing a total area of 121 square feet proved to be an ideal choice for Mombasa and they formed one of the mainstays of the Club for many years thereafter. In all nine Coots were ordered from Purbrook by the Club and these were received in December 1939 when lots had to be drawn to determine which Member should be allocated one since there were more than nine Members wishing to purchase one of the new boats.
The sweetness of the arrival of these new boats was, however, somewhat soured by the fact that from 3 September 1939 the world had been again at war, the impact of which would soon be felt in Mombasa.
THE SECOND WORLD WAR – 1939 to 1945
While the main theatre of war was initially in Europe it become a truly world wide conflict in which Japan sought by military means to build a Japanese dominated “co-prosperity sphere” in the lands bordering the Western Pacific and Eastern Indian Oceans. One of the Royal Navy’s largest and best warships, HMS “Prince of Wales” and the older HMS “Repulse” were sunk by Japanese air power off the Malaysian Peninsula in December 1941 and the supposedly impregnable city fortress of Singapore fell in February 1942. Fleet actions by British, Dutch and other ships against the invaders resulted in further losses and the decision was made to withdraw all allied Naval units to the perceived safety of the Trincomalee base in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.
However, Trincomalee was judged not to be sufficiently secure and the fleet was then split into two and withdrawn further west, part to Addu Atoll in the Maldives and part to Mombasa but the Atoll then found itself under threat and by mid 1942 all the Eastern Fleet was based in Mombasa.
It is said that as a result of this withdrawal there were more than twenty Admirals and their staffs based in Mombasa in what came to be almost a small town located in the area of the present Bandari College and many of Mombasa’s larger buildings and houses were requisitioned for Naval use. At the same time the area between Mtongwe and Mkunguni became a huge complex of workshops, ammunition stores and administrative offices the remains of which may be seen to this day in the area between the current Headquarters of the Kenya Navy and its Dockyard.
The buoys now known as K buoys were laid for the use of the larger Naval vessels while others lay at anchor or at temporary buoys. Tradition has it that the massive concrete mooring point to be seen in front of the present Club, together with its sister now buried beneath the reclamation carried out by African Marine with coral excavated during the construction of their dry dock in 1978, was used by the famous HMS “Warspite”, a veteran of the Battle of Jutland in 1916. However, while it is known that this battleship was based in Mombasa at this time it is by no means certain that she did use these mooring points.
In such circumstances the Naval Authorities could clearly not allow the Yacht Club to remain where it was and it was closed. There were, however, many serving personnel as well as Club Members who wished to continue to sail and recognising this need for recreation the Authorities gave permission for the Club to base itself at the Tudor Hotel in Tudor Creek on the north side of the Island on a site close to that now occupied by the Tudor Water Sports Club.
The waters at the west end of Tudor Creek are extensive, allowing good race courses to be set, but they are also shallow particularly at low tide. This meant that many of the keel boats owned by Club Members were unable to take part in the races because of their relatively deep drafts. The Tudor creek was thus not by any means ideal for yachting and the Mombasa yachting fraternity must have breathed a collective sigh of relief in March 1945 when the Naval Authorities finally agreed that the Club could return to sail in Kilindini Harbour. However, a positive result of the Club’s activities during the war years was that many Service personnel joined the Club and several of these remained in Mombasa as Members of the Club after the war.
THE GOLDEN YEARS – 1945 TO 1980
It had been appreciated by the Club before the war that the location of the Club House in Mtongwe and the mooring of boats in Mbaraki Creek was less than ideal and it was thus decided that a suitable site on the south side of the Island should be found on which a permanent Club House, with provision for the mooring of boats and a slipway to enable them to be brought ashore for maintenance, could be provided.
The lease of the Mtongwe Club House was terminated in 1946 and eventually a site at Liwatoni was identified as being ideal for the Club House. The lease of an area of 2.2 acres from what was then the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya for a period of ninety – six years from 1 January 1953 was signed on 21 April 1960 and the Club at last had the very suitable site that remains in use to this day.
The site was then cleared of mangroves and a large Army surplus hut was obtained, erected and made into an acceptable Club House. However, Members were not satisfied with this temporary Club House for long and it was decided that a substantial Club House with a bar, office, a large area to be used for dances and other events and with a shaded verandah should be constructed. Mr. D.F. Dean, who had joined the Club in 1944 and who was then employed in the Municipal Engineer’s office, prepared the required plans and the work was put in hand. Separate buildings were included in the project to provide changing and shower facilities for men, women and children. Two boats sheds were provided around the low level dinghy park and a concrete boat ramp leading down to the sea was constructed. The ramp was provided with an electric winch by which the heavy wooden boats of Members could be drawn up to the park for maintenance, but for most of the time boats were left at moorings off the Club beach.
These facilities were formally opened at an exceptionally well attended New Year’s Eve party in 1957 and the Club then entered into a decade which saw its fortunes at their peak. Many new Members joined the Club in the years following the end of the war and Membership in 1957 stood at a total of 462 including no less than 159 ordinary Members all of whom were thus potential sailors. In that year there were 76 sailing boats registered at the Club including a further twelve Coots which were built by Arthur King at his boat yard in Liwatoni Creek.
The Club was honoured in 1959 when Elizabeth, the Queen Mother visited Uganda and Kenya and was given an enthusiastic reception in Mombasa where she visited the Old Port in a specially prepared Pilot boat in which she reviewed a sail past of the Club boats.
1960 was, of course, the fiftieth or Golden Anniversary of the Club’s founding and this was celebrated by a garden party on the quarter deck at which Club Members were dressed in the fashions of 1910 together with a grand dinner in the evening at which the painting of Lake Naivasha now to be seen hanging in the Club house was presented by Naivasha Yacht Club to commemorate the anniversary.
Photographs of this dinner show the Club House packed with ladies in evening dresses and men in white dinner jackets or Red Sea rig. It will of course be noted that every one of those attending was a European but such was the world in those days and it would be several years before the Club would begin to broaden its Membership to produce the harmonious mix of cultures that we know today.
However, while society remained rooted firmly in the past the world of sailing was changing rapidly with the introduction of glass fibre for building boats. This made possible the construction of lighter, more efficiently shaped hulls which enabled boats to lift and plane over the surface of the water rather than displacing water as had been the case with even the best wooden hulls hitherto. Faster, more exciting boats were thus being introduced throughout the World and Members of the Club wished to be part of this new development by importing some of these new boats.
The choice of the Club fell on the 505 Class, developed by John Westell in 1954 from one of the unsuccessful entries in a competition to select a two person boat for inclusion in Olympic events. The 505 is 5.05 metres long, (hence its name), and the combination of its light hull weight of 127 kg and total sail area of 40 square metres, makes it a very fast and physically demanding boat to sail. The difference between this performance and that of the Club’s Coots meant that younger Members largely deserted to the 505 leaving their elders to race in the less exciting Coots and older boats.
By 1960 eight 505s had been registered at the Club and in February of that year the First All Africa 505 Championship was held at Mombasa which was won by Mombasa Yacht Club member Tony Bentley – Buckle. As a result of this win Bentley – Buckle was chosen to represent Kenya at the 1960 Olympic Games in Italy sailing in the Flying Dutchman Class, with his crew Ron Blaker also a Club Member. They were placed twentieth out of thirty one entrants, a very creditable result bearing in mind that they were sailing against competitors from many Countries with far larger sailing communities from which to select their teams.
The 505s did not, however, have things all their own way for too long because in 1971 Barry Mitchell, Tom Mascall and Peter Spitzer imported three Osprey Class planing boats to the Club. The Osprey is an Ian Proctor design made for the same Olympic trials as the 505 but is marginally longer at 5.35 metres and has a rather smaller sail area of 31.15 square metres. It is thus a slightly slower boat than the 505 and, being less extreme in performance, is easier to sail.
In 1970 four Fireballs, also a Class of three sail planing boats, were introduced to the Club by Henry Dale, the Senior Harbour Master, Alistair Mill-Irving, one of the Port Pilots, D.E. B Neal and D. Legg so that by the mid 1970s there was a good mixed fleet of high performance planing boats at the Club to compete on handicap with the Coots and other displacement hull boats.
The first motor boat had been registered at the Club in 1952, three large cruising yachts had followed in the next year and by 1970 there were no less than twenty motor or auxiliary motor sailing boats registered at the Club. The most notable of these were “Estrella” built for Dixie Dean to his own design in 1964 by Arthur King at his boat yard in Liwatoni Creek, “Little Gypsy” which had arrived in Mombasa with the Royal Navy during the war and which had been purchased by Arthur Ratcliff, and “Oronsay Isle” owned by Bob Linton. All three of these yachts remained at the Club for many years thereafter, not only by being sailed by their owners but being made available during Club races as rescue and Committee boats.
In addition to the sailing at the Club it became a social centre for the families of sailors. Dances, often with themes like “Vicars and Tarts” when gentlemen and ladies would dress appropriately were arranged and the end of the Season Ball was always a grand affair with speeches and the presentation of Cups to the winners of the season’s races.
November the fifth was celebrated with fireworks and time expired ships’ flares and with a large bonfire in front of the Club House often with a derelict dinghy placed on top with the traditional effigy of Guy Fawkes seated in it.
Visits from Naval warships were always occasions for social events, particularly at Christmas when the Club held a Party for the children of Members and their friends. The crews of the warship and Club Members would dress as pirates determined to stop Father Christmas from landing from Dixie Dean’s ”Estrella” with his sack of presents but they were always defeated by the efforts of the children aided by King Neptune so that all ended happily.
The Club’s Year finished with a New Year’s Eve Party attended by Members and their guests which saw up to 200 people dancing and then counting down the old year until midnight when Auld Lang Syne was sung by all present. Sailors always made a particular point of being present at midnight because their presence then was mandatory if they wished to sail in the New Year’s Cup the next day.
There was no outside catering in those days so that, while some of the biggest dinners were held at the Oceanic Hotel, or other venues, the catering for other events, the regular Sunday lunches and the Wednesday suppers was provided by the wives of Members with assistance from the Club’s staff.
While sailing was taking place the young children of Members were able to swim in the sea and play on the beach, which is remembered as having much more sand than at present, while their mothers chatted, knitted or read on the verandah.
Perhaps being worried by the thought of the children swimming in the sea it was proposed that a swimming pool should be constructed in the open area in front of the adults’ changing rooms. There was considerable debate as to whether the Club should allocate funds for this but eventually it was decided that the Club would benefit from having a swimming pool and in 1968 Dixie Dean drew up plans for a simple pool with cement mortar rendering to excavated coral faces and this was completed in August 1969. Following the development of leakages in the pool it was eventually rebuilt as a conventional reinforced concrete structure and partly tiled in 1997, but its maintenance cost and sparse usage have continued to be a source of concern to the Club’s Committees.
The month of May each year had always been kept free of racing events in order that maintenance of the Member’s wooden boats could be carried out, and in this way it was possible for them to resist the effects of the fierce tropical sun. Keeping the newly imported glass fibre boats in good condition was, however, a different matter and it was decided that a further boat shed was required. Tony Rowland thus coordinated the construction in 1975 of a substantial shed in the dinghy park using the resources of African Marine and General Engineering Co. Ltd, which Firm occupied the plot adjacent to the Club and whose Manager, Jack Vokes, was a keen Club Member, and the Mowlem Construction Company whose employees Dennis Yell and Roly Malcolm Green were also Club Members.
THE LAST THIRTY YEARS – 1980 to 2010
The 1980s saw the introduction of a variety of different Classes of boat including an Albacore by Paul Gunton, Hobie Cats by “Curly” MacPherson, Tony Kennaway and H. Bosse and Chris Soper, Bullets by Henry Dale and Jonathan Higgs, five two person Laser 2 dinghies were imported by Phil Jones, Commodore in 1998, and even wind surfers sailed by Chris Groom and Dick Coppinger took part in races at the Club. Six Optimist Class dinghies for use by the children were either locally made or were imported by Members so that their children could gain their first experience of sailing.
There was thus a great variety of boats to be seen at the Club but by 1982 virtually all the old timber built boats had become too old to sail and had been scrapped, but an amazing exception was “Vanessa” first registered as X6 in 1946 to A.D. Williams and G.H.C “Bouldy Boulderson which was still sailed at the Club by Keith Trayner until 1983, thirty seven years later. A further exception was “Umeme” a Lightning Class boat registered as V15 at the club in 1956 by Cdr W.J. “Murphy” King and sailed regularly in races by Ray Kester from 1959 until he gave up sailing in 2000. “Umeme” is, in fact, still registered at the Club in 2010 following her purchase and reconditioning by Michael Smewing and Jack Martineau in 2000.
One very positive development at the Club from 1980 was that increasing numbers of Kenyans from all cultural backgrounds began to join the Club and as Membership was widened to include social Memberships it ceased to be a sailing club only and became a more open and welcoming Club to all Mombasa residents. In particular, the activities of the Topper Trust, set up by Chris and Marylyn Barnes and Andy Burnard in 1996 to provide training to young people meant that the Club’s Cadet Membership was expanded to form the basis of the future sailing Membership.
The dangers of sailing in the restricted waters of the Port and off the Island had always been appreciated by the Club which had, over the years, made sure that relations with the Port Authorities and the operators of the Likoni Ferry remained amicable and that the Pilots of vessels entering and leaving the Port, the coxswains of the ferries and the Members of the Club clearly understood that vessels and ferries had the right of way at all times. This was despite the old rule of “steam gives way to sail” which is of course intended to apply to open water when course alteration by steam is possible and not the Port waters when powered vessels have to follow strictly the courses which will keep them clear of reefs, moored vessels and other obstructions.
By present standards, however, it is certainly the case that the personal safety of Club Members had been taken too lightly. This was brought home to the Club in 1982 when a Club Member was drowned and his crew badly injured by the sharp coral cliffs at Ras Serani as he swam ashore after the Coot that they were sailing capsized returning from a beach party in the Old Port on Boxing Day of that year. As a result the Club purchased a rescue boat named “Sally B” in recognition of the donation of a large part of its cost by Dick Bales who, with his wife Sally had first joined the Club in 1949. The Bales had subsequently left Kenya but had returned for a brief period in 1982-3 and Dick had been the sailing Secretary in 1983. No Club races or events on the water are now sailed unless the rescue boat is in attendance and all participants are wearing personal buoyancy jackets.
Although there were still eight Coots registered in 1982 they were the only survivors of the fleet which once numbered twenty one and were mostly in very poor condition, but in that year the first of a new class of boat not too dissimilar to the Coot in general design and performance was registered at the Club.
This new boat was the Bosun Class of dinghy which had originated with a Royal Naval Sailing Association requirement for a tough, stable, two or three person dinghy to be sailed world wide by H.M. forces and to be carried on Royal Naval vessels. Rumour has it that a Clause in the Specification for this dinghy required that it should be capable of being dropped from a height of six feet onto a steel deck without it receiving damage but whether this is true or not the Bosun is a very strong, stable boat 4.27m, long carrying main, jib and spinnaker sails with a total area of 10.68 square metres.
The reason for this first Bosun arriving at the Club is evident in its name, “Armilla”. This was the code name for the Royal Naval patrol set up to provide a British Naval presence in the troubled waters of the Middle East and the Bosun was delivered to the Club for the use of Royal Naval personnel during their periods of rest in Kenya between their patrol duties.
By 1990 a further four Bosuns, also owned by the Royal Navy, had been based at the Club since increasing numbers of Royal Naval vessels were visiting Mombasa to provide rest and recreation for their crews and in addition the Kenya Navy had purchased in 1993 no fewer than eight Bosuns which the Club had agreed to host and which were sailed by Kenya Navy personnel in Club events under the supervision of Lieutenants Micheni and Walker. This arrangement worked well for two years but in 1995 the Kenya Navy decided that their boats should be based at their Mtongwe base rather than at the Club and after that date they were not seen in Club events.
The period during which the Bosuns were introduced to the Club also saw the introduction of the Laser Class which represented a totally new concept in dinghy design by Bruce Kirby in Canada. First revealed at the New York Boat Show in 1971 it was 4.23m long but weighed only 56.7 kg so that it was capable of being carried on a car roof and with its simple single sail of 7.06 square metres it provided a fast, exciting boat to sail for its one person helmsman, although two people could be carried if they were small and agile and such a combination was often found effective in very strong winds.
In 1982 Chris and Marylyn Barnes arrived in Mombasa with two Lasers to start the fleet with their rather oddly named “Sodem” and “Gomorrow”, and Andy Burnard followed in the same year with his equally oddly but less suggestively named “Hatshepsout” In fact these were not the first Lasers seen at the Club because Chris Soper had tried to introduce the Class in 1978 by importing three Lasers but they did not then appeal to Members and after he and Martin Keates had sailed two of them for two years they left the Club.
However, it was a different story in 1982 and in the following years Chris, Marylyn and Andy all purchased new boats regularly and other Club Members were thus able to buy the older boats. As a result a fleet of sixteen Lasers had built up by 1998 and a major event occurred in 2006 when Chris, Marylyn, Andy, David Mackay, Michael Smewing and Brian Emmott all purchased brand new Lasers
However, while the Laser fleet was prospering the five Bosuns which had been transferred to the ownership of the Club in 1999, were showing their age and with maintenance by the Club becoming impossible the Club decided that they should be offered for sale to Club Members at the nominal sum of KSh 1/00 each so that those Members could rehabilitate them as their own boats. So far Kokila Doshi, Ronan Le Bris and Nazir Khanbiye have availed themselves of this offer and “Centurion”, “Armilla” and “Vanguard” are now being sailed as private entries in races.
Unfortunately, despite the wider recruitment of Members and the training provided to young people, the numbers of people sailing, and indeed using the Club, steadily declined in the years from 1980 and, while the races in the Club’s programme are all still sailed the numbers of boats contesting them have gradually decreased despite the Club’s best effort to prevent this falling participation.
In the year of its centenary the Club’s fortunes stand at something of a low ebb. While there are forty nine boats registered at the Club in 2010, eighteen of these are training boats resulting from the Topper Trust initiative, and of the remaining thirty one hardly more than half can be thought of realistically as being capable of sailing in any Club event. This may be compared to the seventy plus boats registered with and sailing at the Club in 1946.
Similarly the total Club Membership in 2010 stands at a total of only one hundred and seven with hardly more than a fifth of these being resident and interested in sailing boats.
WRITTEN BY A.P.BURNARD AT THE TIME OF THE CLUB’S CENTENARY