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Southern Spars

The most exclusive - and eccentric - yacht club in the world

by Nancy Knudsen on 14 Jan 2013
The idea for the club started after experienced British sailor David Latchford hit the buoy which warns of the Shingles -in broad daylight .. .
A couple of weeks ago we wrote of two eccentric yacht clubs - one in Australia which can boast water only about every three years, and one in Britain which doesn't have water within a 100 km. (See http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/international/The-yacht-club-with-no-water./105311!story) Now, thanks to a member, we have learned of an even more eccentric yacht club, which rarely sees land, but boasts some pretty famous member sailors who've been responsible for some pretty infamous misadventures on water.

Membership of the South West Shingles Yacht Club, which has often been referred to as 'the world's most exclusive yacht club,' is by invitation only. But first, where on earth is South West Shingles?

The Shingles is a very striking (!) shingle bank on the north of the western entrance to Britain's famous waterway, the Solent. Because of weather and strong tides the bank moves; in a strong rip you can actually hear the shifting shingle. It is not wise to get too close. Sometimes it just disappears, other times it can be ten feet high.

David Latchford started the Club when he actually collided with the South West Shingles buoy a very large red item which is fairly visible, in broad daylight. Owning up to this unpardonable error for a sailor with a high reputation proved a challenging task, and it gave David the idea for the Yacht Club.

So invitations are issued to those who it is considered have performed a humorous and out-of-place incident afloat, and are prepared to admit it to their peer group ashore. Such invitations are the bailiwick of the flag officers and custodians by mutual agreement.

Notable members include:

Ben Ainslie – for goosing Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory with the bow of Mike Slade's Leopard at the start of a race in the 2001 Jubilee Regatta (Slade was already a member for a quite unrelated episode);

John Bertrand – for snapping his America's Cup contender in two and sinking it;

Harold Cudmore – for slicing open the bottom of Graham Walker's one-tonner Indulgence on a wreck of Bembridge during an RORC race and subsequently sinking her (on the day of a SWSYC Rally);

Tony Bullimore – for his five days in the overturned Exide Challenger in the Southern Ocean;

Russell Coutts for managing to capsize the Oracle cat in California.

A commander of a Royal Navy Submarine, for hitting a known rock in clear daylight in Scotland. His superiors were not pleased…

A yacht owner who managed to wrap his spinnaker around the flagpole on the Brittannia off Cowes. It took an hour to disentangle it. The captain was furious…

...and well-known sailing journalist Bob Fisher, who apparently has to be reminded that it is not necessary to qualify every year.

According to member Rees Martin, who has not divulged why he is a member**, when conditions are right David and his committee occasionally call meetings on the Shingles Bank. 'Toasts are drunk to past members,' he told Sail-World. 'During the last visit we could not land so from the launch, David spoke movingly of a past member who had passed on. At the end of his valedictory he threw a very old mobile phone into the sea, suggesting that the ex member call him. Somebody called from another boat 'Dave, We hope you charged the bloody thing!' '

Rees says the club raises funds for good causes. 'Early last year we raised £12,000 for the GB Women’s Sailing team. The committee auction off all manner of things. Bob Fisher donated a signed copy of his last book and two members got carried away and the winner (?) paid three times the book value. We all cheered.'

The SWSYC is fully international with chapters in Australia, Europe, South Africa and both coasts of the United States.

Eligibility? Rees Martin summarises it this way: ' You have to do something at sea, spectacularly stupid, in front of witnesses. You then have to admit it. 'when invited to join, you must make a written declaration - which is put to the Committee. If they consider the incident of sufficient folly. You will receive a call from the Commodore. If you tjoin you then pay a very moderate entrance fee and receive a very nice tie. Damage to limb or life automatically renders disqualification.'

For a little more information (not much), or to contact the club go to the http://www.swsyc.com/!South_West_Shingles_Yacht_Club_website.

**On pressing Rees (not very hard) to tell us why he is a member, he told us this story: 'I 'qualified' by putting my International Six Metre yacht on the Brambles Bank (in the Solent, where the annual cricket match takes place) during the registration for the Six Metre Worlds. We were given assistance by the RNLI, the Southampton Harbour master and the Royal Yacht Squadron RIB. This was witnessed by some two hundred guests who were attending the Opening Reception. Despite herculean attempts, my boat was eventually swamped and stayed there overnight - to be hauled off the next morning by a fellow SWSYC member. I am still finding pockets of sand in the bilges…'

Editor's Note: South West Shingles Yacht Club might be the most exclusive yacht club to pay homage to the Shingles, but it's not the only one. The photo above shows members of the Hamble-based Royal Southern Yacht Club raising their flag on the Shingles during particularly low water on 21st March, 2011.

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