Bembridge Sailing Club has a rich history as one of the oldest sailing clubs in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1886 by Colonel Macdonald Moreton and Captain Ernest Du Boulay to provide corinthian sailing as an alternative to playing golf at the Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club that was active on the St Helen’s Duver at that time. The Club was founded, at the inaugural meeting held at Hillgrove on 4th September 1886 as the Isle of Wight Corinthian Sailing Club. Aimed at promoting amateur seamanship and racing for open, half-decked and centreboard boats, the membership was set at thirty persons and the initial subscription was one guinea. Twenty-six members, and eight privately owned boats were elected, and Captain Blair Cochrane became the first Captain of the Club. At this time there were few other clubs in the Solent, but this was to change in 1889 when the Island Sailing Club was founded in Cowes, and the short lived Nautilus Club at Ryde was renamed the I.W. Corinthian Sailing Club; so to avoid confusion, it was at this time the Bembridge Sailing Club adopted its current title.
The 1887 season saw Capt Du Boulay’s and Col Moreton’s Mersey-style 17ft canoes Jubilee and Jubilatum take to the water. In 1889 Capt Du Boulay designed the original Bembridge Club Boat, the first two of which were built by Taylor in Sandown at a cost of £30 each. The original fleet gradually increased to twelve. Sailing flourished and the number of privately owned boats steadily increased. Miss Winnie Sutton’s ½ rater Wee Winn, built by Herreshoff, proved invincible and in 1896 a number of members under the guidance of Blair Cochrane started the Redwing Class, fourteen of which were sailing by the following year.
In 1903, a sub-committee consisting of E C Cockburn, Charlie Ricardo and Alfred Westmacott recommended a new design for a Bembridge Club Boat and a fleet of ten were ordered in 1904. Negotiations for the lease of the Club premises were completed in 1896 and a new Club House, ordered from Boulton and Paul of Norwich in the style of a traditional cricket pavilion, was erected in the autumn. This building still stands, forming what is now the Library, Bar and Bar Balcony.
In 1981, Vernon Stratton introduced the Illusion Class one-design keelboat to Bembridge, a scaled version of the British 12 Meter Class yacht Lionheart designed by Jo Richards and Neil Graham. These performance single-handed boats scale the America’s Cup 12 meter rule down to twelve feet and offer superb racing in nearly any condition, with an active programme through the winter.
Bembridge Sailing Club has a strong association with Olympic sailing. Vernon Stratton competed in the 1952 Olympics in the Finn Class and then was team manager of the British Olympic team in 1968 and 1972 when Rodney Pattisson won gold in both years in the Flying Dutchman class.
1908 – London Olympics: Blair Cochrane was the owner and skipper of Cobweb and brought home the Club’s first and only gold medal in the 8 metre class racing off Ryde.
1936 – Berlin Olympics: BSC Commodore Kenneth Preston represented the British team on board Saskia, finishing 6th in the Open 8 Metre Class in Kiel, with his wife Bunty as crew.
1956 – Melbourne Olympics: Jonathan Janson crewed on board Bluebottle together with Graham Mann and Ronald Backus, and came home with the bronze medal in the Dragon class
More recently Edmund Peel (b. 1979) trained and came very close to team selection in the Star Class for the Athens and Beijing Games. The Illusion Class has also enjoyed active participation from other Olympic sailors – Colin Simonds was a member of the 1980 British Olympic team in the Soling Class, which sadly were forced to withdraw from the Moscow Games due to political tensions with Russia, double-gold medallist Rodney Pattisson (1968 Mexico City and 1972 Munich Olympics in the Flying Dutchman) was an active Illusion Class sailor in the early days and double-gold medallist Sarah Webb Gosling (2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing in the Yingling) is an infrequent guest sailor with the class.
In 2001-2002 the Club extended the clubhouse to include a new dining room with beautiful views of Bembridge Harbour and approaches, changing rooms, the Club office and Salamander Room. A significant extension was made to the Scow parking facility, which was not only welcomed by Illusion sailors, for whom winter racing had been previously run from the nearby Redwing Quay, but provided for a more active array of activities year-round, from winter frost-bite sailing through to summer yachting. Bembridge Sailing Club continues to support active youth training, over 115 Club and regatta race days, as well as a vibrant social programme.