A History of Hardway Sailing Club

In October 1943 lorries began tipping brick rubble from the Bomb Sites of Portsmouth over the sea wall at the end of Priory Road; by April 1944 a pier had been added and the Hardway D-Day invasion ramp was ready for use. The next year was indeed Hardway’s ‘Finest Hour’, when thousands of British and Foreign troops, tanks, guns and vehicles were embarked for Normandy, cheered on by the local residents who made every effort to make their short stay in Hardway as pleasant as possible.

After the war, in 1945 the paved area of the ramp was fenced in and it became a Naval Balloon Depot. These balloons were carried by ships to protect them from low flying aircraft. This depot consisted of a large hangar for the balloons, several huts for the staff and a toilet block – this is now the outboard store. Two octagonal concrete bases were placed on the ramp itself to sit the balloons on: these bases are now cursed by the crane drivers at Lay-up and Lift-out times.

Racing 1940s ~ HMS Ramilies and Malaya in backgroundIt was this scene that Fred Roberts, who was already a founder member of the Stokes Bay Sailing Club, and Alf Cross looked out upon in spring 1945. The Hardway Annual Regatta which dated back many years had been interrupted by the war. They agreed on organizing its reintroduction and Fred decided that the best way to achieve this would be to form a sailing club. A meeting was held in the Billiard Room of the Hardway and Elson Social Club, behind Dyers Dairies, under the Chairmanship of Colonel Wyllie, nationally known as a Marine Artist and Yachtsman and also a long time Commodore of Portsmouth Sailing Club. From this meeting the Hardway Sailing Club was formed and the founder members emerged.

They were: Fred and Mrs Roberts, Alf and Mrs Cross, Alan and Mrs Frost, Colonel and Mrs Wylie, Síd Wheeler, Eric Roberts, Ted Milborn, Fred Bailey, Tony Little, Mike Little, Alf Pearce, Art Roberts, Alfie Smith, George Rickman, Alf Osgood, Fred Mountifield, Harry Grant, George (Hommicker) Nicholson, Harry Woods, Alec Barnard and Fred Watts.

The first Club race was held on June 16th 1945 and by the time of the first Annual Dinner at the Swiss Cafe in High Street, Gosport, on the 22nd December, there had been 15 races besides the Regatta which had attracted 16 boats, including two of the Victory Class. There had also been an Interclub with the National Fire Service based at Moby House, followed by a social event. George Orpin, for many years the club Officer of the Day, noted that the starting arrangements at that time were rather primitive – they consisted of just an open beach, a shotgun and an umbrella.

1959 Regatta ~ Coalhulk in backgroundAfter the first year under the wing of the Hardway and Elson Social Club, the Sailing Club decided their own headquarters were a necessity, both boats and gear were at this time stored in Fred Bailey’s garden in The Square. Several ideas were considered, primarily a small Landing Craft on the shore, (this was a method used by several local clubs), or a new Social/Sailing club on a site next to the Rose and Crown, now the Hogshead and Halibut. Moby House was offered for £900 but was turned down because there was not room for a billiard table! None of these was really suitable and the Club decided to rent a piece of derelict land on the side of the Ramp, where the present Club now stands. This was not really big enough and the site was enlarged with brick rubble donated free by Treloars the builders, and in October 1947 planning permission was given and the hunt started for a suitable building.

In the meanwhile a club Burgee was proposed, and as materials were unobtainable Alf Pearce ‘acquired’ a battleship sized example made up of the International Code flag B red, over the flag Q yellow, so there was no choice of colour. It was suggested that yellow over red would be more artistic, but being Hardway this idea was quickly dismissed.

The hunt for a club building proved successful. A wooden hut was discovered in a field north of Fareham, and the club had the task of dismantling and erecting it at Hardway, helped by a Dyers Dairies lorry, which provided free transport. There was almost a nasty accident when the one side of the hut left standing collapsed over on to Alfy Smith, but miraculously he fell into a ditch and when the side was lifted he was unhurt. This hut was completed just before Christmas, and the first club winch donated by Fred Watts was placed alongside it – this was transported on a hand truck from Parham Road on Boxing Day 1947.

Inside the Clubhouse ~ 1959The inside walls of the club were lined with members lockers about 18 inches high, with lift up lids. These were used as seating and masts, sails and other gear was stored on the beams in the roof. Heating was provided by a round coal stove in the centre of the room. Stocks of coal were kept in Fred Bailey’s garden in The Square, but regular trips were made by dinghy out to the Coal Hulk off the club to collect fuel that had fallen over the side and landed on the ledges, about a foot wide which went right round the vessel.

The 1947 Annual Dinner, once more at the Swiss Cafe in High Street, was a great success. It was noted that “George Cresdee entertained the members with a rendering of ‘The Trumpeter’, accompanied by Arthur Hunt at the piano”.

On 19th January 1948 the first ‘At Home’ was held in the new clubhouse to celebrate it’s opening. These social events were very popular and were held a couple of times a year. It entailed getting a barrel of beer from Dick Stanley at the Rose and Crown and arranging for Mrs Mountifield to provide music on the club piano, and members of all the other local clubs were invited. The 1948 Annual General Meeting was also held in the new surroundings when the Secretary announced that there were now 150 members, entry fee 5 Shillings (25p), Subscriptions 12 Shillings (60p), Juniors 6 Shillings (30p) and Associates 2 Shillings and 6 Pence (12p). Other Business consisted of the official adoption of Molly Bell’s ‘Mystic’ Sea Rangers – this very popular decision lasted for many years. A Mooring Lighter the Kingston Topaz was purchased for £20. This remained in service for a long time. There was some friction later in the year between the club and the social club over the design of the first metal badges, but the club went its own way, and these cost 2 Shillings (10p) each.

All through the year improvements were being made to the clubhouse. Art Roberts built the Tea Bar, Frank Firman donated a draining board and, most important, water was laid on from Mrs Pearce’s house supply. Up until then it had to be carried from the Dairy. Now we were really civilised. There was even a toilet, consisting of an enormous bucket with a seat, in a building made up of old air raid shelters. It was the junior member’s job to empty this every day. This was done by putting a long oar through the handle of the bucket, with one junior on each end. This was then emptied into the harbour and great care was made not to spill any on the way!

Most of the boats in the area at that time were non-class and home built and, at Regattas, Officers of the Day were having difficulty recognising which boat came from which club, so the Portsmouth Harbour Racing and Sailing Association decided to allocate sail insignias to each club. For example, Portchester Sailing Club was given a castle, the Locks Sailing Club a set of lock gates and Hardway a Crown. This signified the boat came from the home of the Hardway ‘Kinger’ – a pre-war nickname for anyone who was born and bred in Hardway. This system did not last for long, as within a few years the number of class boats outnumbered the handicap types.

Albacore Racing 1959 ~ Balloon Shed on ForeshoreAnother difficulty at Regatta times was catering. Food was still rationed and an application had to be made to the local Food Office for extra allowances; in 1948 the club was allocated 8lbs of Sugar, 2lbs of Tea, 1 gallon of Milk and 4lbs of Margarine; by the time the competitors had their free tea, there was not much left for anyone else. Rationing also had its effect on the Annual Dinner – the Swiss Cafe was approached once more with a view to holding it there, but unfortunately they had used all their meat ration for the year, so they were unable to oblige. The only venue available was the Masonic Hall in Clarence Road. Ayllngs were the caterers 174 dinners at 5 Shillings and 6 Pence (31p) each, hall hire £4 10 Shillings (£4.50) and the band £8. After all this expense the club opened its first account with the Midland.

In 1949, a year after the erection of the first clubhouse, it was realised that additional space was needed. So once more members kept their eyes open, and sure enough at RAF Lasham, near Basingstoke, metal huts were being dismantled, and one was purchased for £85 and delivered. This arrived on 20th July and a planning application was put in for both a new clubhouse and an outboard store, which was approved on 10th November.

Meanwhile work had been started on the erection of the new building alongside the original one, assisted by a German who was surprisingly known as Fritz. He and his family had arrived in a small yacht on his way to South Africa.

The new hut was a great improvement on the old one. It had a table and chairs, a proper tea bar, a radio which someone brought from home and the Drug, as it was known. This was a large old fashioned gas fire that came from a doctors surgery, it was given the nickname because as much gas escaped from it round the sides as was used for heating. The Resident Members, as the locals were known, would sit round this for a couple of hours in the evening putting the world to rights before moving on to the Rose and Crown or the Windsor Castle.

Albacore Racing 1959 ~ HMS Vanguard in backgroundWhen the phone was installed in 1954, it really was a case of all Mod Cons. Meanwhile racks were put up in the original clubhouse and it became solely a store and a balcony was erected in front of the club, which made the Officer of the Day’s job much easier. On the sailing side, in 1949 an Easter cruise to Fareham was held, two visitors moorings were laid and, for the first time, 250 fixture lists were printed. The total club funds in December were £35, 9 Shillings and 2 Pence.

On July 14th 1950, as the club boats were preparing for an evening race, there was an enormous explosion and clouds of smoke from the Fareham end of the harbour. Bedenham Pier and 8 barges of ammunition had exploded and disappeared, and small pieces of metal and wood rained down for a few minutes and, as would be expected, the race was cancelled. Members had been alerted by the Dockyard Fire Boat racing down the harbour and a few small explosions about an hour earlier. But no one could foresee a bang like that. The result, as far as the club was concerned, was that one of the main turning marks was no longer available. This was the ‘Last Barge at Frater’ – all the ammunition barges after that were part of the Prohibited Areas. Later on in the year a brick outboard store was erected – Bob Wilkinson being the chief bricklayer.

Early in 1951, there were reports that the Ramp was being vacated by the Admiralty and, after some negotiation, the club were able to rent half of it and the toilets for £12 per year. This really was an advance, as up to now all boats had to be kept either on moorings or on the beach at the mercy of the local children. This became even more important when lighter plywood class boats came on the scene; there was no way they could be left afloat or on the beach. To improve access, the small road gate was also constructed.

At this time the Regatta was as much a social event as a sailing one; besides the dinghy events there were swimming and rowing races and the inevitable greasy pole, which provided much amusement. On a separate day the club held a Fete in the playing fields in Green Lane, where the Naval Quarters are sited. This was very popular and went on from 2pm till 10.30pm and consists of all types of races, a Fancy Dress Parade, a Comic Football Match, a Field Gun Display, dancing by the Sunshine Kiddies and numerous side shows borrowed from Priddy’s Hard, followed by dancing on the green to Jimmy James Dance Band.

The life and soul of the social side of the club at this time, and for a long time after, was George Orpin. He was always first on the dance floor and could make a success of any occasion, whether it was the Annual Dinner at the Masonic Hall, Lee Tower or the Thorngate Hall, or just a club social at the Sloan Stanley Hall, the Co-op Hall, Bridgemary Community Association or the wonderful old Crown Hotel in North Street. He really did put the club on the local social scene, and even many non members kept their eyes open for one of his events – they were that popular.

Foreshore  1957 ~ HMS Vanguard in backgroundBy this time the Ramp had begun to silt up and although it was still possible to get afloat from the remains of the D-Day pier in the middle of the Ramp the club began to consider obtaining their own landing stage. One catamaran had been acquired in 1951. In 1952 another larger one had been bought from Mundens woodyard, followed in 1953 by 4 wooden landing craft doors, which were dragged from Westminster Airways (now George Kingsburys). This was an enormous improvement – the club’s own private landing stage! A successful climax was reached on lst., June when the club took over the remainder of the compound. This only left the Romney (Balloon) hangar for the club to acquire.

In July 1953 Mark Paine and the Gosport Sea Scouts were adopted by the club the beginning of another long association. Later they were allowed by the Admiralty to use part of the Romney hut as a gear store.

At the Annual General Meeting in 1954 the subject of a new clubhouse arose again. This was estimated to cost £500 and a building fund was set up. One scheme adopted was to allow members to buy life membership for £10, surely one of the bargains of the century, but very few people took it up, probably because it was over a week’s wages. Another idea was a large poster over the Drug. This consisted of a picture of the new club divided up into squares of one brick each, with the motto “A bob a brick we’ll build it quick”, a bob being 1 Shilling (5p). At that time nobody imagined it would be another 11 years and a different world away. This year the first cruisers were also allowed into the compound, headed by Norman Barnard’s Inísheer.

In November 1956, after many rumours, the P.H.R. & S.A. informed the club that the Admiralty proposed to moor a Landing Craft on the Ramp to train Stokers at HMS Sultan. This caused much consternation at the club, mainly because one of the conditions of renting the compound was that the club could be given 24 hours notice to move if the Navy so required. Another was the loss of moorings on the eastern side of the bay and the inconvenience of having the ship continuously flashing up its boilers and covering the area with smoke. So in January 1957 the remains of the D-Day pier were removed and the two large bollards put on the Ramp, and in the summer L.S.T. 3031 arrived, connected to the shore by a string of catamarans.

Fortunately things did not turn out too badly. The Navy had no designs on the compound and the club were told that races could be started from the ship and masts lifted in and out on her derricks. Unfortunately no-one told the ship, and the first time we tried to lift a mast we were met by a furious CPO with the words “I am a CPO . . . and I am in charge of this vessel, GET OFF”! After all the commotion the ship was only on the Ramp for 3 or 4 years, then she moved offshore, opposite the club, before moving to the end of Shell Pier at Priddy’s Hard.

Foreshore 1971 ~ HMS Gannet in backgroundBy this time the ‘new’ metal clubhouse was beginning to show signs of age. The metal was rusting and it was beginning to leak, whereas the original wooden one was still structurally sound. So Eric Roberts, the Rear Commodore, decided to change them over and, gathering everyone available, it was done in one weekend. The old wooden building was now the clubhouse and the metal one became the store. This had several advantages; the wooden hut was easier to keep warm with the Drug, the windows overlooked the harbour and it was larger, making it more pleasant for social occasions. This did not please everyone, however, several members who were away for the weekend made their feelings known on their return.

In October 1957 club members noticed that the ‘Romney’ or balloon shed, was being ‘cleared’. Enquiries were made and the club took it over in January 1958. This was really something – covered storage for dinghies, it did not last for long, however, as it was demolished by late 1959. But the club now had the satisfaction of having all the fenced area of the Ramp under its control. By this time members were getting tired of pulling their boats up by hand winch and an alternative was sought. Once more a search was started. lt ended up in a boatyard in Bursledon in 1960, a Fordson tractor, which a K. Clements farm lorry kindly collected. This tractor resembled something from the First World War. It was tracked and had a winch mounted on the front and was known as ‘The Beast’, because of its difficult starting and handling characteristics. But it was ideal for the job, being really a mobile power winch. Its original use was for pulling flying boats ashore at RAF Calshot; it served the club well for many years, and in 1973 the club presented it to the RAF Museum at Hendon, and it was replaced by the electric winch.

As has already been stated, ever since the club had first taken over the compound the Admiralty had insisted that the club had to be prepared to move at 24 hours notice. But in October 1962, after many years of negotiation, the area was finally transferred to the Borough Council. Fortunately the Club had a member who lived next door to a senior Admiralty officer, who persuaded the Council to give the club a 99-year lease under the Landlord and Tenant Act.

Winter 1963This did not please a local lady councillor, who wanted the area as a children’s’ playground. So a Public Meeting was held to obtain the views of the local residents. This meeting found in favour of the club, but a condition was that the old club buildings had to be replaced within 2 years. Also we had to give up a small area of the compound on the eastern side. However, this enabled the plans for the new existing clubroom to be finalised, and the first £5 Bond Scheme was started to help finance it, and also a Ministry of Education grant was successfully negotiated. So in October 1963 the old club buildings were demolished and the tin hut re-erected in the compound so that the building could commence. Progress was hindered because when the foundations were being put in it was decided they needed to be a lot deeper. Nor surprising really, considering the nature of the Ramp. As ‘Uncle Art’ Roberts often said “One day it’ll all fall into the sea”. But fortunately it has not happened yet.

On 17th April 1965 the new clubhouse was opened by Fred Roberts, a founder member and ex Commodore and in the evening a social was held, the music provided by ‘Gunner’ Webb and his Trio. This goes right back to the early days of the club, when the first Annual Dinners were entertained by the Gunwarpheans Dance Band from Priddy’s Hard, of which Gunner was a members.

The council, meanwhile, had cleared the collection of catamarans in the middle of the Ramp, left from the days of L.S.T. 3031, and replaced them with brand new modern ones. These made the club’s collection look rather shabby, so a programme of replacement was started, the first new one being put in position in April 1965. Larger and wider, it looked rather out of place, but gradually the numbers grew and after securing a DOE Grant in 1972 the job was completed. Also in 1966, the first Grid No 1 was erected, and the OOD box presented by Dr Scott was put in position in 1967.

The clubhouse at this time was a hive of industry. Dinghy sailing was in its heyday and there was some sort of social event at least once a month. But several faults had been noticed, one being that the gas radiators that the new club had been equipped with were not adequate on cold winter evenings. This was cured in 1969 by the installation of central heating. Another was the lack of a Bar. The system was the same as in the early days – getting stock in from a local pub and using the Tea Bar. So after much arguing in 1970 the Tea Bar was converted to a Beer Bar, run by Terry Hunt for the first few years and from 1974 till today by Kay and Gordon Darrington, and an opening was made in the committee room wall to make a new Tea Bar for Mrs Skinner to sell her famed ‘Slocum’ cake and ‘mash’ her tea.

Winter 1963Once again lack of space was beginning to become a problem and the committee decided on an extension to include a new committee room and, for the first time, internal toilets. During 1973 John Roser sought pledges and subsequently obtained loans from 483 members to finance the scheme. Work started in 1974 and the contractors finished the basic structure, with members fitting out the building, which was completed in 1975 with the help of a Sports Council grant and enabled the only link with the early days, the brick toilets, to become the outboard store. These improvements, although necessary, did not ease the overcrowding in the clubroom itself and in 1978 the balcony was extended, which at least enabled more members to go outside on a fine day.

Since those days very few major changes have been made to the club or its surroundings; a second electric winch, a new brick wall facing the road, more grids and the wonderful illuminated chart on the wall of the clubroom made by Colin Fletcher. The only controversial item was the comfortable bar type furniture, this goes back to the days when the bar was first mooted. Many members were afraid that if the club had a comfortable bar members would join just for that, and it would change from a sailing to a social club but at the moment these fears seem groundless. The club for many years has been one of the most popular and successful in the country, this proven by the number of members who join and remain honorary ‘Kingers’ for the rest of their sailing lives.  Having read this article you would imagine that the club’s progress has been easy. This is far from the truth. There have been obstacles which at times have seemed insurmountable, but with the effort of members, and also many good friends, these have been overcome.


The first club craft were of all shapes and sizes, a few class boats but the majority home designed and built of the Sharpie type. After a while the club started looking for its own Class. Stokes Bay had the Stokes Bay One Design or Bay boats, Lee on the Solent the Seagulls, Portsmouth the Stormalongs and Portchester the Ducks.

In 1947 Alf Pearce saw a dinghy in an American magazine. It was Cat rigged i.e. no jib, just with a mainsail set right forward in the boat. This design was altered to a more conventional layout and the result was a good looking, round bilged, clinker built, 14 foot dinghy with a Gunter rig, it just happened that the rig was identical to that used in the Royal Navy’s 14 foot dinghy. These boats were home built in Norman Pearce’s garage at the rear of the club. They were known as the Hardway Winds and with their different coloured sails were well known all over the Solent area and proved very successful in all the local regattas.

Morning Star 1973 ~ Largest Yacht Built at HardwayIn 1949 the demand arose for a more modern Bermuda rigged dinghy and Sid Tanner saw in a yachting book an O’Brian Kennedy 14 footer, the Irish Dinghy Racing Association One Design. He approached the designer who modified the plans to meet the club’s requirements, and so was born the Hardway Seabirds. These two classes, the Wind and the Seabird, were the backbone of the club for many years. In 1950 there was racing on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and they were still sailing when the club came right up to date in 1955 with the Albacore class. Meanwhile, in 1950, the club also adopted the Yachting World Cadet for the Junior Members, but only 4 were built.

In 1954 Charles Curry of Fairey Marine, Hamble, modified three of its cold moulded ply Swordfish 15 foot dinghies and named them Albacores. These were sent to various clubs in the area for trials, one being Hardway. They were an immediate success – Eric Roberts bought the first production hull A4, which was fitted out by Frank Firman of St Thomas’s Road for £100 complete. Another nine were bought by other members and they were a very popular class at all the local clubs. So popular, in fact that a new idea, the first Hardway Frostbiting series, took place in 1955.

By 1959 however, dinghy racing was at a low ebb at the club and members, led by Roy Rolf, began to look once again for a suitable dinghy. Roy liked the look of the 16 foot Wayfarer, it was the ideal boat for harbour racing and cruising in the Solent. But John McCurrach, who had recently opened the Marine Shop, offered his cellar for building purposes and there was no way the Wayfarer could be accommodated. The smaller version of it, the 13 foot 3 inch Enterprise would just, with a bit of juggling, fit in, so it was chosen.

The club already had one Enterprise and a syndicate was formed to build 6 from kits. These were followed by many more, both home and professionally built. Altogether there were 33, and at any one time there were at least 24 in the club, and Hardway were well known on the National scene, with boats travelling all over the country.  The first Mirror Dinghy was brought to the club by Terry Hunt in 1969. This boat was so popular that in April 1971 a scheme was set up whereby a Mirror could be purchased for 84 books of Green Shield Stamps and accelerated by the efforts of John Hook, enough had been collected for 2 boats by July of that year. Altogether 4 dinghies were obtained this way. The Mirrors are still with us today, accompanied by representatives of several other classes.

No history of the Club would be complete without a mention of the Cruisers. From the beginning the club has had a large Keelboat section, some of whom have taken part in major local, national and international events. However most members have been happy to potter, making for a weekend at Cowes or Lymington and praying for some fine weather. I can recall some of the awful summers of the early ’60s when members used to listen to the midnight forecast on Friday. It was known as the ‘Friday night horror’.

The club has always encouraged cruiser racing and has been very successful in the Interclub series, started in 1969. But where we are unique, at least in this area, is the Wednesday evening series, which sometimes attract as many as fifteen boats and, as has always been the case with dinghy racing, it is all for FUN. It is for this reason that Hardway is so popular and differs from many other clubs.