Club History

A rich & proud heritage

Few organising bodies in international sport can claim to have been founded over 175 years ago. Even fewer still play a leading role in their sport but The Royal Western Yacht Club is one of them.

The Club was founded in 1827, when to go to sea for fun and not out of necessity was considered at best unusual and, by many, even eccentric. But Plymouth had for centuries been inseparable from every kind of maritime adventure and it would have been even more surprising if the city had not given birth to one of the world’s first yacht clubs.

Founded as the Port of Plymouth Royal Clarence Regatta Club in 1827, it became the Royal Western Yacht Club in 1833. Its original aims were to hold an annual regatta, to organise an active social programme and to stimulate improvements in naval architecture through yacht racing, and the Club still holds to the principles of those original aims today.

In those early years the Club’s principal strength proved to be in long distance cruising. Its members’ yachts, wearing the Blue Ensign, a privilege given to them in a Warrant granted by Queen Victoria, were to be seen in the farthest corners of the globe.

At the same time the Club’s active involvement in racing grew consistently. As well as running an annual regatta the Club was soon organising an annual race series for J Class Yachts, an event which continued for over 100 years until 1934.

Yachts competing in such races never ventured too far offshore. But Plymouth had been the traditional starting point for the voyages of Anson, Drake, Cook and many other great seafarers so it was, perhaps, only natural that the world’s first ocean race, the Fastnet, should be sailed under the burgee of the Royal Western Yacht Club in 1925. The Fastnet remains one of the ocean racing classics for fully-crewed yachts and the Royal Western Yacht Club has been instrumental in organising the finishing ever since.

In 1960 the Club introduced an innovation that had a profound effect on oceanic sailing – short-handed races! The 1960 Observer Single-Handed TransAtlantic Race (OSTAR) was the result of a request from Lt.Col. H.G. (Blondie) Hasler to organise a single-handed race against the prevailing winds and current across the Atlantic. Five yachts sailed from Plymouth to New York with Francis Chichester coming first in GIPSY MOTH II. This was followed in 1966 by the first Two-Handed Round Britain and Ireland Race (the RB&I), and in 1981 by the Two-Handed TransAtlantic Race (or ‘TWOSTAR’) — and so a tradition was established.

The Club continues to promote the ‘Corinthian’ spirit in the OSTAR, TWOSTAR and the RB&I ensuring that the races are not limited to the heavily sponsored professional competitors, but offer amateur and semi-professional sailors an opportunity to develop and express their talents.

The Club had not been ignoring domestic racing. Following a lull after the last J Class Series in 1934, competitive sailing restarted in the 1950s. 1954 saw the first Plymouth to Fowey race followed by the first Plymouth to St Malo in 1956 – both races became annual events. Triangular races to France and the Channel Islands and several Armada Cup races to Spain were held in the ’80s and ’90s and the Club built up the seasonal races series now held in Plymouth Sound in addition to the offshore series.

The Club also played host to many national and international championships, including the Sigma 33 Nationals in 1991 and 1995, the J24 Nationals in 1991, 2013 and Nationals and Europeans in 1997, the J80 Europeans in 1999 and National Championships in 2002 and 2005, and the J24, Seascape 18 & MOCRA Nationals in 2015.

Over the years the Club has occupied a variety of premises. In 1837 the Club occupied its first clubhouse near Millbay docks, moved to Elliott Terrace in 1866 then to the Hoe (next door to the Grand Hotel) in 1882. This building was destroyed, along with all the Club’s silver and historical records, in the bombing of 1941. The Club had used the former West Hoe Baths and Reading Room on Grand Parade since 1890 and a new building was opened there by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1965. Space limitations led to the Club’s move to its current premises in Queen Anne’s Battery where the new clubhouse was opened by HRH The Princess Royal in 1989.

Racing History

The RWYC has a rich oceanic yacht racing history. To further explore the prestigious events associated with the club please use the links below.

Notable Dates

1827

Port of Plymouth Royal Clarence Regatta Club was formed.

1833

The Club was renamed The Royal Western Yacht Club.

1834

The first Royal Warrant authorising a distinguishing ensign was granted. In the same year privileges were obtained for Members’ yachts visiting foreign ports, starting with France. In subsequent years privileges were obtained in places as far afield as St Petersburg, Capetown, Ceylon and South America.

1837

The Club obtained lease of its first Clubhouse, adjacent to Millbay Docks.

1842

The first Royal Warrant authorising the Blue Ensign of Her Majesty’s Fleet was granted.

1850

A Squadron of yachts from the Club was present at Cherbourg for the review of the French Fleet by the President of the Republic, Prince Louis Napoleon.

1882

The new Clubhouse on The Hoe was completed.

1890

The Royal South Western Yacht Club was founded. They acquired the premises of the Public Baths for their Clubhouse.

1894

The second Royal Warrant authorising the Blue Ensign of Her Majesty’s Fleet was granted.

1925

The first Fastnet Race was sailed under the burgee of the Royal Western Yacht Club. There were seven starters and the winner was E G Martin, Rear Commodore of the RWYC sailing JOLIE BRISE. This was to be an annual event.

1926

The second Fastnet Race was run by the newly formed Ocean Racing Club, later to become the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Capt N G Clarke was a founder member of the RORC and also a member of the RWYC. He arranged for the facilities of the RWYC to be put at the disposal of RORC for the finish of the race.  The RWYC continues to help with the finish of the race.

1931

The Royal Ocean Racing Club decided to run the Fastnet Race every other year.

1934

BRITANNIA and other famous J Class yachts raced under the RWYC burgee for the last time. For over 100 years the RWYC had run their annual Regatta of Plymouth.

1941

The Clubhouse was destroyed by bombing. Thereafter, until the amalgamation, the Club was accommodated in temporary premises.

1947

The first post-war Fastnet Race was sailed. There were 20 entries and the winner was MYTH OF MALHAM.

1950

The RWYC arranged the finish of the RORCs Transatlantic Race from Newport, Rhode Island. This race was notable for the severity of the weather and the classic dual between SAMUEL PEPYS and COHOE.

1954

The first Plymouth to Fowey Race was sailed for yachts and Service Boats. The race is now an annual event.

1956

The first Plymouth to St Malo Race was sailed. It was organised in co-operation with the Britannia RN College, Dartmouth, and has been an annual event ever since.

1960

The first St Malo to Plymouth Race was sailed. It was organised by the Societe Nautique de la Baie de St Malo and finished by the RWYC.

1960

The first Singlehanded Transatlantic Race from Plymouth to New York was sailed. It was proposed by Lt Col H G Hasler RM, sponsored by The Observer and run by the RWYC. Five yachts took part and it was won by Francis Chichester (later Sir Francis) in GYPSY MOTH II.

1961

The Royal Western and The Royal South Western Yacht Clubs agree to amalgamate.

1962

Francis Chichester left from the RWYC starting line for New York in GYPSY MOTH II in an attempt to reach the Ambrose Light in 30 days. He actually took 34 days.

1964

The second Singlehanded Transatlantic Race was sailed from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island. There were 14 starters and the winner was Eric Tabarly in PEN DUICK II.

1965

HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the new Clubhouse. This was the previous building occupied by the RSWYC which had been extensively altered and renovated.

1966

The first Two Handed Round Britain Race was sailed. Proposed by Lt Col Hasler, sponsored by The Observer and the Daily Express and run by the RWYC. There were 16 starters and the winner was Derek Kelsall in TORIA.

1966

Francis Chichester started Round the World voyage from the Club line.

1967

Sir Francis Chichester returned from his circumnavigation to land at the Club steps.

1967

The RWYC received the first Crystal Trophy Race which was run by the RYA, sponsored by BP. The prizes were presented by HRH Prince Philip in the Club.

1967

Dr David Lewis returned to the RWYC from his three-year circumnavigation.

1968

The third Singlehanded Transatlantic Race was sailed. There were 48 entries of whom 35 started, 18 finished. The winner was Geoffrey Williams in SIR THOMAS LIPTON.  A severe storm in mid-Atlantic resulted in the loss or abandonment of seven yachts.

1970

The second Two Handed Round Britain Race was won by Leslie Williams and Robin Knox-Johnston in OCEAN SPIRIT. Elapsed time 20 days, 21 hours. 25 started the race, 20 finished.

1972

The fourth Singlehanded Transatlantic Race sponsored by The Observer was won by Alain Colas in PEN DUICK IV in 20 days, 13 hours. 55 started the race, 40 finished.

1974

The third Two Handed Round Britain Race was won by Robin Knox-Johnston and Gerald Boxall in BRITISH OXYGEN. Elapsed time 18 days, 4 hours. 61 started the Race, 39 finished.

1976

The Club was host to the ¾ ton World Championships.

Eric Tabarly in PEN DUICK VI achieved his second win in the fifth OSTAR.

1977

The Club celebrated its 150th Anniversary with a Transatlantic Race from Manchester, Massachusetts, to Plymouth followed by a programme of social events and culminating in a race and cruise in company to Cornish ports and St Malo.

1978

The third and fourth sailing courses for Blind and Visually handicapped yachtsmen were held in Plymouth based at the Royal Western Yacht Club.

1979

The Parmelia Race to Western Australia, organised by the RORC, RWYC, Royal Cape Yacht Club and the Royal Perth Yacht Club started from Plymouth. The Race, which was a pursuit race, was in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the founding of Western Australia. There were 26 starters.

The club was much involved with the disastrous Fastnet Race in which 5 yachts were sunk with the loss of 15 lives.

1980

The sixth OSTAR was oversubscribed and was won in a record time of just under 18 days by Philip Weld.

1981

Following the popularity of the 1980 OSTAR, a new race was instituted, this time a Two Handed Transatlantic Race in which 76 yachts took part and the winners were Chay Blyth and Robert James in BRITTANY FERRIES GB in 14 ½ days.

1982

The Round Britain Race, sponsored by Binatone Ltd, was won by Rob and Naomi James in the trimaran COLT CARS GB in 16 days.

1983

The Club instituted a new long distance two-handed race, this time to Vilamoura, in southern Portugal, and back. The race was won by Jeff Houlgrave and Andrew Hall in COLT CARS GB, but the final leg was marred by storm force winds, which sank two yachts with the loss of one crew member.

1984

The seventh OSTAR was won by Yvon Fauconnier after he was awarded a time allowance for standing by another competitor. The first to finish was Phillipe Poupon in FLEURY MICHON in 16 ½ days.

A new race for fully manned yachts was added to the Club’s normal programme, this time to Santander. It was won by Aubrey Long in YELLOW BIRD.

1985

The Round Britain Race sponsored by the City of Plymouth was won by Tony Bullimore and Nigel Irens in their trimaran APRICOT, in 9 days 7½ hours.

1986

The withdrawal of the Observer sponsorship allowed Carlsberg to step in to back the second Two Handed Transatlantic, with 55 starters. Won by Loic Caradec and Oliver Despaigne in ROYALE in 13 days and 6 ½ hours.

The Club also instituted a new race from Plymouth to San Sebastian on the North Coast of Spain. There were 47 finishers in fully crewed yachts.

1987

A new departure of the Club instructed over 60 yachts to a 3-Legged Race cruise over 7 days visiting Lezardrieux and St Peter Port. Sponsored by the local firm of Renwicks Audi, and supported by the City.

1988

The eighth Singlehanded Transatlantic Race sponsored by Carlsberg attracted 106 entries with 72 finishers led by Phillipe Poupon in the trimaran FLEURY MICHON.

Competitors’ yachts were limited to 60’ LOA – a new record of 10 days 9 ½ hours was set.

The second Armada Cup Race from San Sebastian to Plymouth finished to coincide with the Armada 400 Anniversary.

1989

The Club moved from West Hoe premises to the new Queen Anne’s Battery Marina, and Watersports complex. HRH The Princess Royal opened the new Clubhouse on 24 May and was pleased to accept Honorary Life Membership.

The second Renwicks Audi Three-Legged Race was held, calling at Treguier and St Malo with 45 entries.

The Round Britain Race sponsored by the Observer was won by Francois Boucher and Loic Lingois in SAAB TURBO, in the record time of 7 days and 7½ hours.

1990

The third Two Handed Transatlantic was won by Jean Maurel in ELF AQUITAINE in 10 days 23 hours and 15 minutes. There were 37 starters.

The third Armada Cup Race from Plymouth to San Sebastian was held. Both before and after the race, twinning ceremonies took place with the Real Club Nautico de San Sebastian and were attended by representatives of both cities. The race was very successful but marred by the tragic loss overboard of a crew member during a squall.

1991

The Club hosted the National Sigma and J24 Championships, the European Micro Multihull Championships and the National Shrimper Championship.

1992

The ninth Singlehanded Transatlantic Race sponsored by EUROPE 1 attracted 61 entrees with 55 finishers led by Loick Peyron in the 60ft trimaran FUJICOLOR in a time of 11 days and 1 ½ hours.

1993

The Two Handed Round Britain and Ireland Race sponsored by the Teeside Development Corporation was won by LAKOTA, a 60ft trimaran in 7 days and 12 hours, co-skippered by Steve Fossett and David Scully.

The Club also hosted a qualifying round of the RYA Matchracing Championship, the Shrimpers and the Yachting World Dayboat National Championship.

1994

The Two Handed Transatlantic Race sponsored by the Plymouth Development Corporation was won by PRIMAGAZ in a record time of 9 days, 9 hours, co-skippered by Laurent Bourgnon and Cam Lewis.

1995

The Club hosted the National Sigma Championships won by M S H  Heseltine, Rear Commodore Sailing.

1996

The tenth Singlehanded Transatlantic Race sponsored by Europe 1 attracted 58 entries with 42 finishers won once again by Loick Peyron in the 60ft trimaran FUJICOLOR in a time of 10 days 10 hours.

1997

The Club hosted The National Ballad and J24 Championships.

1998

The Two Handed Round Britain and Ireland Race was won by the 40ft trimaran FPC GREENAWAY in 8 days, 15 hours, co-skippered by Richard Tolkein and Robert Wingate.

The Club also hosted the YW Dayboat National Championships and organised inaugural race from Plymouth to Gijon.

1999

The Club hosted the National Ballad, the National Squib and J80 European Championships.

2000

The eleventh Singlehanded Transatlantic Race was won by Francis Joyon in EURE ET LOIR.

2001

The Club hosted the finish of the Fastnet Race and the J24 Autumn Cup.

2002

The Two Handed Round Britain & Ireland Race was won by MOLLYMAWK.

The Club also hosted the J80 National Championship.

2003

The Club hosted the Ballad and Prima National Championships.

2004

The Club hosted the Barratt J24 National Championships.

The Club was incorporated as a Limited Company.

2005

The twelfth Singlehanded Transatlantic Race renamed the ‘Original’ (OSTAR) sponsored by Faraday Mill was won by COTONELLA skippered by Franco Mazoli in a time of 17 days 21 hours. Club member Mervyn Wheatley won the IRC Class in TAMARIND.

The Club also hosted the Barratt J80 National Championships.

2006

The Shetland Round Britain and Ireland Two Handed Race was won by the US trimaran ALACRITY in 18 days 22 hours co-skippered by Rex Conn and Etienne Giroire.

2007

The Club organised the first UK Fastnet two handed race for the Mini 6.50 class.

The Club also hosted the J-Cup.