The Sea at Hastings: A Sails Pitch
The sea created Hastings as a fishing port and base for defending against invasion – the famous Ann Bonaventure ship, manned by a Hastings crew, fought against the Spanish Armada. The sea also provided a forum for local smugglers to out-sail their Customs counterparts, the origins of its modern obsession with pirates. In the Victorian era the sea inspired the expansion of St Leonards as a leisure resort. It is still the principal attraction for holidaymakers, second homers, language students and other visitors. Any property offering a view out over it gains thousands of pounds of value. The pier, by venturing a couple of hundred yards into it, becomes an icon of wonder.
As sporting terrain the sea has unique advantages enviable by the providers of football pitches, cricket squares, tennis courts, golf courses, skating rinks etc. It needs no maintenance. There’s no demarcation issue: it is as wide and deep as you want it to be. And it’s free. Sailors, rowers, canoeists, windsurfers, fishermen, swimmers, surfers, divers, enjoy!….there is unlimited space for all.
Of course the sea has other elements which constrain its sporting usability: the English Channel is cold (both in the water and up on deck) for most of the year; though its tides are predictable, its winds and waves are not; the water is deep and the shoreline once relinquished not always easily regained. But the best water sports turn these problems into challenges, whether embracing the assistance of wind and waves or struggling to combat them. And sailing is the quintessential sport of the sea, needing the water as a potentially unlimited arena of combat and the wind, preferably untrammelled by buildings or surrounding hills, as its motor.
Hastings has no protected harbour, and the original Hastings and St Leonards Sailing Club was disbanded in 1935 after receiving what seemed to be a knock-out blow in 1935: storms raging up the Channel smashed most of its boats, which had been laid up on the beach below Warrior Square. But the club was re-formed in 1953 and took the benefit of post-war reconstruction of the promenade which incorporated a voluminous boathouse under the walkway. It is now unique along this part of the south coast in offering round-the-year housing of all boats, with maximum protection against the weather and space enough to work on them under cover. Larger yachts may need to be moored in a marina, such as the one at Eastbourne. But for small dinghies this is ideal, even if it means having to raise and then to lower the mast at the beginning and end of each sailing day.
There are around 60 full adult members of the club plus additional juniors and (non-sailing) associates. The sailing season runs from the end of March until December with weekly dinghy racing between club members every Sunday that weather and sea conditions allow – in a good year up to 80% (four in every five). Up to 20 single-handed or two-person dinghies come out to compete in different classes, generally one for Lasers, the lightweight boat that Ben Ainslie sailed when he won his first Olympic title, and one for other miscellaneous boats, handicapped for speed and size. Further less formal sessions are conducted on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays in summer.
The club offers training courses to give beginners of any age basic RYA qualifications for sailing single-handed in light winds, including rigging, launch, tacking, gybing, and recovery after capsize. After that there are further “improvers” sessions designed to increase members’ skills and prepare them for racing.
The general prejudice is that sailing of any sort requires well-above-average financial resources. But club sailing secretary Philip Blurton disagrees. A single adult pays a membership fee of only £95 per year, a family pays £152. A first training course this summer lasting six weeks costs £265, but this includes not only qualified instruction on club boats but also the full year’s membership and free access to the boats for up to two years. Members are expected to buy their own in due course, and a raceable dinghy may involve the investment of £1,000 upwards, but this should last for many years. A year’s rent of space in the boathouse costs between £110 and £225 depending on size.
As usual in Hastings sport these costs are kept modest and affordable because club officers give hugely of their time and energy for nothing. The patrol boat, kept constantly on the water to assist any sailors in difficulty, needs two volunteers for every session; the open clubhouse requires servicing and maintenance; committees meet regularly to devise and oversee events (including regattas involving other local clubs such as Bexhill and Eastbourne). The club would like to attract more new members, particularly more juniors – and there’s still plenty of room in the boathouse for more boats – but seems in the meantime in good hands.
It’s not money that’s needed, then, but love of the sport. Take Philip himself: he not only shares secretarial duties at the club with wife Margaret, the couple also combine sailing skills in a two-hander Tasar, a 14 foot fibre-glass dinghy which they bought second-hand from an ex-British champion for £2,000 two years ago. He says it’s ideal for the less sprightly over-40s age group, with no trapezes or spinnakers to marshall but still plenty of speed and finesse. “Physical chess” is how he describes the combination of technical skills, mental alertness and adroit manoeuvring required to win sailing races. He and Margaret will be taking their boat to Whitstable in July to represent Hastings for the first time in the national Tasar championships. Good luck to them.f ave a basic understanding of boat handling techniques, background knowledge and be capable of sailing without an instructor on board in light winds. The course covers rigging, rope work, launch and recovery, sailing techniques and manoeuvres including tacking, gybing and s