Loch Broom Sailing Club: How it All Began

During the early fifties a keen spirit of competition developed amongst the local (working) sailing boats in Ullapool and there were no doubt many unofficial races convened. However, it is recorded that in 1957 Alec Ross and a newcomer, Dr Freddie Whitley called a public meeting in the Caledonian Hotel, and as a result of this meeting the Loch Broom Sailing Club was formed.

The founding members were Alec Ross, Dr Whitley and a committee of enthusiastic sailors: Bill Sloan (manager of the Caledonian), and Duncan Duff (joiner); James Macintyre (haberdashery shop) was the secretary. Early meetings were chaired by Lord Cameron and held in Danny Gordon's fish hut on the pier.

The Club's interest was in racing local boats of the Bata Ghearrloch type (notwithstanding Dr Whitley’s GP14). These were small local fishing boats based on the design of local boats built at that time in Gairloch. For racing, the traditional dipping lug rig was converted to bermudan or gunter and appropriate second hand sails fitted. The boats were further modified by adding ballast (lead keel strips) and by adding quarter or half decking of marine ply.

The Club generated much local interest with its regular Saturday afternoon races around buoys in the loch. A local entrepreneur even ran a book on the results. The focal point of the Club at that time was the old pier and the Seaforth Pub and the annual diner dance was held in the Caledonian.

During the late sixties the focus of the Club moved to the wee pier and the Royal Hotel Bar. New members, such as, A McRitchie (policeman), Arthur Pollack (Caley Oils), Jimmy (ferry) Mackenzie (Customs), Ken Harper (RNMDSF), Robert Lang (baker) and Roy Osborne (engineer) rejuvenated interest in sailing and racing. The Royal served as the clubhouse and it was there that the races and results were pored over and, often, a further challenge race was held after "refreshments".

Racing was keen and protests virtually unknown. Annual competitions included: the Whitley Memorial Cup (following the untimely death of Dr Whitley), the Merchant Navy Quaich, a number of pennant races in aid of the RNLI and RNMDSF and, the highlight, a round Isle Martin race for which a guard boat was hired.

A turning point in the Club was when in the early seventies a grant was secured from the Scottish Sports Council to build the Clubhouse in its current location at the wee pier. With this came the need to formally develop a constitution and appoint office-bearing posts of Commodore, Vice-commodore, Treasurer, and Secretary. Tuesday nights became Club night and darts a hotly contested sport along with the usual banter and chat.

In the fifties the club fleet comprised up to eight Bhatas (15 to 17 ft), essentially one design and raced without handicap. The skippers made adjustments to hull and rig to gain that essential edge. By the late early seventies there had begun a change in the Club fleet. A number of skippers had begun to acquire larger cruising yachts and had turned their attention and enthusiasm towards their upkeep and sailing. Other skippers responded and moved up to Dragons (of which there were three at one time), along with Flying Fifteens and a wide selection of other cruising yachts, including spells of up to three Nicholson 32's and two Contessa 32's.

The Bhatas faded away and their enthusiastic crews moved to other boats or other pastimes. Perhaps the only remaining true original is the Mairi, which lies outside Roy Osborne's house. It was from the hull of the Mairi that the template for the Wee Hector was culled, so the spirit and tradition lives on.

As the fleet grew ever more varied it was necessary to develop a handicapping system and this has been the source of much controversy and debate, continuing to this day. Many systems were tried: Portsmouth Yardstick and others with various attempts to adjust based on recorded results rationalised over time to take account of boat, rig and crew. As ever though the fickle wind, start timing, and crew psyche proved the most difficult to cater for, such is the excitement of racing.

Parallel to weekend, round-the-buoys racing, a separate cruiser racing class began to emerge. Fiercely competitive races ensued with courses to Gairloch, Stornoway, Kylesku, and such places. These included much social activity during the long evenings away from home.

Thereafter, cruising waters were extended to St Kilda, Orkney, Shetland, Ireland, Norway and, Faeroese waters and, more recently, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Iceland, and even America, Canada and Greenland.

Weekend and distant cruising thus became an established feature whilst the racing edge was whetted through the, alternate weekend, round the buoys races in a mixed fleet of (handicapped) boats.Happily; this is a pattern which survives to this day.

Since the early nineties the demography of the Club began to change and newer (or grown up older) members young families have led to dissolution of the cruising fleet's activity. In an attempt to foster renewed interest, the Club, beginning in 1998, purchased a fleet of Flying Fifteens, which have proven to be the catalyst for a period of renewed and sustained interest in the Club and have rejuvenated the ever-popular round the buoys racing. Membership thereafter began a period of sustained growth.

Training has become an integral part of the club's activities and many members have undergone RYA training in Yachtmaster, Day Skipper, VHF and the like. As the number of younger members began to grow it was decided in 2004 that the club should purchase a fleet of three Pico dinghies and these too have proven to be popular with children and adults alike and it is anticipated that they will cultivate renewed and wider interest in the club and the sport of sailing.