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History of the Island Yacht Club

During the Edwardian era (1900-c1940), pleasure sailing had grown beyond the traditional ‘yachting’ clubs and by 1930 a growing number of pleasure sailors had congregated in Smallgains Creek at the eastern end of Canvey Island. Smallgains Creek, or more accurately, Oyster Creek: the creek has had a name change (Smallgains was a farm in the vicinity of the allotments up near the old head of the creek) had been attracting a collection of houseboats, comprising of a few old spritsail barges, a schooner and other craft, many used for summer vacations. The pleasure boats were a motley mix of tore outs, lifeboat ‘risons’ (converted ships’ life boats) and dinghies. The first real class cruiser was "RENE. K." owned by J. Lawrence Senior. Thames barges delivering building materials to the Canvey Supply Co. and Leigh Bawleys off-loading fish still regularly used the creek.

Arthur Rapkin, along with John Lawrence’s father, Eugene Ernest Lawrence, became acquainted with Ossie Smith who had a converted ship's lifeboat. They, with others, began to hanker for a ‘proper club’ to pool ideas and local knowledge.

In 1936 at a meeting in the Woodville Cafe, owned by Ossie Smith, some 20 people congregated and formed the Canvey Yacht Club. Smith was appointed Secretary, Rapkin was made Treasurer, and A. McCrerie a reluctant first Commodore. McCrerie was a very quiet and retiring man, but being the owner of the only good jetty with a hard and a floating cafe, which he offered as a temporary clubhouse, it was a unanimous decision. By the end of 1936 membership had risen sharply to around fifty members and the club held its first Dinner & Dance.

The club regalia, agreed upon at the first meeting, of a blue badge on red and white fly were colours chosen in honour of the 1935 Coronation Year. The Windmill signifies the Island’s Dutch influence and the scimitars in the mill’s body were included because of the club’s geographical position as an club.

The club’s first clubhouse was presented by a new member, a Mr Phipps. This was a small 12m (35') lighter which had been converted for a then famous illustrator for Yachting World. The club was on an upward path, despite the menacing clouds of World War Two.

During the conflict offices were combined and women were drafted in to help. Miss L. Rapkin filled in as Treasurer, replacing her brother who was called up. (The female touch has continued to be a club feature: women have been full participating members and many have given sterling service: that ethos ran to a Commodore before the twentieth century had closed.) The war years of the 1940s were a turbulent era, they shouldn’t have been, but that is as maybe. The club’s name was changed to the Island Yacht Club at a special meeting much to the chagrin of some original members. The club was registered at Lloyds of London. After hostilities and members’ return it was decided to let matters rest. The club’s new name remained extant.

Pleasure sailing was banned on the Thames Estuary during those dark war years. All boats unless licensed and registered as fishing vessels were not allowed to remain afloat, although some did. A few licences were wangled... Some members managed to sail a Thames Estuary One Design (TEOD) when home on leave, often being chased by police boats unsure of the underwater terrain – resulting in groundings – and the members’ escape!

At the close of hostilities and the return of old hands the 1947 membership was seventy members. A retired Thames spritsail barge, the Louise, proved a real asset; it was moored next to the old Tea Rooms clubhouse and provided us with storage space and a social venue for parties and afternoon teas. Sponsorship for our racing trophies began too. Sunnyside hotel presented a Challenge Trophy. Many other named trophies have followed.

The club was affiliated in 1949 to the Yacht Racing Association which became the Royal Yachting Association upon its inclusion of cruising sailors and ultimately, all aspects of water sports activity.

Before the 1953 floods, around 1947, damming of the creek had been planned. The plans fell aside until after the dreadful events. The club suggested locks at the present creek head leading to a tidal lagoon – a marina. Planners still do not understand – what a grand thing that would have been!

One of the club’s members in the immediate post war years was Roland Prout. Prout became a name synonymous with multi-hull design and manufacture up to the company’s demise in the 1990s. Geoffrey Prout even wrote a book about sailing.

In June 1951 it was the Chapman Lighthouse’s centenary. This was celebrated by a flotilla of small craft sailing in a figure of eight around the light. Three representatives of the club, and a B.B.C. reporter were allowed to land. Gifts were given to the Keepers and a special plaque of commemoration was presented to Trinity House, which is still at the London Headquarters today. The lighthouse was dismantled in 1956 when a tradition died too: members with craft still afloat had taken Christmas fayre out to the keepers for years! 1951 was Festival year too and a sail past took place as the Royal Yacht Britannia passed Canvey with the Royal couple aboard. A message of goodwill was flashed from Labworth Cafe, honouring the Monarch.

During the 1950s the club gradually grew in strength, with only the 1953 floods causing angst, and too, more sadly, death amongst the island’s population. An old Thames barge the Old Upton (formally the Black Duck of Rochester – although the Compendium of sailing barges does not list her, but there was a Black Swan of Rochester...) and owned by a member was wrecked during the floods, breaking her back. Her mooring was ‘inside’ current sea wall. The club barge survived and soldiered on until land was bought immediately upstream of the Canvey Supply depot and wharf front near the top end of the creek. A club house was erected. It was opened by the then PLA Harbour Master in May 1959, just in time for the club’s Silver Jubilee in 1961. However it wasn’t long before an extension was needed: the club’s membership was on an upward path again. It continued through that decade.

From the early beginnings, the backbone of the club had not only been the astute leadership from good commodores and club officers but it has been excellently served by rolling bands of volunteers for the multifarious manual tasks that always need dealing with. The club continues to pride itself on this core membership principle.

In 1967 club member Alf Buxton helmed his Mirror dinghy to victory in Sweden and won the European Championship. Alf came second in 1968. So, we had our hero long before Ben Ainslie and his piece of polished south coast plastic! The tragic happening of that decade, in1968, was the permanent closure of free passage round the island by a ‘masted’ yacht.

In 1969 the club hosted a round of the Open Dinghy Championships and Brightlingsea’s Reg White gave sailing lessons! Dinghy sailing was later to wane as cruisers took precedence. It is good to see that the trend, during the first decade of the third millennium (Anno Domini) has moved back to a balanced spectrum of sailors.

The opening years of the 1970s saw a rapid expansion of facilities at The Point. The club had acquired land at the eastern end of the island, outside the sea wall. It was a mix of marsh and rough ground. Members started to purchase new vessels from Thames Marine, yacht builders based on the island. The craft were the now famous Snapdragons. The company had had an earlier success in the 11'6" Turtle Class Dinghy. A dinghy compound, racks and slipways had been built immediately to the east of the club’s present haul out slipway, built in 1976 (and widened in 2000 with the rail sleeper side wharves being built too). By 1978; bank side stem on moorings had begun to be built; the old fore and aft moorings in the creek were gradually removed; and the access road was rebuilt to highways standard.

In 1980, after a court action, the Island Yacht Club’s title to the land at the point was proved. A small area and an outer shingle bank owned by the local authority remained outside the order. These areas, and an extensive area of club saltings, have since been consumed by the inimitable rise in sea level. An old beached concrete barge was purchased for a nominal £l during the court proceedings. The barge was removed in 2005: it had become dilapidated and was a danger to children using it as a playground. The barge was not, as Robert Hallmann asserts in his book, Canvey Island: A History, a valuable war time relic. Hundreds of these oil/water barges remain dotted around the Thames Estuary’s rivers and creeks, in use or otherwise. Apparently its final use before being wrecked was as a humble sewage lighter.

During the 1980s and 1990s as the club expanded further cruiser racing became the prime activity of many members. Many older boats were sold and shinny new modern craft began to appear. The club, during this period, showed the other ‘fore-shore’ clubs their sterns in competition after competition. Sail cruising remained popular too, and as at the club’s inception a strong motor yachting section has continued to thrive. Of the more traditional craft, the club is currently home to three clinker-built Finesse 24s and a Sea King 23.

By 1986 the club passed its golden jubilee milestone. Plans for the future of the club were being laid down at this stage with a grand plan for a modern clubhouse on the land outside the seawall, some three metres above high tide springs. The club also bought its own lifting rig thus removing any reliance on contractors. This was followed much later in 1997 by a purpose designed tractor unit with hydraulic lifts. The club has since provided a lay-up facility for sister clubs in the area. Moorings remain the responsibility of the mooring committee and in particular, mooring holders.

By the end of the century’s last decade there was a fresh growth in dinghy sailing. It was led, in the main, by old hands! The club now boasts a floating pontoon running out over the mud flats to the south of the club house and makes grand use of the open waters of the Thames. In conjunction with this re-growth a cadet unit was restarted and has thrived. From those youngsters will most certainly be a sprinkling of budding club stalwarts – the future.

The creek entrance across the flats from the Ray channel was dredged in 2007 and lit navigation buoys installed. These lead up to the outer moorings with their fixed red and green lights, marking the inner creek and instituted some years earlier by Nick Ardley. The lights are charted and the club is always happy to berth visitors by arrangement. A work boat was purchased and adapted for creek profiling, ably managed, up to 2016, by William French and a creek committee.

A pivotal moment in the club’s history has been the development of the new club house at the Point. It had initially gained full planning consent in 1989, but it was not until 1995 that the new building was completed. It was opened on 7 October by Rear Admiral Bruce Richardson C.B. Later developments include a shower block in the compound which is used by the cadets and visiting dinghy sailors. During 2016 a race ‘hut’ was constructed in the loft of the clubhouse, overlooking the dinghy start/finish line, due for completion for the 2017 season.

The views from the clubhouse have become the envy of all visitors. It has to be one of the most stupendous positions to enjoy the fine panorama of the Thames Estuary. And what more could members of the area’s pre-eminent club desire.

Nick Ardley


Historical detail up to 1970s taken from, History of the Island Yacht Club, by Arthur Rapkin and John Bramwell, both past Commodores.

Updated: 12th December 2016. My thanks to Marion Black for her assistance with some historical points.

•History of the Island Yacht Club , by Arthur Rapkin and John Bramwell, both past Commodores.

Please Click above to view past History


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The Club House, Point Road, Canvey Island, Essex SS8 7TX • Tel. 01268 510360 • Email :      Copyright © 2010  Island Yacht Club