The Thursday Club

Founded in the sixties, the Upnor Sailing Club now boasts some of the best facilities on the river – at some of the lowest prices.

From its humble origins, the ethos of the club – members take an active role in running it – also saw the new clubhouse converted by them from three old cottages into the cosy and functional space they inhabit now.

Upnor Sailing Club 2 (1)

With this DIY community of sailors enjoying the cheapest club rates on the river, the Thursday Club was formed to help keep the costs down. An enthusiastic core of tradesmen – electricians, carpenters, builders and so on – meet at the club on a Thursday to carry out any work or repairs that need doing.

I caught up with Gregory, Graham and Colin (l-r) as they made their way back from the pontoon.

Gregory, Graham, Colin

What’s so special about Thursdays?

“We meet at 10am and the first thing we do is put the kettle on!” explained Graham. “Then we decide what we’re going to do for the day. Numbers vary so we wait for a day there’s a lot of us if there’s a big job that needs doing.”

What about the days when there isn’t really anything much?

“Then we go sailing!”

So it’s as much a social gathering as a working party. How long have you all been at the club?

“I’m quite recent,” says Gregory. “And Graham’s been here about 7 years.” Graham reckons Colin’s been here forever – from the early 90s. “He’s the man to tell you everything!”

“We generally maintain all the facilities,” began Colin “including building the dinghy park and extending the balcony, it used to be narrower than that. There’s people come and gone, the club dwindled to three of us but then it gradually built up again.

“We replaced the old jetty with the floating pontoon you see now, about 6 or 7 years ago, which makes things much easier, taking a dinghy out to the boats. The old jetty used a circular rope system to get yourself in and out. The jetty used to disappear under the water, you see, it’s a very high tide here.”

The pontoon

“It’s very deceiving, the tide here” added Graham “you can see the watermarks on the poles right there – we have to paddle across the first bit of the pontoon during high water because it can’t float higher but after that it’s ok. The floating pontoon is a valuable asset really. It’s all hinged so we can take it out to maintain it – we’ve got one spare section all the time. We take one section of the pontoon out at a time to renew the wood and barrels.”

It’s quite a close knit community, isn’t it?

“Oh, yes, and they come from all over,” confirms Graham “but it’s still a real little community, considering – I’m from Larkfield myself. But this is a great place, actually, quite a little oasis.”

“It’s usually retired or semi retired people who have the time to come down, youngsters can’t generally afford their own boats,” added Colin, while Gregory stressed the most important fact.

“It’s the self help sailing club and you are expected to help maintain it. In return you get cheaper membership fees. You’ve got to do a bit for the club to keep it going. And the members are all on board with that and that’s where the Thursday Club comes in.”

The Plaque

Finished for the day, Brian and Gordon were already enjoying their lunch in the clubhouse.

Brian Blakeley

Brian has been with the cub “since 1958/59, something like that. My wife worked for an old member and he invited us down. We used the clubhouse as a workshop then, specially the front entrance. When the dinghy park was being built and they were busy chiselling out the half lap joints and me being a woodworker, I brought my big router down and went through the half lap joint without any trouble and made the job a lot quicker.”

Gordon

Gordon picks up the thread. “ I joined a year to 18 months ago and I travel down from Welling, people come from all over really, you know, Dartford, Gravesend. It’s mainly all retired people and on Thursdays there could be anything between three to a dozen of us meeting up.”

Both Gordon and Brian have enjoyed the facilities at Wilsonians too, another sailing club further along the river at Hoo.

“I joined Wilsonians for a while to do some dinghy sailing, while we were rebuilding the club house,” remembered Brian, while Gordon said he started out there:  “I was crewing for someone, I was 18 – a few years ago – 50! You get talking to people on the yachts and they happily invite you along to crew for them so you can learn, and then you go bigger and bigger till you join the clubs.”

But Upnor Sailing Club is their permanent base. Gordon continued: “Well, it’s the cheapest on the river – there’s no Boatswain or staff to pay, the members do it themselves and that’s how we’re able to keep the costs down. And we’re always after new members – there’s always someone willing to take people out and show them the ropes (literally) and get them interested in sailing.”

“Look, there are some forms over there, we need more youngsters.” Brian pointed at the bar.

Who, me? I’m flattered. I’d probably fall off the pontoon. And thanks for the “youngsters…” *beaming smiley face*

river view

Some techy info: How to moor using the Fore and Aft system:

Brian advises: “You have the split in the middle and it goes between them. You sail in, up to what we call the marrying line. you pick that up and put that over your stanchions, attach the bow line and then you can attach your stern lines, undo the marrying line and just connect it, lay it onto your boot and just tie it loosely.”

“So you’re secured on your bow and your stern. Fore and Aft.” supplied Gordon, who’d realised I’d misheard something quite important. Not the Four and a Half way? He shakes his head, not laughing too much. I scribbled out some of my notes and fetched cotton buds for my ears.

To find out about open days (generally Wednesdays and Sundays) and social functions, which are open to non members (particularly appealing if you live nearby, as the club bar prices are very wallet-friendly) please visit the Upnor Sailing Club website. http://www.upnorsailingclub.co.uk/