A HISTORY OF THE PORTSMOUTH OFFSHORE GROUP – 1957 to 2019

 

The Civil Service Sailing Association was formed in 1957 and by 1959 two syndicates of members were operating Demijohn on the East Coast and Melanie on the South Coast. In the early 1960s there was a desire to extend the facilities for offshore sailing.

The Group perhaps had its origins in tapping that demand and the two main characters involved were Joe Mardel and Martyn Blewett. Martyn worked in the Admiralty but had a mooring for his own boat in Weevil Lake. Joe was a chartered Civil Engineer, with the Navy Works Department and returned to Portsmouth in 1961 with a Navy Yacht ticket after a tour of duty in Malta. He found that many members of the Sailing Section were dinghy sailors who wanted the experience of sailing 'offshore', and it was not long before they were racing as well as cruising. The Club entered its first RORC Race in 1962 which ended with retirement off the Nab. The following year in the Cowes-Dinard Race, SEE OTTER won its first RORC trophy.

Enthusiasm for offshore sailing grew, and a few years later the members at the invitation of the Portsmouth Area Civil Service 'Sports and Social Club' joined the club to form its Sailing Section. Four Years of offshore racing and cruising in Navy yachts had built up an experienced racing team in the Area Sports Sailing Section, and in 1965 the General Committee of the CSSA asked Martyn Blewett, its member from the Ministry of Defence (Navy), to set up a group at Portsmouth to train members of the CSSA in offshore sailing.

Later that year the Portsmouth Offshore Group (POG) was formed as the Sailing Section of the Area Sports Club and a Division of the CSSA. At the Group's first General Meeting Martyn Blewett was elected Branch Captain, Joe Mardel Secretary, Ernie Brimecombe Assistant Secretary, and Betty Orchard Treasurer. The terms of reference for the Group was:

1) to develop opportunities for offshore sailing by arranging to use Naval official and recreational yachts when not required for their prime purpose. 

2)to demonstrate the demand for and convince the CSSC that they should support offshore sailing.

3)to obtain and operate the Civil Service's own offshore racer/cruiser and to provide berths and shore facilities for member's own boats. 

At that time Robin Thoyts was the National Organiser (and lawyer) of the CSSA. He and Martyn Blewett produced the case which led to the Civil Service Sports Council recognising offshore sailing and funding the first boat, a 30 ft Hustler which they named "PRECEDENT". This was duly delivered to Portsmouth in November 1969. 

The group organised its first large official function on 4th April 1970 at the Naval Sailing Centre at Whale Island when Lady Armstrong, wife of Sir William Armstrong, the Commodore of the CSSA, named the new "PRECEDENT". This was followed by a lunch at the C.S. Club at Hilsea. PRECEDENT proved to be a popular boat, much loved by members, and her success was due in no small measure to the painstaking and hard work carried out by Ernie Brimecombe, the Yacht Bosun, in looking after her. A crew with Ernie as Skipper sailed her in a Fastnet Race, achieving a creditable position. At a later date, the CSSA organised a separate racing club for PRECEDENT and she was no longer part of POG. 

Poor health meant Martyn Blewett was unable to stand for re-election at the AGM in February 1970, and Jack Gillingham, a senior Dockyard Manager, was elected Branch Captain. Joe Mardel was elected Racing Secretary, Claude Harry Cruising Secretary, Laurie Hayward Treasurer, Ernie Brimecombe Bosun and John Bennett Social Secretary. Martyn's parting gift to the Group was to pass on details of discussions with contacts within the dockyard, relating to the possibility of land from Royal Clarence Yard being made available as a sailing base. As will be seen below, these were built on by the new Committee when the change from running a cruiser/racer to the provision of moorings was set into place.

At a later date, the CSSA organised a separate racing club for PRECEDENT and she was no longer part of POG

 

A CHANGE IN DIRECTION

 

By 1974 a number of members had their own boats, and there was a demand for the Group to have its own moorings.  On behalf of the club, Joe Mardel grasped the opportunity to make an application to the Queen\'s Harbour Master for mooring licences, and these were granted for areas around Burrow Island, Wicor, the Harbour entrance and in Weevil Lake.  Application was also made to the Crown Estates Commissioners for licences to place and maintain moorings on the foreshore and seabed of these areas, and the Sports Club asked the Group to draw up its Rules so that Trustees could be nominated to hold these licences from the Commissioners.

A loan was obtained from the CSSC/CSSA for the purchase of concrete, chain etc and members under the direction of Joe Mardel made the sinkers and laid the moorings with the assistance of the RNSA Moorings Officer with his boat.  The work was completed in time for the 1975 sailing season.

From its early days the Group had been seeking a site not far from the entrance to the Harbour which could be developed as a Sailing Centre.  In 1976 the Civil Service Sports Council obtained a 20-year lease from the Ministry of Defence for a small piece of land with part of a building just inside the northerly boundary wall of the Royal Clarence Yard, Gosport with access to Weevil Lake.  The Group took possession in July 1976.  The following year the Group was able to take over from the Ministry under annual licence (since incorporated in the lease), land outside the wall for use as a car park and for boat storage.  The area was cleared and fenced, partly by contract and partly by the members themselves, and later the Group was able to take over more rooms in the leased building, converting it into a Club Room, Workshop and Storage area.

The culture of self help was established at this early stage, with every aspect of club management and administration done by volunteers wherever possible.  Strict financial control of income and expenditure has always been a feature of our operations and our major developments have been funded normally by a mixture of  POG capital and loans from either the CSSA or the CSSC.

The Civil Service Sports Council in 1978 negotiated a lease from the Crown Estates Commissioners, on behalf of the Group, which allowed the Group to dredge, drive piles and construct a slipway within part of the area in Weevil Lake covered by its mooring Licence.  The CSSA granted the Group an interest free loan towards the cost of the works.  The slipway was constructed by members, and on completion of the Works the Group had deep water pile moorings for 40 boats with easy access from the shore.

In 1978 the Group began the publication of its popular Newsletter with Bill Wilkinson, a former Editor of Navy News, combining his office of Sailing Centre Manager with that of Editor.  He soon established the high reputation of the newsletter, which provided members with a means of keeping in touch with the activities of the Group as well as a forum for discussion.  

 

The Sailing Centre was formally opened by Rear-Admiral P.E. Bass RN, Flag Officer Portsmouth, on 16th September 1979 in a ceremony attended by the Commodore of the CSSA, Sir Frank Cooper.

 

 

 Early pile moorings circa 1985

 In 1981 the Group with the help of another interest free loan from the CSSA carried out further dredging and piling in Weevil Lake to give additional deep-water pile moorings for 20 boats, and in 1983 replaced 20 ground moorings at Wicor by 30 pile moorings.

CONSOLIDATION

Roy Lee was elected Captain (later to be Commodore) at that same 1986 AGM after having served as Secretary to the Group for 5 years.  He instigated a consolidation of the moorings area holding and became the Chairman of a sub-committee to develop and manage a Marina project.  Roy gave sterling service to the club until 2000 when he was succeeded by Mike Childs.

Dredging and piling was carried out in 1987 when the first phase of a three-phase pontoon mooring scheme in Weevil Lake was implemented, providing members with a walk-ashore and marina type moorings for approximately 40 boats.  The scheme was financed by capital contributions from holders of the moorings and a bank loan guaranteed by the Civil Service Sports Council.  The first phase of these pontoon moorings were commissioned by Sir Peter Middleton, Commodore of the CSSA, on 20th September 1987, and the second phase by Frank Krinks, General Secretary of the Civil Service Sports Council, two years later.

 

 The first pontoon scheme 1987

Charles Dunning (Vice-Commodore as he later became) was the Manager of the Pontoon Development Scheme. The achievement of marina facilities was to a large measure due to the professional care and attention he brought to the detail of the contracts and to the monitoring of performance by the contractors.  These multi-discipline contracts were not without their alarming aspects, throwing up events such as a bomb being found on the beach, the first pontoon company going into receivership halfway into the contract, and the second phase company trying to back out of the contractual agreement because they were anticipating making a loss. 

By the end of 1991 the Group moorings had grown so that the Group by then managed and enjoyed 231 moorings, made up by: Weevil pontoons 107, Weevil piles 51, Haslar piles 7, Wicor piles 31, and Burrow Island single-chain moorings 35.

CLUB ACTIVITIES

In 1991, the name of the Group was reconfirmed as Portsmouth Offshore Group (it did vary along the way), and the status of the Group as the largest club mooring holder and manager in Portsmouth Harbour consolidated by conferring the title Commodore on its senior officers.

Over the years the Group has organised many social events, on and off the water. The POG yardstick system has always been overseen by Mike Childs.  Some have been formal occasions, such as luncheons after the opening of the Sailing Centre in 1979, the Silver Jubilee of the CSSA in 1982, the opening of the refurbished Club Room in 1985 and the commissioning of the pontoon moorings in 1987 and in 1989. 

The club has been fortunate over the years in having active support from successive CSSA Commodores.  Sir Andrew Turnbull was particularly active and frequently visited the club to take part in sailing events.  Our Commodore Alex Allan has displayed the same enthusiasm but will be standing down shortly.

Other occasions have been less formal, such as cheese and wine parties, launch and storage suppers, barbecues and barn dances; even week-end trips to France outside the sailing season.  The success of the launch and storage weekends has been regularly written up in a Crane publication as a model of friendly efficiency and safety.

A full schedule of events is planned annually and published as a club diary in the December or January newsletters. 

MOMENTOUS CHANGES 1998-2011

In the early 1990s the comfortable position of the club was rudely disturbed when it was learned that our landlord, the MOD proposed to sell Royal Clarence Yard.  Most unhappily, decisions were taken that precluded us (or the CSSC) from bidding for our land and the whole of RCY was put out to tender.  The successful bidder was Berkeley Homes.

The CSSC, as our lease holder, were able to negotiate with Berkeley from September, 1998.  The negotiations were difficult and protracted with Berkeley Homes as also were those between POG, the CSSA and the CSSC.  During this time, POG’s negotiating team of Mike Childs, Derrick Higton and Chris McDonald spend many worrying hours doing their level best to cut through the difficulties that were presented.  Finally the purchase of the freehold was signed in 2002.  We lost some land and the building in which our toilets and clubhouse was located but the essential boundaries to our moorings were preserved.

 

 

East Boundary of POG Site 2001

The seaward boundaries of our land also required sea defence work.   Mike Childs, assisted by Vice Commodore Mike Stevens and Brian Pierson, project managed the work to ensure the stability of the banks and the provision of a jetty capable of supporting cranes for our launch and recovery operations.  Work was completed on time and within the budget.

 

The purchase of the land and the sea defences were funded by the CSSC.  A condition of the sale was that a clubhouse had to be built within 2 years of the contract signature and this was to be funded by POG.  This proved the most troublesome of all the work undertaken and Vice Commodore Derrick Higton, assisted by Mike Stevens and Chris McDonald, overcame significant difficulties with the CSSC, their architects and various statutory authorities, to ensure that this was built to time and budget.  The final product is a striking reminder of the skill and determination of the project team.  Sir Andrew and Lady Diane Turnbull opened the building in September 2004.

 

The Clubhouse 2004

The Clarence Yard purchase by Berkeley Homes also meant they had the rights to the adjacent moorings but fortunately, project manager Mike Finch found the Marina Management straightforward to deal with, and our ambition to convert all our Weevil Lake moorings to pontoons was achieved with the agreement and active help of our neighbours.  Once more, the project was delivered to time and budget.  We took the opportunity to dredge the whole area to -2 metres LAT in early 2003 and the changes to piling and pontoons followed immediately after.

Dredging in Weevil Lake 2002

POG is an equal investor with the CSSC in the Sailing Centre, both contributing roughly £800,000.  Despite this, the CSSC initially felt unable to give us any assurances about our security of tenure under their normal procedures.  However, after protracted negotiations, we were able to agree a 20 year lease for the site for which POG paid an annual rental of £20,000, which rose in 2010 £43,000 + RPI and thereafter will rise by RPI every five years.  We were unable to get CSSC to agree to a renewal clause and had to forfeit our rights under the landlord and tenants act before they would agree to the lease.

CSSC does not recognise POG as an organisation and the lease had to be completed as a lease/sub-lease arrangement between the CSSC, the CSSA and POG.  It took true bureaucrats to invent such an arrangement!

In 2008, it became apparent that the moorings at Wicor were silting up and that the piles to which the boats were moored were rusting and needed replacement.  A project led by Vice Commodore Mike Finch was set up to examine various replacement options.  Some careful market research concluded that there were people prepared to pay for pontoon moorings, so the chosen option was to dredge the area and install pontoon moorings at a cost of £280,000.  After two years of hard work gaining 16 different permission from different authorities, the project received the go ahead.  A commercial loan of £170,000 from HSBC guaranteed by CSSC, was arranged together with an interest free loan from the CSSA with the club providing the remaining £60,000.

A further extension of 7 moorings to the Wicor pontoons was completed in 2013 which was self funded by POG to the extent of £40,000.

 

 

 

Marian Holmes opens the Wicor Pontoons 2011

All Wicor moorings were let to CSSC members only, before the start of the 2011/12 mooring year and the club now maintains 246 moorings in Portsmouth Harbour.

Wicor Pontoons opened 2011

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

POG is a viable self-sustaining organisation with a financial policy that will enable the club to repay the remaining loan for the clubhouse and Wicor Moorings while maintaining our facilities to a high standard, including replacements when required. 

2011 was the year in which we started to build a reserve of capital to service the Weevil Lake dredging and pontoon replacement which was estimated to cost about half a million pounds.  Innovative work by the Facilities Team under the leadership of Tim Anderson has saved in the region of £50,000 by replacement of pontoon walkways using reconstituted plastic.  In addition float replacement and anti corrosion treatment to the pontoon frames has meant the purchase of replacement pontoons will be postponed for many years.  The silting up of Weevil Lake is less rapid that had originally been feared and will now probably be needed start in 2025 and at current rates cost in the region of £140,000 which is the revised target for our capital accrual.

POG’s business plan to cope with these figures as well as the known increases in rent from CSSC and less predictable increases from the Crown Estates as well as general inflation is pretty complicated and requires a significant amount of attention.  The plan indicates that the club is in a healthy position financially.  Our anticipated income for 2014 will exceed £250,000 but this has to be reviewed annually.

Our culture of self-help means we have no permanent employees.  We hire in professional help if we have no qualified members able to undertake work but this enables us to keep overheads very low which results in mooring costs much cheaper than our commercial competitors.  This enables us to attract new members and we have had a waiting list for moorings for many years.

The enviable position geographically with our wonderful views of Portsmouth Harbour and the relaxed and inclusive ethos make the POG Sailing Centre a very pleasant place from which CSSC members are able to afford to sail their boats.