In the years before the last war, a small number of boats sailed and raced regularly on the Thames between Staines Railway Bridge and Penton Hook Lock.
Based at Tim's Boathouse, the Staines Yacht Squadron usually had a start and finish line off the boathouse but set a course from the Fishing Temple down to the lock in predominately easterly winds. Races were started with a whistle, blown by the skipper of a nominated boat and the starts were often influenced by the presence of river steamers passing through the centre arch of the railway bridge, causing a lot of confusion as to who had to give way! (Answer: The steamers!).
The boats sailed were of no particular class although generally 14 feet long. Rigs were gaff or Bermudan, the latter very tall by modern standards as canvas or cotton sails, as used then, lacked the power of present day synthetic sails.
The outbreak of war in 1939 suspended casual sailing activities but by 1942 conditions allowed it to recommence and a few boats came back onto the water helmed by those who were not called for active service. Sailing was again based at Tim's Boathouse where the Yacht Squadron, renamed Staines Sailing Club rented club rooms and boat storage.
Gradually membership increased and a few 'class' boats, an International 14, a National 14, a National 12, an International Snipe and a British Moth joined in the racing. To cope with this mixture a handicap system, previously used successfully in the Yacht Squadron, was reintroduced, with three different coloured downstream marks set at about 50 yard intervals, the fastest boats having to round the most distant mark.
No rescue boat was provided; petrol was in any case unavailable. The marks were put out from one of the competing boats! In-boat whistle starts continued for several years until a regular supply of shore-based individuals allowed this chore to be transferred to the riverbank on a rota basis.
Amongst the obstacles encountered by the helmsmen in those days were the barges moored in mid-stream to prevent enemy seaplanes from landing, but powered river craft were non-existent!
Progressively the numbers of British Moths and National 12's within the club increased and the older pre-war mixed fleet fell into disuse so that by the early 50's these two classes were adopted for club racing. British Moth numbers fell away in the mid 50's to be replaced by the Enterprise class when this broke onto the sailing scene. The club then added the Mirror Dinghy in the early 60's and this class proved invaluable in introducing new sailors to racing. (The Mirror could be purchased in kit form for the DIY experts).
While these changes were taking place, the club was negotiating the purchase of a riverside bungalow at 105 Chertsey Lane, Staines and social activities, attracting an active membership of currently some 100 sailing and social members. So in 1962, the club moved to its present home at 105 Chertsey Lane when the delightful riverside property, came up for sale. Members all chipped in by lending the club £25 to enable the purchase of the bungalow for around £8,000.
The predominance of the three classes adopted by the club in the 50's and 60's has gradually lessened and the club now races a mixed fleet of single handers and two-handed dinghies with Moths, Lasers, Enterprises and for juniors, Toppers being well represented. Races are now held on a Portsmouth Yardstick Handicap basis with results keenly contested and adjusted times frequently very close.
Membership of the club remains open to all and most suitable craft can be accepted for handicap racing.
John Winson, a past commodore and a long serving member of the club, wrote this short summary of recent history:
In the early 1990's the committee embarked on a recruitment campaign to encourage family and junior members. To encourage juniors to join we needed something to offer them as the club boats; a National 12 and an ageing British Moth were unsuitable. The club organised a series of fund raising events to purchase two Topper dinghies, which were purchased over a 10-month period in 1993.
With the help of a grant from Spelthorne Sports Council, a new sail was purchased for one of the Toppers and in 2002 we bought a single-handed Laser dinghy that has proved popular with prospective members.
In 2004 we purchased an Enterprise for club use (for sailor and crew).
The newest edition to the fleet is a couple of Wayfarer dinghies that are ideal for family sailing because they are more stable.