AXE YACHT CLUB
A SHORT HISTORY
In 2011 the Axe Yacht Club celebrated its 75th anniversary. Our President at the time, Eric Gordon, researched and wrote a booklet that reflected on the progress that the Club had made in transforming what was little more than a derelict harbour and empty beach into the thriving Club and facilities that we enjoy today. These notes are taken from that booklet to give you an insight into the heritage of the Club.
The Axe Yacht Club sits on a shingle bank at the mouth of the river Axe. In earlier times, the river was navigable by boat and ship as far as the village of Axmouth but over time, through the work of the tides and man made land reclamation, the river began to silt up. The shingle bank began to extend from the west, resulting in the river taking a sharp swing eastwards before exiting through a much reduced mouth as seen today.
This shingle bank now forms the harbour and boatyard providing the ideal base for boating activities either at sea or within the sheltered waters of the river. In the early 1930s a group of friends had started using their boats on the river although there was little in the way of facilities. By 1936, there was sufficient interest from both sailing and motor craft from the owners to form the Seaton Sailing and Motor Boat Club. After the intervention of the war and the associated beach defences, a new group of enthusiasts took an interest in the harbour and the Axe Yacht Club was formed in 1948. The founder members of the Seaton Sailing and Motor Boat Club then joined the new organisation, thus maintaining the thread of continuity back to 1936.
The Club burgee, in blue with a bold black battleaxe, is a reminder of the long history of Axmouth and alludes to the ancient weapons found in the river bed. It has been flown from Club boats on voyages near and far including New Zealand and Australia as part of one member's nine year round-the-world adventure.
The next dozen years passed with the small contingent of larger boats making some adventurous voyages across the channel and a seriously competitive dinghy fleet comprising Burnhams, Wildcats and traditional lugger types, one of which – 'Curlew' – later developed into the Axe Yacht Club's own class design. During this period the first clubhouse was also constructed – a pre-fabricated building erected by the members themselves – a self-help tradition that continues to this day. However, not all members were content and in 1952 a serious disagreement over the direction of the club led to a split, with the majority of dinghy sailors leaving to form the Seaton Sailing Club.
Recovery of dinghy sailing at took another ten years, beginning with the home grown Axe One Design and by the sixties lighter planing dinghies began to appear – Enterprises, Mayflies, Graduates, Fireballs and Mirrors along with a couple of National Twelves. But in 1968 one class began to dominate – the 14ft Scorpion and more than 20 sailed from the Axe at one time. The Scorpion, being a two-man boat encouraged greater numbers to sail and brought in new cadets as crew.
Meanwhile the Club infrastructure was developing under the leadership of a series of enthusiastic and farsighted Commodores. A proper lease was established with the landowners, systematic dredging and expansion of the basin was begun and the facilities generally improved. Despite notable successes by Club members in national events, by the 1980's the picture had changed again. The rise and rise of the ubiquitous Laser meant that opportunities for crew diminished and the focus for dinghy sailing drifted away towards other clubs. The enthusiasts of the 60s and 70s now found themselves married and with families and wanting a more relaxed and inclusive way of enjoying the water. This meant that it was now cruisers and motor boats that came to the fore, spurred on by the availability of the new generation of relatively inexpensive fibreglass vessels on the second hand market. A new Clubhouse was built in the early 1970s that included showers, committee rooms and a race control tower. This was destroyed by a dramatic storm surge in 1979 but rebuilt in record time by the undeterred members at a cost of £2,500. This building remained until the most recent re-development in 2007 – the cost this time being £188,000.
From this it will be clear that the Club's finances have been well managed by an series of savvy Treasurers and this has enabled engineering works on an epic scale. Around 10,000 tons of shingle was excavated to form the enlarged basin and 300 tons of rock used to create the retaining walls. This activity was undertaken by the Harbour Services team under the leadership of Pete Poulson and centred on Fred's Shed. Dredging and expansion of the harbour doubled the space available for moorings and more recently pontoons have been put down secured against the force of the river by piles driven as far into the bed as they can be seen above it. We now have capacity for around 100 moored craft and unsurprisingly there is a substantial waiting list.
From a low of around 20 participants in the mid 90s we have in recent years seen a resurgence of dinghy sailing and most notably the cadet section where a new generation are discovering the joys of sailing for themselves. Spurred on by the latest craft – the Club were fortunate to receive a bequest that enabled the purchase of three exciting RS Fevas – dinghy sailing again has a full programme of Club events and provides a low-cost fun way to enter the sport. Membership has grown dramatically in line with the improvement in facilities. By 2011 membership had grown to 788 representing around 500 families with 60 cadets. There is a thriving social side with regular events in the clubhouse, with a bar and kitchen to provide for all our needs.
The Club is affiliated to the RYA and offers training is specific topics, and whilst we do not yet offer sailing instruction classes for children, we encourage families to join and sail together*. The great strength of the Club is that it enables its members to enjoy their own taste in activity afloat, be it dinghy sailing, cruising, motor-boating or fishing and yet still be proud to call themselves members of the Axe Yacht Club.
Eric Gordon 2011
* AYC gained approval from the RYA in 2017 to add dinghy instruction to the Club's list of RYA recognised courses. See TRAINING for more information.