Dick Durham served on the last working Thames barge before writing for national newspapers and sailing magazines. He joined Yachting Monthly in 1998 as Feature Writer and News Editor and has travelled the globe in search of sailing stories. Still a big part of the magazine, his role is now Editor at Large.
Dick opened by telling us that the East Coast was the “third world of yachting “ and proceeded to entertain us with recollections, history and anecdotes covering boats he’s sailed or owned, foul-ups he and others have made, and the skippers and crew he’s sailed with. He did the voices, and had many of us laughing out loud (a rare event at the Chipping Norton Yacht Club). The coast, from the Humber to Dover, has 13 rivers, 60 creeks, a multitude of swatchways, and a vast number of wrecks to testify to the challenges some skippers had failed to rise to. There are hundreds on The Goodwins alone.
We who sail more-or-less modern boats forget that for a long time sailing boats had no engines. If wind failed and the anchor work was not brisk the tide would take you where it would. Perhaps into the side of an anchored naval vessel being painted at the time, a job not improved by an applique of hay, stuck to the wet paint.
Dick told us of the Deal boatmen who had fistfights on the beach over salvage disputes, of a brandy barrel that was found to be surprisingly heavy after all the brandy was drunk (owing to the dead monkey). He told us of Black Tail Spit (the East Coast Cape Horn), and of a horseman rescued from his swimming horse, which had to be tied alongside as no one could work out how to get it aboard. He showed us pictures of some of the wrecks, beacons, derelict Mulberry harbour components, towers and other strange structures that punctuate these swirling waters.
Most memorable was the reading from the Seagull owner’s manual that had many of us laughing rather hysterically. This very serious, rather pompous, and long-winded bit of prose announced that there were two sorts of Seagull owner – the sort that had no problems and the sort that had them in spades. It was absolutely no fault, it implied, of Seagull or the design or quality of its engines, that you were one of the problem-attracting set. You really should snap out of it.
Over a drink after the talk one of us asked Dick whether he could help us get a few words about our club into Yachting Monthly, and he said he’d be happy to receive something. Unfortunately (or fortunately) in the following week he told us he’d already written it. So keep an eye open for this in YM, around Christmas. We did stress to him he should not assume that Chipping Norton Yacht Club members had anything to do with the notorious Chipping Norton Set. We’ll see.