This year, Blithfield Sailing Club celebrates its 50th Anniversary of sailing on Blithfield Reservoir, near Rugeley. Commodore Anthony Kurcaba tells us more about the club and its origins.
Blithfield Sailing Club is one of several users of Blithfield Reservoir, a beautiful 790-acre manmade lake set in the rolling hills of Blithe Valley, between Rugeley and Abbots Bromley. The other users being Blithfield Anglers, Staffordshire’s premier trout fishery, West Midlands Bird Club and there are also Permissive Walks around part of the northern area of the lake. The Reservoir is divided into roughly two equal areas separated by the causeway road bridge and B5013 which runs along it from Rugeley to Abbots Bromley.
The origins of Blithfield Sailing Club can be traced back to a meeting in Rugeley public house on Wednesday, 15th February 1967. This meeting had been called to form a group to negotiate for permission to sail at Blithfield. From this meeting the Mercian Yacht Club, forerunner to Blithfield Sailing Club, was formed and following lengthy negotiations, approval in principle was received in March 1969. Further meetings to complete the details were held and on 24th September 1969, Blithfield Sailing Club was formally constituted, with Cal Hall serving as its first Commodore. Then the lengthy procedures of applying for grant aid, preparing plans for the Clubhouse, raising money from prospective members until finally all the hopes were realised with the building and equipping of the Clubhouse. The building commenced on 31st March 1971 and was handed over to the Club on 1st January 1972. Boats actually took to the water for the first time on 4th March 1972 and the official opening was on Saturday 20th May 1972 by the late Julian Ward Snow, Lord Burntwood, former MP of Lichfield and Tamworth. Organised racing commenced with the autumn racing series.
The original classes of boats in 1972 were Fireball, GP 14, Merlin Rocket, and OK. Today, the main classes are Merlin Rocket and Laser followed by RS 200/400, Osprey, Phantom, Solo and Supernova, and for those who do not want to get their feet wet, the Flying Fifteen.
In April 1996, the Club became a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) recognised training establishment. Today the training section, under its Principal of Training Tim Male, and his team of RYA qualified instructors, teaches approximately 20-25 local juniors per year, from the ages of 7 to 17 throughout the spring and summer months and also organises Beginners and Improvers Adult sailing courses in the spring and autumn, which are available to both members and also non-members. The club has an extensive range of training and club boats which new members can hire at minimal cost to hone their new skills, whilst contemplating a suitable boat to purchase for themselves.
On 24th May 2000, Sport England awarded the Club a grant from the Lottery Development Fund to extend the existing Clubhouse facilities to the superb facilities available for members today. These comprise large changing rooms, a wet area for sailors, a separate dry area for spectators and visitors with an outside veranda and a superbly equipped kitchen/galley with licenced bar (5) (6) serving hot & cold beverages and food and are used for all its training courses, sailing racing open events and social events.
On the sailing side Blithfield has hosted many Midlands area championships for numerous dinghy sailing classes over the years, primarily due to its superb expanse of open water and good winds and the preponderance of a pool of top sailors. One of its recent notable sailing successes has been one of its youngest sailors, Lydia Barber who succeeded in winning the prestigious RYA Regional Youth sailing award in 2019, aged only 17. Lydia received her award from double Olympic medallist and RYA Director of Racing, Ian Walker, at the RYA Dinghy Show in London in March 2019.
During the winter months when a lot of clubs close down due to the inclement weather, Blithfield hosts the Blithfield Barrel, the premier winter sailing series, a gruelling eight race allcomers handicap event spaced over four months from November to February. Originally devised in 1985 by the then Commodore Allan Cooper, by the proclamation of a challenge, in the form of a medieval scroll sent to all Midland clubs to send their best boats and knights to a historic jousting challenge on the waters of Blithfield Reservoir against Blithfields best sailors, which was answered in similar style. The event now sees competitors from all over the country and the 2012/13 season saw a record number of entries, with 97 boats registering for the challenge to win the coveted Barrel. Rumour has it that the first Barrel event did actually present the proud winners with a Barrel of locally brewed beer, but no one at the club can actually substantiate this fact!
Blithfield is a Community Amateur Sports Club, a not for profit organisation run entirely by its volunteer members for the benefit of its membership in the pursuit of sailing and windsurfing. The club is open for membership to the whole community from all walks of life and without any discrimination. Membership is available from the ages of 7 to 107, for family, single, cadet, junior/youth and also non sailing house members, who simply want to enjoy the atmosphere and the beautiful surroundings. For those who do not want to get their feet wet, the club runs a radio controlled model yacht sailing/racing section based on DragonForce 65cm model yachts.
Blithfield is open all year round on selected days during the week and its members are a hardy lot and do not neglect any opportunity to sail no matter what the weather, even with icebergs in the water but sometimes old Jack Frost does have the last word as in the great freeze of 2010.
*The Blithfield Sailing Club emblem on its flag, the “Bagot Goat” is used by kind permission of the late Nancy Lady Bagot.
**Extracts about the history of Blithfield Reservoir are used with kind permission from South Staffordshire Water Plc.