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POTTED HISTORY No 6: Elie & Earlsferry Sailing Club


By Tom Maccabe

Once upon a time, and 10 years before local government reorganisation, Elie had its own Town Council which controlled and ran the harbour, the pier and its facilities also the granary building. Other services in the Burgh controlled by the council were waste collection and disposal, local rate setting, assessment, planning, building control. The council elected a Provost, appointed a Dean of Guild, and employed a Burgh Surveyor.

The harbour which had existed for centuries was, at that time used by only a few pleasure craft and some local full-time fishermen. The number of pleasure craft, including some which sailed, was however increasing and a group of locally based and interested parties felt that the time was right to make an approach to the Council to gauge its support for the formation of a sailing club at Elie. In a minute-book there stands a record of a meeting on 8th January 1964 of “Persons interested in the formation of a Sailing Club at Elie.”  A total of 20 attended this meeting; in addition letters and messages of support were recorded as being received from a further 12 people including Admiral Sir William James, then resident in Elie, who in his letter gave his enthusiastic support. The Council gave its blessing to the proposal and the club was on its way.

The first meeting of the “Elie Sailing Club” took place on 4th March 1964 in the offices of D&A Cook (Solicitors) High Street Elie where, amongst other items of agenda, it was proposed that the council be asked to lease a portion of the Granary building for use by the club to store gear and boats in the winter months. This was agreed by the meeting, and a proposal to form a moorings committee jointly with the council was also agreed.

The acquisition of suitable premises to be used as a clubhouse was given a high priority at subsequent meetings and the club was fortunate in being offered the premises adjacent to the Ship Inn by Mrs Stewart then proprietor of the Bayview Guest House next door. The rent agreed was £10.00 per annum plus rates and the club agreed to undertake some necessary repair work to the premises. Also decided was a change of title to the “Elie & Earlsferry Sailing Club”

It was agreed that the annual subscriptions for adult (over 18) members would be 1 guinea per annum with a 1 guinea entry fee. Under 18’s would pay 10/6d with no entry fee.

From the outset the club received wholehearted support from most sections of the local population. Applications for membership flooded in not only from those anxious to participate in sailing activities but also from those happy to play only a passive role but wished to support the club.

Admiral James was approached, and agreed, to become the Club’s Honorary Commodore. The Admiral took a keen interest in activities from his vantage point in Wynd House and was not slow in offering his advice and criticism where required.


The club, after much debate, adopted the GP14 dinghy as the club class most suited to the conditions at Elie. With a grant (of £40) from the Elie Improvements Association the club bought one of these craft for the use of club members and for training purposes. The boat was aptly named “Bubbles” to remember the fact that in his boyhood Admiral James, who was blessed with curly hair, was the model for the famous painting by Millais of a little boy blowing bubbles and which in later years became the widely seen advertisement for Pears Soap.

The club’s first regatta was held on the weekend of the 8th – 9th August 1964. No record exists of the number of entries but it was noted that 100 sausage rolls would be ordered together with two dozen sliced loaves and 12 bottles of milk.

Over the following few years the Elie annual regatta grew in popularity. In those days visitor support for club regattas was higher than today and recorded attendances at Elie were between 60 and 90 boats. A dance was usually held after the Saturday’s sailing either in the Earlsferry Town Hall or the Queen’s Hotel. These functions were very popular and the cause of many sore heads on the Sunday morning – soon dispelled by large doses of sea air!

Admiral James presented the club with its first trophy – The Commodore’s Cup – which today is one of the popular trophies for which there is serious competition among the Elie sailors.

The proprietor of the Craw’s Nest hotel, Anstruther (Eddie Clark) presented the club with a handsome trophy – The Craw’s Nest Trophy – to encourage the growing number of keel boats now at Elie. The course was initially from Anstruther to Elie and back to Anstruther. In its early days this race attracted up to 30 entrants (including dinghies). Entertainment was provided by the hotel after the race. There was increasing difficulty in getting all the competitors safely back to Elie and after a couple of years, with the agreement of the Clarkes the course was changed to its present form – Elie to Anstruther and back.

In June 1968 – to further test the mettle of the keel boats – a 24-hour race was proposed open to all adjacent clubs. The course was: Elie – Bass Rock – May Isle – Sand End Buoy off Burntisland and back to Elie. This course was estimated to take the yachts the best part of 24 hours. Entries came from Largo Bay club, East Lothian Yacht Club and Fisherrow Yacht club as well as Elie itself. An Elie boat – “Tassie” – won this race being the only competitor to finish!!

About this time the Daily Mirror newspaper sponsored the introduction of the “Mirror” dinghy. This was available in home-build kit form or as a fully completed unit. Such had been the success and popularity of the club’s GP14 it was agreed that the purchase of a Mirror dinghy should be investigated to augment the GP and to serve as a suitable craft for the growing number of juniors who were attracted to the club. The completed cost of the Mirror was £113.00. The club was extremely fortunate that on hearing of this proposal a new, completed, Mirror was donated to the club on the condition that the donor remained anonymous. With the agreement of the donor the new club boat was named “Squeak”.

As club members gained in sailing experience the search for a livelier dinghy was proposed. After some investigation the OK single – handed dinghy was chosen. This craft was easily handled on-shore – the GP due to its weight,  was proving very difficult to haul up the beach especially by young people – and due to the fact that the OK was single-handed  this helped to solve the crew problem. The club was fortunate at this time to have as its Vice-commodore and sailing secretary Lewis Bilton, who had in his younger days been the British National OK Dinghy champion.

The much lighter, Graduate dinghy was proposed and adopted as the club intermediate class, so that with the Mirror as a juniors and beginners craft the club was fully equipped to accommodate members at all levels of experience. The GP14 would be phased out.  This position carried on for some years and a large fleet of both Mirror and OK dinghies built up over the next few years at Elie.

In 1969 the Club was invited to host the Scottish Area GP14 Championships

In 1970 the Scottish Dinghy Association Single Handed and Graduate Championships were held at Elie.

In 1971 the Elie town council agreed to the lease to the club the piece of ground which is now the club dinghy park. A contractor levelled the site but all the work of laying the concrete was undertaken by club members over several week-ends.

In early 1976 after discussions begun in 1975 with the OK Dinghy Association it was agreed that the OK Nationals Championships would be held at Elie from 7–14 August 1976 This was perhaps the most ambitious outside event that the club had undertaken to date – and probably since! Some 85 entries with followers amounted to approx. 150 persons to be looked after by the club for one week. Fortunately, OK sailors are a hardy bunch and the weather stayed reasonably good. By the good offices of the Army who supplied the tents and Farmer Robert Pollock a tented camp was pitched in the field to the East of the Coastguard station. The event was a great success and in recognition of the club’s efforts we were presented with a silver tray by the OK Association to be competed for as the club wished but hopefully for a single–handed event.

No account of the development of the club would be complete without the mention of Group 4 Power Boat racing.

At no time did the club restrict its membership solely to owners of sailing craft and there were by now a significant number of motor craft of various sorts based at Elie. To satisfy the requirements of these members a Powered Boat section of the club had been formed. The sport of Group 4 Power Boat racing had been well established in England for some time and was gaining popularity in Scotland. Elie Bay presented itself as an ideal venue for this kind of event which had a high spectator value and it was agreed that approaches should be made to see if the regulating body would consider Elie for at least one event  A great effort was put in by one member, Dr H Harvey, who spent  endless time and his own expense in negotiating sponsorship by BP for the  events, dealing with the necessary arrangements with possible participating clubs, placating the authorities who had to be made aware of the club’s intentions etc. etc. Competitors arrived from Wales, from All Hallows in Kent and a large group from the West of Scotland, where similar events had been held on the Clyde off Gourock.

Television advertising was taken up on STV and a truly staggering number of spectators attended.  One event was marred somewhat by the advent of the familiar haar (sea mist) which obscured much of the action. The competitors were well pleased however with the organisation and the facilities and there were promises of support the following year. Unfortunately, at this time the action by OPEC put up the price of fuel to a prohibitive level and interest dwindled.

BUT, the new sport of Windsurfing was just around the corner……..


Timeline – Elie & Earlsferry Sailing Club


• Elie Town Council agreed to let a piece of ground to E&ESC to be used as a dinghy park. Ground rent set at £25.00 per annum. Work commences by E&ESC to level the ground.


• E&ESC commences work to concrete the area.

• Elie Town Council installs street lamps on the causeway leading to the harbour and five floodlights on the granary.


• Elie Town Council lays three ground chains in the harbour to provide more secure mooring for all craft (Burgh Surveyor W.  Balderstone).

• Concern voiced at the extent of silting taking place in the harbour; an approach made to the Council by E&ESC to suggest the removal of the concrete blocking the sluices in the pier. This was agreed and work took place on a voluntary basis by representatives of the Council and members of E&ESC.  This proved to be a difficult task and the work was completed with the assistance of the Army (Royal Engineers) through the “Military Aid to the Civil Community” (MACC) scheme.


• Formation of Elie Harbour Co Ltd to attend to harbour and Granary affairs following local government re-organisation.

• The Certificate of Incorporation is dated 5th March 1975. There had been debate as to how apt the designation “Co Ltd” was and “Trust” being thought more appropriate, but this was rejected by the Inland Revenue at that time.

• The first meeting of the newly formed body took place on 14th   May 1975.  Initially the Company would rent the Harbour and Granary from the Council.

• The rental for the harbour was to be £50.00 per annum. The first meeting, however, agreed to purchase the Granary for £1,000.

• One of the last acts of the retiring Elie Town Council was to give The Harbour Company a grant of £12,000.

• This sum allowed the Company to engage in much needed renovation work on the Granary building (roof repairs, slating & guttering). The provision of internal electric power, including light and power sockets on all floors. The building was also re-harled in accordance with guidelines for Historic Buildings laid down by the Department of the Environment.


• E&ESC had been invited by the OK Dinghy Association to hold the National Championships for their class. This was a large undertaking for the Club – 80 competitors and “followers” amounting to probably in excess of 150 persons in Elie from 7-14 August. In managing this event the Sailing Club and the Harbour Company co-operated fully and the occasion was a great success for all concerned.


• Fife Regional Council proved to be difficult landlords so the Harbour Company, as it was entitled to do under the lease agreement, approached the Region to purchase the Harbour for the sum of £5,000. This offer was rejected but agreement was reached on a figure of £5,500. Thus the Harbour Company became owners of both the Granary and Harbour. A disadvantage of the new status was that the Company became liable for rates of £1,000 per annum. This made an increase of 100% on all harbour charges necessary.


• Bye-laws specific to Elie Harbour and based on previous regulations by the old Town Council but also incorporating rules taken from past Acts of Parliament which were still extant were agreed to be used in the formation of these new Bye-laws.

• During the following few years many and various attempts were made and avenues were explored, together with approaches to potential grant awarding bodies, to make the Granary a viable asset. Some with a margin of success but never sufficient to make any impact on the cost of keeping the Granary even wind and water tight and meeting the costs of services, rates etc. Discussions and investigations showed that the only viable way forward was to dispose of the building to a developer for commercial use and the building was advertised for sale for this purpose.


• A proposal to change the name of the company to “Elie Harbour Trust Ltd” was found now to be acceptable.


• To accommodate the proposed sewage treatment system the Trust sold part of the car park area to Fife Regional Council. As part of  the deal the Council’s contractors built (for only £2,000) a very successful slipway at the S.E. side of the harbour using a “gut” known as Luckie’s Hole, where fishing boats were hauled up for  wintering in times past.


• Peter Clayden Construction Ltd made an offer of £20,000 for the Granary building, subject to planning permission, with an agreement that the entire ground floor would be retained by the Harbour Trust with the upper floors being converted for residential use.

• It was planned that the ground floor use would be for an E&ESC Clubhouse, Fisherman’s stores, an interpretation room and a Chandlery shop. This plan satisfied the local planning authority’s requirements for multiple use, which pertained at the time.


• The Trust built a storage shed adjacent to the dinghy park to be by E&ESC and Elie Watersports.


• The proposed Bye-Laws for Elie Harbour having been revised and accepted by the Judiciary passed into law.


• A direction indicator plinth was erected on the Law showing details of all prominent features visible from that point.


• Fife Enterprise proposed a series of helpful improvements at the harbour which included much needed repairs to the roadway, car park, fencing posts demarcating various areas and an information board giving local details and history (sited in the car park).


• E&ESC proposed plans for a new clubhouse at the harbour, which had been granted planning permission. These were accepted by the Harbour Trust and the Club was granted a long term ground rent of the area required.


• The E&ESC Clubhouse was completed and the opening ceremony took place on 10 June of that year.


• Due to unexpected problems encountered in obtaining planning permission for their proposed development of the Granary and other factors not associated with this project, the Peter Clayden Group was forced to come out of the project and the Granary was sold on to a new owner – Hycroft Developments.


• Plans were proposed to mark the millennium involve all local groups and this received the approval and co-operation of the Trust. Significant among these was a Millennium Ball held in a marquee at the harbour which was well attended and much enjoyed by all.

• An extension to the E&ESC clubhouse was approved by the Trust and was completed in time for the start of the 2000 season


Link to Sailing Club website


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