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Mike Bowyer

The Early Years of Reading Offshore Club

With 2021 being the 50th anniversary of Reading Offshore Sailing Club, we're delighted to share this story of our foundation and early years.

It was in 1967 that our club’s founder Mike Bowyer was asked by a friend who he had been at sea with in the Merchant Navy to help with evening lectures in Navigation.  These courses were run at College Road in Reading under the auspices of the Reading Adult Education Centre.  In those days, students studying for their Yachtmaster had to study navigation, meteorology, compass magnet magnetism, rules of the road, Morse code, Semaphore and international code. The exam was run by the Department of Trade and Industry and had to be sat in London, Southampton or other major ports.  In 1970 the Adult Education Centre decided that the course should be RYA based so Mike (by then in charge of the navigation courses) introduced the RYA Day Skipper and Yachtmaster courses to Reading. The evening courses ran from September to April every year. ( 2 x 12 weeks)

It must have been in about 1970 after the conclusion of that year’s course for the Yachtmaster’s certificate that the group decided to continue meeting - and so Reading Offshore Club was formed. Some of the original characters from this group were Jack Litton, Peter Girdler, Fred Brooke, Vick Pepper, Glenn Middleton, Peter Acke, and Stuart Varey who became the second Commodore of the club, following Mike’s first five years as Commodore.

The Black Boy pub in Shinfield was the first meeting point for ROC members. They met once a month on the first Monday of the month (a long tradition that continues today). There were some lively meetings in the small room at the back of the pub. About three years later the club moved to the Roundabout pub in Tilehurst.  As each year passed, at the end of the navigation courses in April, the number of ROC members would grow. Activity naturally expanded from evening meetings to sailing together.

Mike remembers Fred Brooks, an early member of the club, who had an old gaffer called Citara which he kept on the River Medina.  He recalls that Citara, built in 1887, was a lovely old boat to sail.  Fred had crewed on windjammers round the world, and the poem below was his amusing account of his round the world adventures.

In 1973 The Christmas dance was held at the Ship Hotel in Duke Street Reading. Tickets cost £1.75 for the buffet and dance.  The usual raffle was held with many prizes. Music by the Kenmen! On 8th October the lecture was given by Mr Brian Cook, a transatlantic yachtsman.

Venues for ROC meetings moved around a bit before ending up in Sonning. As time went on, the navigation courses increased gradually providing and increasing membership for the club. Many members were boat owners and activities on the water flourished, rallies becoming the norm in the summer season – and always with a Folly Rally.  Gradually the mix of land-based meetings, speakers and rallies in around and beyond the Solent developed.  Racing was added to the mix and there were both summer and winter-based racing series in the 80s and into the 90s.

The Club grew to over a hundred members in the 80s and 90s, when many members were boatowners. In the twenty-first century the club has shrunk in size, as other offshore clubs sprung up in the Thames Valley and yachts scattered from the Solent.  Several members moved their boats to other parts of the UK, the Med and beyond.  However new enthusiasts joined in, often becoming members after taking courses through our training wing, established by Phil Missen when the evening course provision through local authorities disappeared.  We still have a happy mix of activities on and off the water and the happy sociable atmosphere of sailors with a common interest prevails.  Reading Offshore Club was renamed Reading Offshore Sailing Club in 2014 since some outsiders thought that the club’s interests were international investments!

We are lucky that our founder, Mike Bowyer, is still a member of the Club and we still also have several other very  longstanding members. 

From reminiscences with Mike Bowyer,

Founder and first Commodore of Reading Offshore Club

(Below is a selection of photos of our founder, Mike, along with his boats, Welsh Lady and Dutch Lady)

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The Commodore’s Trophy

Mike Bowyer was our founding member and first Commodore of ROSC; he is still a member of the Club.  He gave the Commodore’s Trophy to ROSC in December 1990. Here is his account of the tale behind the trophy:

“Some time ago I considered that the Commodores of ROC needed recognition of a year’s service to the club and in many cases much more than one year’s service.  To find a suitable trophy wasn’t easy and at first I visited Southampton, Hamble and Lymington in search of a model yacht in silver, or something similar. On enquiring at Lymington, a chandler told me to look in the Silver Vaults in London.

"After a few weeks I went to London one Saturday and found the Silver Vaults near Tottenham Court Road.  I had never been before; if you never have been, I recommend a visit.  I was amazed at all the underground vaults, all heavily guarded with vault doors and caverns leading off with individual silver stores– purely silver – nothing else. There must be at least fifty vaults and so I wandered around looking for a trophy.  There were several small sailing vessels, but nothing which really caught my eye until I saw high up on a shelf and rather dirty the ‘Silver Schooner’.

"It soon became apparent that this would be the ROC Commodore’s Trophy.  I had it cleaned off and verified the date of 1910 made in Genoa, Italy.  It is probably a one off, so there’s no other example.”

From reminiscences with Mike Bowyer, 
Founder and first Commodore of Reading Offshore Club

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