Yacht racing began in Orford as early as 1876 with annual regattas, held under the patronage of the gentry (HRH the Prince of Wales appears in the subscribers’ list for 1881). The oldest trophy which is still competed for at Orford was presented in 1876 by Lady Wallace of Sudbourne Hall. Her husband Sir Richard was a friend of the Prince of Wales and famous as a great Art Collector. At the turn of the 20th century an active class of “Orford Whitewings” (23ft gaff-rigged sloops) was established which raced regularly here before moving up river to Aldeburgh.
In 1924 the “Orford Dabchick Sailing Club” was formed by Charles Stoker, a fisherman from West Mersea, which also had a “Dabchick” club. He had family connections with Orford and worked on oyster laying in Butley Creek. As at West Mersea, the emphasis was very much on local men racing their boats under handicap on Saturday afternoons. There were no club premises but annual meetings and Suppers were held, usually in the Town Hall.
With Charles Stoker as its first Commodore the club had 49 members subscribing 2/6d a year. The membership included plenty of names still found or remembered in Orford today, particularly several Brinkleys, Chambers, Hacon, Sid Harper of the Jolly Sailor, Whayman, for instance, and an aunt and uncle of our current President. Orford boatmen and fishermen were strongly represented, plus a few regular summer visitors or retired people then resident in the village.
In 1927 Mr Ross Taylor, later MP for Woodbridge, became Commodore and held office until 1950, at one stage also being Commodore of Aldeburgh Yacht Club; perhaps the duties were less time-consuming in those days. The Orford Regatta was taken over by the new club and several 14ft dinghies (such as International “Plain Jane”, owned by Joyce Baron, the doctor’s daughter, later Mrs Johnston) figured prominently in the 1930s.
Racing was interrupted by the Second World War but resumed in the later 1940s. Starting and finishing signals were given by the discharge of a double-barrelled shotgun fired from the downstream corner of Orford Quay. Several 18ft “Bombay Tomtits” joined the fleet either side of the War and four are still in club ownership. A Junior Class of 10ft clinker lugsail dinghies grew up in the post-war years and reached a total of 18 before they were superseded by Mirrors in 1969 (five of these 10 Footers are still sailing at the club).
No proper club facilities existed until, in 1958, a former pavilion was moved from the Chillesford Polo Ground to a site on the foreshore near the entrance to the present dinghy park. Soon after a launching ramp and dinghy park were built. The Wayfarer class became increasingly central to the racing programme, though Squibs were also prominent in the 1970s, and by 1972 the membership numbered over 250.
In 1971, when Commander Tony Poole was Commodore, plans for a new Clubhouse were drawn up and, not without some opposition, the Club name was changed to “Orford Sailing Club” mainly to enable grant support for the new building. The white “D” was replaced by the Castle symbol on the club burgee at the same time.
In 1976 RYA-approved training courses began, and have been held every year since, now including courses from Level 1 right through to Instructor, as well as Powerboat handling. Successful “Taster Sessions” have introduced local families to sailing, while the racing fleets have expanded to include Lasers, Laser 2s and other trapeze boats alongside the ever-popular Wayfarers and Mirrors. Sailing picnics and other less formal events are well-supported especially in the summer period.
There is an active cruising membership whose yachts have ranged into the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Baltic and Arctic Circle in the last few years and members have taken part in the Round the World Races.
The 75th Anniversary of the Club was celebrated with a Sail Past in 1999, and a Millennium Development Programme brought major improvements to the foreshore, launching and dinghy park, including a floating pontoon. The Club mounted its own Regatta Day in August 2003 for the first time for many years, which was very well supported.
With a current membership of over 500, a crowded dinghy park, well over 50 cruisers and keelboats regularly afloat and a full programme of social events, Orford Sailing Club looks forward to its Centenary in 2024.