Medway Dragon Fleet History

Medway Dragon FleetIntroduction:

The Dragon became a legend at the time she was born and today the Dragon is the blue blooded racer of the seas.  The yacht is by far the most international Olympic Classic as she is sailed in many parts or the world.  The Dragon is an everlasting challenge.  It takes a while to get to know her, but giving up sailing her has proved to be almost impossible.

Our fleet on the historical River Medway in Kent, based at The Medway Yacht Club, Upnor, provides the nearest highly competitive and active International Dragon Fleet to London.  An enormous expanse of water leading into the Thames Estuary, most  of which is raced upon, the River Medway has without doubt been a well kept secret for many years, and yet so close to the ‘capital’.  With only a 15 minute easy drive (dual carriageway) from the M25, Dartford Crossing and Ebbs fleet International it is not difficult to find or get to us.  Dover and the Continent are also within the hour. We offer ‘dry sailing’ facilities or preferred weekly scrubbing, with ample free car parking space.

Today our racing season starts at the end of April until the end of October.  We host the East Coast Dragon Championship every three years and take part in our own open Club Regatta in July.  Cups and Trophies are presented for the annual overall Dragon winner as well as for different series and individual races in between.  Socialising is always an event within the Dragon fraternity and the Medway Fleet are no exception with a recognised Associate Membership.  Down river picnics, casual suppers champagne receptions, and winter time bike rides and outings both in the UK and across the channel, are a common occurrence ending of course with our formal Annual Prize Giving Dinner.

The Medway Dragon Fleet was first formed by Tom Weeks in circa 1949 not long after the end of WW2, and has organised competitive racing ever since (we can boast two Edinburgh Cup (national) winners and a runner up).  Initially racing was on both a Saturday and Sunday during the season, but due to low turnouts on both days, it was decided, to concentrate on Saturdays only.  Since then the turnout has been much higher.

A little bit of history of the Medway Dragon Fleet.

Circa 1949     Some of our earliest members are Tom Weeks ‘Kestrel’ K207, who had the first International Dragon on the river, shortly followed by Max Hamilton ‘Hai Lung’ K19, P.J. Edwards ‘Danae II’ K125, Peter Bachelor ‘Brandysnap’ K253, Gill Field ‘Mehoopany’ K130, the Robertson’s in ‘Linti’ K28, the Clarabut brothers Guy and David in ‘Beowulf’ K? and ‘Snapdragon’ K211, and Arthur Osenden ‘Hazelisle’ K132 to name but a few.

1951           Tom Weeks becomes the Medway Dragon Fleet’s first Class Captain and Dragon racing commences on the River Medway.

1952           On the return from an overseas visit, the Royal Yacht Britannia with the Queen and Prince Philip on board sail into the Thames Estuary.  Knowing of this, six Medway Dragons sailed out into the mouth of the Thames to greet her.  At a given time, the six, side by side, faced into the wind and the oncoming Royal Yacht, allowing their genoas to fly free in salute.  In a local Essex paper, it was reported that some yachts looked as if they were in trouble!  But, received at the MYC a few days later was a telegram from the Palace thanking the fleet for their impressive ‘on station’ welcome.

Not having the modern roads trailers that are used today it was not unusual towards the end of several summers to see a Medway dragon sail out into the estuary ‘en route’ to the River Crouch to participate in ‘Burnham Week’, competing against our nearest fleet rivals.

1955           Early in the year, HRH Prince Philip’s dragon ‘Bluebottle’, visited the Medway to tune up with the locals ready for the seasons regattas.  She then returned after Burnham Week until the end of the season.  Her racing burgee was presented to the Club and now has pride of place in the Medway Yacht Club’s ‘Dragon Bar’ together with a signed (HRH Prince Philip) photograph of ‘Bluebottle’.

From a book by R.L. Hewitt publishes in 1958 –

“Bluebottle sailed four races on the Medway and scored a 1st, 2nd and a 3rd.  In the last race, she had to retire through hitting a mark.

One feels bound to mention that the Medway is yet another place where the tide is often the dominant factor in a race.  Helmsmen like Tom Weeks knew the river backwards and Bluebottle’s performance was therefore very creditable”.

1957           On the occasion of the Queens State visit to Copenhagen, the Danish Dragon Class invited four English Dragons to compete in a series of races.  This was made possible by the honour of being transported there and back in ‘Britannia’.  ‘Bluebottle’, ‘Scampi’ Lt. Col R.A.H. Soames and Messrs. D.G. & R.N. Bowker from the Solent, ‘Snapdragon’ D.S.Clarabut from the Medway and ‘Viking’ P. Dyas from Burnham.

1962           Ray Sarant in ‘Mustang II’ sails across to the North Sea YC Ostend, (The ‘Royal’ came later) to race.

Circa 1964     Inter Club Dragon Sailing between Ostend and Medway started.

One year the Belgians would travel to Kent, stay at various Medway fleet members houses and be allocated a number of boats (a representative from the local boat would be onboard) the hosts would have the same number of boats and a series of races followed.  The following year, the same would happen but in Belgium.  This continued for many years until boat trailers arrived and travelling became easier.  Also, alas, ……. with both teams, there were one or two incidents and as insurance premiums went up, eventually the owners refused to lend their boats!

There was also an understanding that some Medway Dragons may have taken part in races held by the now disbanded Dunkirk Fleet, an excuse to purchase tax free alcohol (at the time), but sadly there is no official record of this.

1973           First fibreglass dragon arrives at MYC – Keith Best’s ‘Pegasus’ K468 a    Borrensen.

Roger Dawe buys Royalist the same year where she is still sailed today 40 years later, by the same owner and his family, competing on equal terms with the rest of the fleet.  She is also the last remaining wooden Dragon on the Medway.   She was built by Pederson & Thuesen in Denmark in 1970, winning the Edinburgh Cup in 1972 and competed in the Olympic Games  in Kiel that same year, the last Olympics that featured Dragons.

1974           John Field was the new Class Captain as was Patrick Delahaye from Ostend.

Patrick recalls an Ostend Dragon Fleet visit to the Medway, and in his words:

“When in 1974 I gathered my crews to come over to Dover, I meet for the first time John.  He was all alone by himself.  One of his very first questions was: “Is Mr. So-and-so with your crews?” As brand new Captain, I had no qualms, as the whole bunch of ‘old dragoners’ had all refused to come and had left the place to the new younger ones. (I was a bit taken aback by his insisting question).  When he learned that Mr. So-and-so nor his wife were with us, there was a great weight taken off his mind and he called out to his friends.  Why was the absence of Mr. So-and-so so important?  ………. Because the lady of So-and-so had flirted (she was a good flirter but never went further) with one of the Medway men and he had been smitten and was ready to drop everything!  Luckily the guard of the new Class Captains avoided the drama!”

1975           Four dragons from North Sea YC Ostend sail the Channel to take part in the Medway Regatta.

1988           David and Peter Dann’s ‘Fenris Wolf’ sinks during a race in Cowes Week.  Crew saved and she is recovered.

1992           Ian Ratnage ‘Water Rat’ DK 552 wins The Edinburgh Cup

1998           Peter Dann ‘Tyr’ GBR 591 wins The Edinburgh Cup.

1999           The Fleet Celebrate their 50th year on the River with a spectacular black tie dinner with dancing held in the Club House.  A new Borrensen Dragon is stationed on the hard where an old Nissen hut used to be and is not only flood lit but also dressed overall.  Many past and present Medway Dragoners attend.

2004           Host – East Coast Championships for the first time.

2007           Host – East Coast Championships.

2008           Peter Booth, Bruce Boyd and Philip Clarabut’s ‘BBC’ GBR 683 sinks off Juan les Pins in a race at the Regatte Royales Cannes during a ‘Mistral’ storm.  Crew saved, but ‘BBC’ is never found.

2010           Host – East Coast Championships

2012           Jono Ratnage ‘Fit Chick’ GBR 753 and Julian Sowry ‘Scimitar’ GBR 755 qualify for the World Dragon Championships to be held in Weymouth 2013.

2013           Host – East Coast Championships

World Dragon Championships at Weymouth – also now entered from the MYC fleet are: Stewart and Catriona Coltart ‘Valkyrie’ GBR 747 and David Harris and Chris Brealy ‘OCD’ GBR 675.

Trevor Cox and Toby Atack lend their boat ‘Suti’ GBR 710 to a Russian team for the event.

Dragon cropped

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