07 August, 2007

Article on the Royal Suva Yacht Club

  • Read an article below taken from the Sunday Times, 5 August 2007, on the Royal Suva Yacht Club.

"Going down memory lane, Sunday, August 05, 2007

Imagine what the members of the Royal Suva Yacht Club would be talking about when they meet at their 75th Anniversary in September this year?

Their topic of discussion would most probably be of those days when they were young kids and teenagers and spending all their free time at the club, either sailing or swimming in the pristine clear waters of the Suva harbour near the yacht club.

When one takes a look down memory lane, the year was 1932 when a group of enthusiasts decided to form a club now known as the Royal Suva Yacht Club.

However, the name of the club used to be just the Suva Yacht Club with the title of 'Royal' in 1950 granted by Sir Allan Lascelles, Secretary to King George VI.

Prior to being termed the Royal Suva Yacht Club, it was located between Stinson Jetty and Nubukalou Creek along Suva's foreshore from 1932 to 1938.

The club was a sail only club and the first official race was held on Saturday, October 22, 1932 with an entry fee of two shillings. And the first cruising race was held on January 17, 1933 with a race to Nukulau Island and the first regatta was held at Levuka in August of the same year with 'Seaghost' and 'Cimba' as the first overseas yachts to visit the club in June 1935. Records kept at The Fiji Times and the Royal Suva Yacht Club show the Suva Yacht Club was originally located behind the Bank of New South Wales fronting the sea.

And by then the club had a register of 23 yachts and 141 members that grew from strength to strength through to 1941. However, the Second World War brought all activities of the club to a standstill as many of the members of the club had joined the Fiji Armed forces and other Commonwealth Countries.

In the early colonial days the Suva Yacht Club was only meant for the Europeans and none of the Indians or indigenous people was allowed membership but those days have passed and now the membership is not that segregated.

The club and its members are known for their volunteer services and resources with regards to the provision of boats in times of need during natural disasters associated with flooding and cyclones.

Construction on the new site in Walu Bay began in September 1937 and was completed in August 1948.

The following were the flag officers to the club in 1932 and they were Commodore T.M. Mcguire, Vice Commodore E.E. McGowan and Rear Commodore F. Reay. Today the Royal Suva Yacht Club provides members with a place to relax and gives the young and the old a place to learn the rudiments of sailing, develop nautical skills, seamanship and have a healthy respect of the sea. The club has seen throughout the years, numerous dedicated members who have provided their time and expertise which has helped the club grow to what it is today.

While most of the club members are overseas, there are some who are still in the country and are very closely related to the club house and two of these members are the current Commodore Robert Smith and the director of Williams and Goslings David Aidney.

Commodore is the title bestowed on the person who is elected by the members of the club and he is the president of the club.

Speaking about his experiences at the club as a teenager Commodore Smith said being part of the Royal Suva Yacht Club taught him a lot and was the most influential factor in shaping his career as a marine geophysicist.

"My children have grown up here at the club and my two sons have learnt to sail and they are into water sports and they have also had the opportunity to be a part of the club and enjoy sailing and learning to appreciate the sea," he said. Mr Smith said the club was of great significance in his life because that was where he met his wife, Veronica Smith who is in charge of the club's affairs and its operations.

"My wife comes from a background of inter-island shipping," he said.

But Mr Smith says the recent increase in pollution of the sea near the Yacht Club has been a grave concern for the members.

"My biggest concern is the amount of rubbish that is being thrown in the sea and it costs so much to clean up," he said.

Another member who spent his years as a child and a young man at the club says he has spent many lovely years as a member and has made a lot of friends. Mr Aidney said he has been participating in the President's Cup race for the past forty years and said he was proud to say he won the race last year.

Mr Aidney said he has been a member of the club since he was 12 years old and in all those years he had participated in the race with his 12 feet dingy, a yacht and his recently bought 38 feet boat. There are other members who have been there for more than 40 years like Captain Jim Mullins who was the Commodore in 1950, Jackson Julian and Barry Lee who have seen many changes taking place in the club.

However, because of their medical conditions they have not been able to speak to The Sunday Times on their memories. Apart from being a very old part of the city, the Royal Suva Yacht Club also has another piece of history attached to it in the form of the Coat of Arms which was originally fixed to the bow of the Royal Colonial Ship called the Viti.

The ship Viti was built in the colony of Hong Kong for the Government of Fiji and then the Western Pacific High Commission.

Veronica Smith, the house committee member at the club says the ship was completed in 1939 and sailed for Suva in 1940.

Mrs Smith said shortly afterwards Viti was taken over by the Royal Navy, converted to an escort/minesweeper, commissioned as HMS Viti and manned by officers and ratings from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Fiji. Based in Suva, HMS Viti served in the South Pacific together with ships of the Royal New Zealand Navy until cessation of hostilities in 1945.

"As transport between Fiji and New Zealand after the war was at a premium Viti was decommissioned and employed as a passenger/cargo ship in the Suva/Auckland service until 1949 when she was sold to the Tasman Steamship Company trading between New Zealand and Australia," said Mrs Smith. "The Coat of Arms was then removed from the bow and presented to the "Suva Yacht Club" by Captain Clough Blair, managing director, Tasman Steamship Company in honour of those members of the Suva Yacht Club who had served aboard HMS Viti during World War II.""

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