Although official records of the Dorchester Sailing Club start in 1967 – in the form of a plaque stating previous Commodores – sailing has taken place on Dorchester Lagoon since around 1958. Harwell Laboratory’s ‘Harlequin’ magazine reported, in 1959, that the Harwell Sailing Club had formed ‘less than two years ago’. A few enthusiasts had organised a General Meeting and to their surprise about 150 turned up!
Initially the Club negotiated for sailing amenities on the River Thames, in the vicinity of Sutton Courtenay, where Harwell granted permission for building of a slipway. In 1959 the club was reported as having ‘a very active dinghy racing section on ‘Amey’s Lagoon’, presumably Dorchester Lagoon. Amey’s Aggregates Co. had built the slipway and designs of a clubhouse were being prepared but ‘planning permission had yet to be obtained’.
The Sutton Courtenay riverside site was for canoeists and motor boat enthusiasts and the club had a small cruising section offering sailing aboard a 65ft yacht on the South Coast – from Friday evening to Sunday evening, the charge was only £5!
The club acquired a workshop in Building 183 at Harwell and several ‘build your own boat’ projects began life there in addition to a club canoe. The fleet, comprising of one 12ft Bermudan rigged club dinghy, ten Enterprises, two Fireflies, two Nationals, one Graduate and several privately owned boats, was growing weekly.
Fisher folk on the bank side, in the happy pursuit of drowning worms, were present in 1962! ARC held angling matches on the lake and had a Night Angling Club.
Sadly, Minutes of DSC Committee Meetings prior to 1981 are missing but in 1981 the purchase of a new dory as a committee boat was noted, in addition to £6,700 being approved for expenditure on the installation of pipes from Burcot stream for topping-up the level of the lake, In 1982 the increase in the water level of the lake, due to water being fed into it from the stream, meant that centreboards could be fully used!
Weed has been a constant concern at Dorchester and has required frequent clearance. Weedkiller harmless to fish appears to have the best method for dealing with the problem up to the point where it’s use was banned. In recent years vegetable based blue dye has added to the lake every spring and this, along with the fish population, seems to keep the problem under control.
Over the years numerous RYA beginner’s courses have been run at Dorchester – an RYA approved training establishment – and members of the club have completed RYA instructors courses. On the racing circuit, home and away matches have been held with Abbey S.C., Oxford S.C, Goring on Thames S.C. and of course with our salt water shipmates at Mudeford S.C. Open meetings for Toppers and Gulls were annual events at one time and during an extra keen phase, race training weekends were the ‘in-thing’. Camping Weeks are held for juniors to learn to sail and qualify for the RYA basic certificates.
There are many reports of repairs, redecoration and improvements being made to the Clubhouse, changing rooms, boat shed and OOD box during the ‘Working Party Weekends’, for which we owe our thanks to those involved. In 1982 a second landing stage was dismantled due to decay –to be replaced later if necessary –which it appears not to have been! In this same year a Club sweater appeared.
In 1983 the committee agreed to abolish the ‘Knock-out Cup’ – quite what this was for is not clear but it may have been for awarding after the fights which must have ensued from the fact that in timing dinghies over the finish line it was impossible, for the old clock in the Starting Box, to decide which minute the seconds belonged to! A digital clock to replace the offending timepiece was purchased that year. The Committee noted that more sailboards were expected to join the Club following the recent closure of facilities at Pumney Lake, Abingdon. Catering in the Clubhouse became the responsibility of the members on a ‘help yourself’ basis – previously there had been someone appointed to provide the service.
It was during 1986 that Class-racing was re-introduced and the Club reached its highest-ever recorded number of members at 200, plus 48 sailboards – imagine all that lot on the water at once! Perhaps the Committee had imagined it – the Minutes report the purchase of an inflatable with a hard floor – a new rescue boat! The Ladies Committee was abandoned this year, as it was stated, ‘There were enough ladies on all the other committees’. Just how many other Committees were there?
Vandals have often caused problems at the Club and K9 Security were engaged to patrol the area for a number of years before the boat compound was erected in 1988/89.
Informal racing on a Wednesday evening began in 1989 and the DSC sweatshirt with its embroidered emblem was introduced.
In 1990 the lake was bought from the Consolidated Gold Fields (owners of ARC), by Hanson Trust, and in 1991 Dorchester Fisheries bought the lake. The Club’s relationship with Dorchester Fisheries was not a happy one, and the Club considered the possibility of moving across the road to Queenford Lake.
To the Club’s surprise, Dorchester Fisheries went into receivership in 1996, and the opportunity presented itself for the Club to buy its water and the surrounding land. National Lottery grants for sports clubs had just been introduced and we applied for a grant which was awarded, and the Club was able to buy its freehold.
Through the years the Club has been ‘home’ to many, among whom were ‘Above Board’ of Oxford, Grove Sea Scouts, Oxford Polytechnic and PGL Holidays, to say nothing of our feathered friends and other creepy-crawlies to numerous to mention. The social scene has been varied, from ‘bun-fights’ to barbeques and candle-lit suppers to dinner dances.
Many Regatta events have been held on the lake – there is mention of a ‘Harwell Regatta’ in 1982 –but the Regatta held in 1986 takes the prize so far for being a miraculous event – it was reported as being, ‘A great success even though the wine did not arrive’!?
For as long as most members can remember the Club has struggled with its outdated clubhouse, which was originally constructed as a building to house the weighbridge machinery, and to serve as the workers mess hut, when the site was a gravel quarry.
The toilet and changing facilities were basic – to say the least – and the Clubhouse was freezing in winter, when multiple layers of clothing were needed by members attending committee meetings in the evenings.
However, with the aid of a substantial grant awarded by South Oxfordshire District Council, the Club was able to go ahead in 2008 with the construction of new facilities. The building was completed in late 2009, providing the Club with modern changing rooms, showers and toilets; a good size clubroom with a kitchenette; and a separate room for classroom training. The clubroom looks out onto the lake with an enclosed paved patio for sitting out and for BBQs in the summer.
Another grant, from the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment, enabled the installation of a heat pump to extract heat from the lake and provide economical heating and hot water for the new building.
Most of the old building has been retained and converted into a workshop for maintaining the Club’s dinghy fleet.