A History of Penarth Yacht Club

Penarth Yacht Club was established in 1880 as the Penarth Boat Club but this name was changed to Penarth Yacht Club in 1895.

The earliest document giving a hint of the formation of a boat club at Penarth is a printed programme of ‘Amateur Aquatic Sports’ to be held at Penarth beach on 4th September 1880; the sports consisting of pleasure boat sailing, rowing, sculling, canoeing, swimming and a duck hunt. Unfortunately, no written records of the Club exist prior to the earliest surviving minute book, which commenced on 1st May 1893.

The first building on the site of the present Club was a substantial boathouse, built of local stone by the RNLI in 1861 at a cost of £118 and remained in use until it was sold to Lord Windsor in 1884 so that it could be demolished and the original Esplanade built.

The clubhouse as it exists today was built in three main stages; the northern wing, which contains the present two rowing boat houses, was first to be built, sometime before 1884. The second stage was added soon afterwards and the southern wing, extending from the main staircase, was completed in about 1896.

Early sailing boats were a mixed class of small craft - mainly half-decked and heavily ballasted. These were replaced by sloop rigged ‘one raters’ which, in turn, gave way to ‘half-raters’ – sloops with heavy centreboards. However, these boats could not withstand the weather sometimes experienced at the moorings off the Club and after a series of mishaps it was decided to adopt a class that could be hauled up into the boathouse. The Mosquito class, designed and built locally by former Commodore Harold Clayton, was introduced in 1901. These craft were 15’9” long and at least twelve were owned by Club members. However, they were cumbersome to house after each race and after a few years they were replaced by the smaller Dinghy Class.

The Dinghy Class was introduced in 1908. The boats were lug-rigged and were 12’0” in length; they were also designed and built by Harold Clayton.



12 Foot Dinghy

They were named after flowers, as the photograph of Myosotis (Forget-me-not) above, which was owned by Clayton. This was one of more than twelve such boats sailed by Club members. They remained in use until 1920, when the Seabird Class was introduced



 In the 1920’s the Seabird class – also designed by Harold Clayton and locally built – arrived.  These boats were also 12’0” long and were clinker-built with no decking. They were gunter rigged but were heavy and slow. However, ten or more of them remained in use, including Mollyhawk above owned by Ralph Ernst, and competed as a class at successive regattas until the late 1950’s, although National 12 dinghies were introduced meanwhile.                                                        



  Early National 12

The Admiralty requisitioned both Seabirds and National 12’s for potential air sea rescue duties during the Second World War. They were subsequently sold back to the Club and the Seabirds continued to be sailed well into the 1960s.

Firefly "Scarab"

 The Club adopted the Firefly after the Second World War. The class soon became a firm favourite and remained so until the Enterprise arrived in the early 1960’s 

Crews at rowing events were entered under the name of Penarth Yacht Club until 1926 when it was necessary to take the title Penarth Rowing Club to allow affiliation to the Amateur Rowing Association

 The club continued with social activities similar to those held today and it was in the days following the Second World War which brought about many changes.   This resulted in a membership for ladies who progressively took part in both rowing and sailing events.  

 In recent years there has been a surge of interest in competitive rowing and attendance at regattas in Wales and the English border region.   The club has a highly active rowing training programme and enters regattas for both men’s and women’s events.

 Increased activity in the sailing world has resulted in success for club members at both national and international level.   A list of boat owners shows many members with yachts berthed at other locations. 

 Royal Yachting Association Training Centre status has been granted to the club and courses for both adults and young persons are on going.   The club has a very active dinghy-racing programme and the Enterprise class dinghy fleet is one of the largest in the country.

 Thus, Penarth Yacht Club continues to this day with facilities for competitive rowing and sailing which is a rare but not unique combination that continues to serve both sports well.

 The flavour of early social activities can be assessed by what is recorded in our archives.  They show many programmes of events both on the water and within the clubhouse, which gives some idea of life at the club in times gone by and of progress through time to the present day.

 Like most clubs in those times, it was a gentlemen-only preserve but there are photographs both in Victorian and Edwardian times showing members with their wives and families enjoying activities at the club.  A lady can be seen in those days crewing a day boat, clothed in a long dress and wearing a bonnet.   But the club was essentially a 'gentleman’s club and, in keeping with society of the day, it would be unethical for a lady to be seen alone on such premises.   Clearly, the gentlemen were possessive of their position and a gold lettered notice on the balcony stated  'Ladies are permitted on the balcony only when accompanied by a gentleman'.

These days are now behind us.  Gone is the men-only bar and the men-only dinner.  In 2018 the club appointed its first woman Commodore,  Mrs Sue Grant.  It has also ended a ladies membership category and changed life member rules (40 years of 'full' membership results in Life-Membership) so that previous 'ladies' members are not disadvantaged.

Everyone is welcome to become a member of the club so apply to the Secretary for membership!