“On April 9th, 1859, a number of “boating gentlemen” (as they were described) met at the Maid’s Head Hotel in Norwich and formed “The Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club”. Their reason, it appears, was that with the growing popularity of yacht racing it had been found that there were no means of controlling the behaviour of some of the watermen needed to crew the boats, for as Nicholas Everitt reported in his book “Broadland Sport”: ‘So flagrant were the offences of the more turbulent of this body that matters were brought to a crisis after the water frolics on Burgh Flats in 1858’. Then, it seems, ‘The crews of two racing yachts boarded one another, lashed their craft together and fought out their differences to the bitter end’.
Accordingly, the new club was inaugurated in the hope of exerting some influence on such occasions as well as its avowed aim of encouraging yacht building and sailing. An entrance fee of two guineas with an annual subscription of one guinea were fixed but circular letters sent out announcing these met with a cold reception and at a Committee meeting on April 16th it was decided that the entrance fee should be halved and by August the club had secured 52 full members and 42 “honorary” members who, owning no yachts, were admitted without an entrance charge.
Colonel George Wilson, of Beccles, owner of the yacht Atalanta, became the first Commodore with Mr E.S.Trafford as Vice-Commodore and Mr F. Brown Rear-Commodore. A sailing committee was formed of representatives of the rivers Bure, Yare and Waveney, plus three Great Yarmouth men — Messrs. Samuel Nightingale, T. M. Read and W. M. Bond,. Lowestoft, curiously enough, being conspicuously absent from the whole affair.
At first, the club had no real home of its own and its first season’s programme consisted of one-day regattas at Cantley, Wroxham and Oulton Broad, where two races were sailed at each. Rowing races were also arranged.
At each regatta, the first race was for what were described as “cutters” but actually they were sloop-rigged craft with enormous jibs, their bowsprits being frequently as long, if not longer, than the yacht on the waterline. Then came a race for lateeners rigged with a lateen foresail and boom and gaff mizzen. The foremast of these was stepped right in the eyes of the boat (some were actually stepped on the forward end of the bowsprit) and on this was hoisted a great spar, sometimes 75ft long, which held the ancient-style sail.
The other mast was stepped amidships and carried a mizzen which was later to become the mainsail of the true cutter as a jib replaced the old lateen sail.
Cruises in company were a feature of the early days, the members taking part often finishing the day aboard the Commodore’s yacht for a social evening.
As the members developed a greater taste for sea racing, they decided in June, 1884, at a meeting aboard Mr Read’s yacht Zephyr at Cantley, to obtain a clubhouse at Lowestoft and a company was formed to provide a building on the site of the present clubhouse overlooking the Inner Harbour which was leased from the old Great Eastern Railway Company. The one-storeyed building arose in 1885 and, after the addition of several rooms, was replaced in 1903 by today’s much more imposing structure, the old one being sold to Lowestoft Town Football Club on whose ground it remains as a pavilion.
The new clubhouse was one of 65 designs received in answer to an advertisement and from these was selected that of Messrs. G and F. Skipper, of Norwich, who produced what remains one of Lowestoft’s best architectural features. This entailed a somewhat heavier outlay than had been contemplated but the Great Eastern Railway handsomely offered to provide the £4,500 needed and granted the club a long lease on very favourable terms. Later, the generous railway company was replaced by British Transport Commission from which the club bought the premises in 1959.
It was a great day for the club when their new premises were opened on July 11th, 1903, by Lord Claud Hamilton, then chairman of the Great Eastern Railway, who was elected an honorary member. The Commodore at that time was the late Mr Russell Colman, who held that high office on no fewer than 13 occasions, following worthily in the footsteps of his father, Mr J. J. Colman, who was Commodore in 1878.
After the opening ceremony, a loving cup, presented by Mr A. F. Mayhew, was handed round and Mrs Colman broke the club flag over the new headquarters for the first time. Luncheon was then served at the nearby Royal Hotel and several members joined the Mayor, Mr Lancelot Orde, on a trip aboard the first of Lowestoft’s electric trams, which had not then been opened to the public, three cars being used with the Mayor driving the first.
Others more interested in wind than electric power celebrated the occasion with a race round the Newcome Sands."