Ulley Sailing Club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year ...

Ulley Sailing Club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year ...

By David Beddows | 05/06/2022

Ulley Sailing Club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year ...


ULLEY Sailing Club has negotiated some choppy waters in its long and proud history.

Floods, a pandemic and the challenges of keeping a volunteer-run organisation on an even keel year after year have all tested resolve.

The fact the club has survived to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year is testament to the determination of successive generations of people with a love of life on the open water.

The club helped produce an Olympic champion and Americas Cup competitor in Paul Goodison and there could be some future Olympians in its still thriving bunch of juniors.

Rewinding back 50 years, founder members first became aware of Ulley Sailing Club in the sports pages of the Advertiser.

An obscure little piece asked for applicants to take part in a ballot to become one of the first 60 members of a sailing club to be based at Ulley Reservoir.

The appeal was the result of some sterling work by the old Rotherham Corporation.

After a prolonged period of post-war austerity, political thinking in the 1970s was sympathetic to opening up previously restricted areas such as playing fields and leisure facilities for use by the general public.

Yorkshire Water Authority no longer had a practical use for Ulley Reservoir and had offered it to the Corporation to develop for leisure use.

The Corporation, in its wisdom, decided that Ulley fitted into this thinking and decided to provide a sailing facility for use by Rotherham folk.

Soon the club was launched with an ad hoc committee including Royal Yachting Association experts to steer the way.

The groundwork was laid for a club room, changing facilities, safety boat, race control station, berthing and security provision and separate education facilities similar to what is seen at Ulley today.

Bernard Roberts, landlord of the nearby Golden Ball pub, was its first commodore.

The new membership was a mix of members of other clubs wanting to sail nearer home, experienced sailors, holiday sailors and rookie sailors attracted to the idea of learning to sail.

Tony Corker, a founder member and ex-Commodore, said: “The committee had a formidable task of moulding this mix into a racing club as well as organising regular safety cover and the social side of the club.”

Even though boats brought into the club were restricted to a maximum of 12ft in length in the early days, the enthusiasm of the new sailors was undimmed.

Most popular was the Mirror dinghy because it was relatively cheap and in plentiful supply second hand. It was also available in kit form to build at home. Some members, looking for new boats, grouped together to invest in plastic Gull dinghies.

“The early ethos was built around families,” remembers Tony. “Many of the boats were crewed by husband-and-wife teams, even in the hairier craft, but gradually as the children got older they tended to replace the lady at the front of the boat. The weekend duty rota was developed with the usual pattern of the males looking after safety and race organisation and the rest of the family in charge of the catering.”

Ulley’s social side got going and went with a swing thanks to member Colin Sanderson, who was on hand to bring along his jazz band from Maltby to play at dances.

“Looking back, the first months were a case of trial and error and learning from our mistakes,” said Tony.

“Only a handful of members could organise races and racing rules had to be learnt.

“Wet suits were non-existent or exorbitantly expensive and dry suits were for deep-sea divers, but a firm in Buxton marketed a DIY wet suit. You sent away your measurements and received back a of pile of shaped black neoprene, a tube of rubber glue and roll of electrical insulating tape. It was then a case of sticking the pieces together, over-sewing the seams and (hopefully) sealing them with the tape.

“The fleet taking to the water resembled the invasion of aliens.”

From these tentative beginnings, the club saw a need to change.

The 60-members restriction was lifted and the 12ft boats maximum increased to 14ft, changing the pattern of racing and allowing an opening for Lasers, an important addition to the Ulley fleet in which, many years later, Ulley scholar Paul Goodison won his gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Members became more adventurous, taking their boats to local open meetings. The Filey Regatta was a favourite destination.

By 1980 USC had developed into a fully functioning sailing club, but more changes were on the horizon. Six years later Ulley Country Park was established and the sailing clubhouse converted into a shop and visitor centre.

By the 1990s Ulley had a very active youth squad but when the people in it, including Paul Goodison, went off to study or to work there was a lull.

At that point there was a close relationship between the sailing club and the sports activity centre on the same site — a Royal Yachting Association establishment with strong links also with the NSSA (National Schools Sailing Association).

With young Ulley members travelling extensively to NSSA events elsewhere, it meant the club was very quiet on Saturdays.

As the ’90s gave way to the 2000s, Ulley’s membership was in decline.

Showing the resolve of old, members organised free taster sessions to win new converts to sailing and they duly arrived, competing all over the country and winning many races.

Then, in 2007, Ulley Dam threatened to burst.

In fear of flooding, hundreds of people in nearby villages fled their homes when cracks appeared at the dam after torrential rain.

Rosalie Hill was unlucky enough to be the commodore at Ulley at the time.

“I was accused of not putting my finger in the dam wall,” she smiled.

“But seriously, it was very difficult. We had no water and we weren’t even to access the clubhouse for at least a year.

“Because we were determined to keep the Ulley flag flying, we teamed up with South Yorkshire Sailing Club at Moor Hall Reservoir on the fringes of Sheffield and sailed there.

“Fortunately we got back into our clubhouse by 2008 when we had our success with Paul Goodison at Beijing.

“We celebrated that in style!”

In 2009 there was relief at Ulley when the water began to re-flow and although it was still not back up to its proper level, members were able to begin some sailing on their own water again.

Still, it wasn’t until 2011 that Ulley had a full water.

After such a turbulent few years, Ulley Sailing Club started afresh and deservedly got on the shortlist for RYA Club of the Year.

Three years later it acquired a lease on its premises.

Previously, it had only been operating on a license which meant it could effectively have been turfed off the site at any time.

The lease allowed the club to tap into grant support to refurbish and re-model the clubhouse and the adjacent visitor centre, the latter including a smaller club room shared with schools.

The sailors then joined forces with the Friends of Ulley Country Park and Rotherham Council to completely revamp the inside of its premises which led to a larger clubhouse and disabled access.

“We really took off from that point,” said Rosalie. “We had assistance from the Banks Fund to create another access jetty and the restored club was officially opened by the Princess Royal in 2016.

“By this stage we had a growing youth membership and were getting up to 30 children coming along to monthly youth squad meetings.”

Although Ulley was on smoother waters, the Covid pandemic caught it off guard when it surfaced in 2020.

Rosalie said: “We lost some members during that but managed to keep going fairly normally because early in the pandemic it was agreed sailing wasn’t risky in terms of close physical contact.

“The plus side is that we did pick up some new sailors because people couldn’t really go and do things elsewhere.”

Thankfully, the pandemic subsided in time for Ulley to celebrate its 50th anniversary last month with a weekend of racing and a social for past and present members.

Among the winners was one of two young Ukrainian children, Alex Svietek, who had fled their war-torn country.

Five decades on since those first tentative steps into sailing, Ulley’s future looks bright.

George Panter, son of current commodore Nicola Panter, recently won the RYA Young Volunteer of the Year Award and bosun Dave White took its Lifetime Commitment Award.

Family sailing has taken off.

“It is quite an achievement to get to 50 years,” added Rosalie.

“We are a close-knit team, the parents are really involved and that has helped cement relationships and keep us going.

“It is true that the problems Ulley Sailing Club has encountered would have sunk some clubs but here we are, 50 years on.

“We hope there are many more to come.”