South Staffs Burgee
South Staffordshire Sailing Club
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From Calf Heath to Gailey 1964 - 1974

The Need to Move

by Antony Darbey

During the early 1960s the pressure to move to a larger stretch of water became intense. Membership had increased very substantially, and by this time the Club had a fleet of 102 GP 14s, the second largest fleet in the country, with over 40 Fireflies and a few OK single-handed dinghies. It was calculated that if all the GPs turned out together for a race (which fortunately they never did!), they would have just fitted into the start line at Calf Heath, side by side, all touching!
Various local pools were considered. The obvious preferred alternatives were either Gailey Upper Pool or Gailey Lower Pool, both canal feeders, but we understood that neither was available for sailing. Other possibilities were Belvide reservoir, Blithfield, Chasewater, and even small pools in Dudley and at Himley Hall.
In 1963 a sub-committee was formed, including Stanley Berriman, Commodore in 1963-64, and Tony Darbey, who was the Treasurer and Club solicitor (later Commodore in 1967-68), to explore the possibilities and see if anything could be done. This was the commencement of a seven-year struggle, which culminated in the move to the present site at Gailey Lower Pool. In retrospect, it was something like a modern computer game, meeting a new obstacle or a new opponent at every turn, to be defeated or evaded in order to win through to the objective.
Blithfield was never a practical possibility, being considered too far away for the majority of members, and also having recently been stocked with rainbow trout with a considerable commercial investment. Chasewater was already in use by another sailing club. The pools in the Dudley and Himley areas were considered too small, being no larger than Calf Heath, though sailing clubs have since been established on them. The sub-committee searched the map, and even looked into the possibility of finding a suitable valley and flooding it, but this was never a practicable option.
Early in 1964 there was a meeting with Mr. Marsh, then the chief executive of the British Waterways Board, who advised us that there was "no possibility" of sailing at Gailey, by reason of existing angling and shooting rights, and ornithological considerations (particularly the heronry on the island in the Lower Pool). It appeared that, paradoxically, there was an "unholy alliance" between those who wished to protect the birds and those who wished to shoot them!

A meeting was next arranged with Peter Giffard, at Chillington Hall, Brewood, as to the possibility of sailing at Belvide Reservoir, which was part of his family estates. We were received very courteously at the stately home, but without success, by reason again of substantial angling interests and ornithological considerations, the reservoir being an important staging post for migrating waterfowl. Nevertheless, the sub-committee continued to explore all possibilities.