Sailing’s Duke

Britain enters an eight day period of mourning with the sombre announcement yesterday that: “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.”

It was a remarkable life of contribution and service that Prince Philip led with the Duke such an integral part of many sports and organisations, not least sailing where his influence was felt so strongly. A Naval officer of distinction, he gave up his career for the service and support of Her Majesty but it was famously reported that he found his love of the water at Gordonstoun School where pupils are taught to be “freezing cold and wet but with a smile on their faces.”

In 1952 he became Admiral of the Royal Yacht Squadron and held the coveted 001 position at the Club as its longest serving member. The Queen is Patron. He was also the President of the RYA, first from 1956 through to 1970 and then resumed the role from 1975 through to 1980. His influence in yachting at all levels was felt from the grass roots upwards – perhaps the greatest influence by any individual in world sailing.

Cowes Week was a favourite regatta and one that he shaped with the suggestion of the formation of the Cowes Combined Clubs to run the event in 1964. It was a typically no-nonsense suggestion by an involved sailor that saw the bigger picture. I was fortunate enough to interview him in the early 2000’s where I asked him why he liked the sport so much. “I do Carriage Racing and Sailing – I like any sport that you can do with a hangover!” was the response with a chuckle and a smile. I’ve never forgotten it. He was direct, razor sharp and highly competitive on the water having sailed all manner of classes at Cowes including the Flying 15 ‘Coweslip’ with the legendary sailor Uffa Fox, the Dragon ‘Bluebottle’ with his son, Prince Charles, and a succession of Owen Aisher yachts before hanging up his sailing boots in the late 1990’s.

Perhaps most memorable was the Royal family’s purchase of the Charles E. Nicholson 63ft racing yacht ‘Bloodhound’ that he sailed with Uffa Fox but in typical fashion, when the yacht wasn’t in Royal commission it was lent out to yacht clubs to encourage everyone to experience offshore racing. Participation was everything to the Duke of Edinburgh. The establishment of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme was something that he was most proud of and has been taken up in over 130 countries. An organisation of some 65 years in standing it is a lasting legacy, still highly relevant to this day, that children have participated and benefited from for generations. He was typically deeply involved in all aspects of the organisation.

In 2012 I cycled from St Andrew’s in Scotland to The St Andrew’s Boys Club in Westminster, London where the Duke was Patron. Just before we left on the ride we received the most wonderful, encouraging, supportive letter from him, hand signed and it was a tremendous door opener to raise significant funds for a a club in disrepair aimed at some of the most deprived children in London.

So as the sailing world mourns one of our own, the Royal Yacht Squadron’s present Commodore, Jamie Sheldon issued a brilliant statement on behalf of the Club’s membership summing up the man who was their beating heart and the much-admired embodiment of everything it stands for so eloquently:

“We owe a substantial debt to our Admiral, who was an active and talented sailor and contributed enormously to the development of yachting on the Isle of Wight. He was the catalyst behind the formation of the Cowes Combined Clubs, the organisation which lies behind Cowes Week. He was elected a member in 1947 and became Admiral on the accession of Queen Elizabeth II. He served as Commodore 1961-1968. He was a dynamic, reforming Commodore who modernised the governance of the Club and admitted ladies as Associate Members (they were admitted as Full Members in 2015). He continued to take a keen interest in the Club’s affairs well into his nineties. For the Club’s Bicentenary on 2015, he undertook a Fleet Review of Squadron yachts, dressed overall, off East and West Cowes – a spectacular occasion. He will be sorely missed.”

Sail on Sir.

3 thoughts on “Sailing’s Duke

  1. Well said Magnus. Very well said. A great and worthwhile legacy he has left and I am proud of my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. I had not a clue about walking the outdoors but when we as a group wanted to make our walk over Gable in the Lake District during winter, and had no rucksacks or real gear, he was contacted to see if anyone in the Net could help us poor lads from a Council Estate up North and sure enough, the rucksacks arrived. Courtesy of the 1953 Everest Team, white canvass mountaineering packs. We couldn’t have been more chuffed. One of our friends was engineer onboard the Royal Yacht when off Cape Horn and the Duke had to be called in from sailing around the Horn due to severe weather warnings. Dutifully he did. Couldn’t say he was happy to miss his chance on that journey but that is what duty is about isn’t it? To others. Consideration of the Team.

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