Simply messing about in boats

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat
Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat
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Glistening water, countryside surroundings, and more dinghies than you can shake an oar at. Rachael Clegg goes sailing in Sheffield.

PERHAPS this is Sheffield’s best kept secret. Barely five miles from the centre of the city, a cluster of small sailing boats bobs gently on the waters of a tree-lined lake framed by hills.

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat. Pictured with vice-commodore Nick Bush

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat. Pictured with vice-commodore Nick Bush

But it’s not a real lake. It’s the Yorkshire Water-run Damflask Reservoir on Loxley Road, just into the Peak District National Park.

And here, since 1960, the Sheffield Viking Sailing Club has been meeting and competing in sailing dinghy boats - modest-sized boats with sails and a rudder.

Nick Bush, aged 46, from Oughtibridge, has been a member of the Viking Sailing Club since he was 12 years old.

“I used to come along with my twin sister and then my parents got into it - it’s usually the other way round!” he said.

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat

Nick was inspired to join the group after reading Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, whose tale of adventure-loving children setting sail on a small dinghy boat planted a love of the open water in the young Nick.

“I remember coming down here and one of the members said, ‘Jump in then’. I was hooked after that!”

Today, 34 years after his introduction to sailing, Nick’s here to teach newcomers the ropes of dinghy sailing.

“You have to read the wind,” he says, tugging at ropes to adjust the sail. “You have to move across to the other side of the boat when I say so. We are what’s called ‘tacking’ the gusts of wind as they come along in order to move forward.”

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat. Young sailors Amy, two, and Louis Cowlishaw, four

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat. Young sailors Amy, two, and Louis Cowlishaw, four

It’s more complicated than it looks. But, once the momentum is going, the modestly-sized dinghies move extremely swiftly.

“On a windy day you can get up to really high speeds on these, and you end up leaning outside of the boat with your bottom level with the water,” says Nick. “You have to lean the boat to turn it and lean the boat into the wind.”

Every week the club runs races, which take place on the lake around a series of buoys. But you don’t have to race. Many of the members come to the club simply as a means of escapism from the stresses of everyday life.

Long-time member David Fletcher, who works for Forgemasters, said: “We have members from all walks of life, but quite a few of them have stressful jobs.”

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat. Commodore David Fletcher

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat. Commodore David Fletcher

Nick’s accountancy and engineering management work takes him to Houston, Texas, once every six weeks. His jet-setting lifestyle makes his sailing time all the more precious.

“I love being out on the water and with sailing you really are at one with nature - you have to understand what’s happening with the wind and constantly respond to it,” he says. “People don’t realise how much there is to do with sailing but it’s tremendous being out here.”

A testament to Nick’s conviction of the merits of Sheffield sailing is his sun-tanned face and big smile.

“Coming up here takes my mind off all things. It quietens the mind,” he says.

But it was the thrill of sailing that drew lifelong members Peter and Margaret Gillard, from Crookes, to the club in May 1960.

The couple were enthusiastic motorbikers, travelling regularly to the TT Races on the Isle of Man and always buying motorcycles.

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat. Pictured with vice-commodore Nick Bush

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat. Pictured with vice-commodore Nick Bush

But despite their passion for two wheels, they didn’t want their sons, Alan and Chris, to start riding them.

Peter, now 85, said: “We used to see kids racing around on their bikes on the rec and we didn’t want our lads doing that. So I bought a sailing kit for £74 on hire purchase. We joined the sailing club and never looked back.”

Neither did their sons, and later their grandson, Thomas Gillard, who also sailed at the Viking Sailing Club. Thomas now competes at international level, occasionally with his dad Alan.

And while Thomas today sails in the finest tackle, wearing super-protective wetsuits, sailing wasn’t quite so glamorous back in the 1960s.

“I used to make all their sailing suits,” said Margaret, now 89. “They must have been freezing as they’d sail in snow and all sorts and there were no wet boots in those days!”

The newest - and youngest - sailor at the club is just two years old, but there are teenage members, young adults, and middle-aged people. On a busy day there can be as many as 35 boats on the water.

And on good weather days, with the sunshine dazzling off the dinghy boats’ sails and the sunlight twinkling like diamonds on the water, Sheffield city centre seems not five but a million miles away.

Getting Started

Getting started with The Sheffield Viking Sailing Club is easy. Anyone is welcome to visit the club on a Sunday, chat to other members and have a go on a boat.

Most members have their own dinghy boats, but there are four club boats for members to use - a Topper, Lark, Enterprise and a 420. Prices for a dinghy start from around £500.

Membership is £125 for a full family including partner and children up to 18 years-old. Cadet membership, for members in full time education and above the age of 18, costs £50 and it costs £45 per year to store a boat at the club.

Club Profile

Sheffield Viking Sailing Club started in 1958.

Its first meet was in Newark but the club relocated to Damflask Reservoir in 1960.

The reservoir is only five miles from Sheffield city centre and lies just over the border of the Peak District National Park.

The reservoir was built to supply drinking water - 1,123 million gallons of it - to the population of Sheffield.

The reservoir was completed in 1896 and is named after Damflask Village, which was washed away in the Great Sheffield Flood of 1964.

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat

Rachael Clegg visits Sheffield Viking Dingy Club at Dam Flask where she is taken out on a boat