Located on the picturesque banks of the River Hamble, a tributary of Southampton Water the elegant Royal Southern Yacht Club can trace its routes back to the 19th Century. Approached down a narrow winding cobbled street Hamble is ranked as second only to Cowes as being the celebrated Mecca for sailing, drawing visitors from around the globe. In addition to its WWII aircraft training heritage, the area can also boast as being the focus for the TV drama Howards’ Way. For my interview this month I talk to the Royal Southern Yacht Club’s Commodore, Graham Nixon.
“I was one of three sons so my parents were always desperate to find active things to keep us occupied,” recalls Graham. “One day during 1958 my father, who worked for Pilkington glass manufacturers in St Helens said the company had a sailing club, which was running a course on how to begin sailing. My mother, father, and elder brother all signed up but I was aged twelve and they told me I was too young; I was furious. That winter my father built an Enterprise dinghy and the following year I went on the course. It was the first time I’d stepped aboard a small boat and I just fell in love with it. I remember thinking that it was all about harnessing the wind and the water, it was really challenging and something I could enjoy for pleasure.”
Later, Graham began to crew with his elder brother when they started to race their dinghy and on one occasion they competed at Blundell Sands just north of Liverpool. “The currents were very strong in the narrow channels, which made for extremely demanding sailing,” grins Graham. “In the event, it was the first race we won,” Graham admits now to having a very competitive nature. “It’s all about calculating how you can arrive ahead of everyone else around the course,” he asserts. “Also, I quickly began to realize that dinghy racing is never the same twice, enjoy the complexity and the intellectual challenge.”
On leaving school Graham attended Southampton University, which had a team of Merlin Rockets. “This was my first experience of sailing on the Solent,” he says. “Then, following Business School I moved to Coventry and built a 16ftwooden Fireball from a kit in my garage and sailed it as a member of the Draycote Water Sailing Club near Rugby. I absolutely loved the Fireball and was desperately sad when I had to sell it.”
Fast forward to the late 1970s, by which time Graham had a family and he’d bought a Westerly Centaur that they could all enjoy, which he kept at Milford Haven. “It was a very different sort of sailing although I still participated in dinghy racing, too,” he adds. “The year of the huge Fastnet disaster (1979), I happened to hear the weather forecast on the radio, warning of a gale coming in. We were anchored off-shore and just managed to get the family on board and make it back to port before the bad weather hit. Over the next few days Fastnet race boats kept coming in, most very badly damaged from the weather.”
Work years took Graham round the world during which time sailing had to take second place. “Then, I returned to the UK and my wife told me I should start sailing again and bought me a Laser dinghy and we joined Bosham Sailing Club near Chichester in West Sussex. This was followed by a Laser 16, which was large enough to take the children. Soon, however, we needed more space and we bought a Sigma 362, a fabulous boat which I sailed back from Plymouth to Bosham, solo.”
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