The association of Portrush with sailing the sea has a long history. lt certainly goes back to the Viking era, as the name of the line of islets to the northeast of the town - the Skerries - eloquently testifies. But it wasn't until Portrush began to develop its modern character as a holiday town that boating and sailing for fun became part of the summer scene.
This 'new' phase began in the Victorian era, when sailing and rowing races for locals and visitors alike brought new vitality to the harbour era. Portrush Sailing Club reckoned to date from the regattas of the 1860s and 1870s, and by the early years of the 20th Century the club was thriving.
Its character developed further during the 1930's when boats of the Jewel class were brought in from Belfast Lough to provide One Design racing. As well, there was a handicap class, of which the most famous member was the sloop Kitty of Coleraine. Not only was she a successful racer, but as well while sailing one evening she inspired songwriter Jimmy Kennedy to sit down in the Carrig-na-Cule hotel in nearby Portstewart and write Red Sails in the Sunset - that such a famous song was inspired by a little yacht which was in turn named after a famous local song made it all doubly historic, and Kitty of Coleraine is now preserved in the Transport Museum in Belfast.
After World War II
Meanwhile back in Coleraine after World War II the activities of Portrush Sailing Club reflected the new interest in dinghies, and this reached a most unusual peak after the Flying Dutchman had been selected to be the Olympic dinghy - some members of PSC built themselves three Flying Dutchmen, and for some years these exotic craft were a feature of the north coast, blithely sailing over to Lough Foyle for the Donegal regattas at The Club, by now re-named Portrush Yacht Club, was also into other classes such as Fireballs, Scorpions and GP 14s, but by the beginning of the 1970s decline had set in. Partially this was caused by the growth of facilities at nearby Coleraine. But as well the life of any harbour goes through cyclical phases, and for various reasons the 1970s were a quiet phase for recreational boating in Portrush.
Portrush Yacht Club's revival
This meant that by 1979 the club was barely in existence, with only six registered members, Yet, only six years later it had undergone a phenomenal revival, with nearly four hundred members and a splendid new clubhouse strategically located right, beside the harbour.
The man who got it all moving again was diving enthusiast Alan Wilson. Until around 1968 he'd run a sub aqua club in Belfast, but shell he moved to Portrush and found, as have so many others, that the north coast is a diver's paradise. The development of this was enough to take up most of his spare time energies throughout the 1970s but by 1979 he got to thinking about the development of Portrush harbour in its totality for all aspects of waterborne sport, and he reckoned that the first move would be to revive Portrush Yacht Club as a headquarter for all the boat users of the harbour.
So one summer evening he simply went around the harbour area collecting a fiver from everyone he knew who might be interested, and one of those was Arthur Loughrey, who hailed from Coleraine but had settled in Portrush and was interested in a general way in all aspects of boating. In Arthur, Alan found a kindred spirit, and the two of them made a formidable team. No obstacle was too great to be overcome in the revival of Portrush as a major boating centre, and heaven help anyone who got in the way.
Soon the show was on the road with a Portakabin acquired at a Very knockdown price to serve as a clubhouse. This was all very well, but Alan states bluntly that until they'd managed to get a bar licence, things weren't really moving. Once the bar was in, however, they made hay, thought it wasn't without some nerve-racking moments - one midwinter night, they scheduled a vast fund-raising gala dance, But it snowed and snowed and snowed - very unusual for Portrush. The loss could have been enormous, but all involved agreed to try again a week later, and it was one of the most successful happenings ever seen in the town.
Club House Image from 2009
Club House Image from 2014
Things then began to move their way. The harbour was given a major face-lift, and with restoration and dredging, the mooring situation improved out of all recognition to give berthing for 130 boats of all sixes.
The boats began to come, and soon the rapidly expanding PYC team began to think of a larger permanent home, They had their eye on a roomy old warehouse on the quayside. Once they'd their eye on something, thanks to the help of Coleraine Borough Council it was only a question of time before they had it, and in April 1985 Portrush Yacht Club moved into a superb building, the total renovation of the premises having been designed by architect Noel Campbell (a former Commodore of Coleraine Yacht Club), incidentally), the work having been carried out by contractors Tom Dallat.
Recounted like that, it all seems a straightfoward business happening remarkably quickly. There is of course even more to it than meets the eye. Portrush Yacht Club in 1985 is a remarkable tribute to enthusiasm, sheer hard work, and delight in boats of all sort - one of the reasons it could grow so healthily was that an active programme afloat was always as central to the club's expansion.