Upware Boat Club – A short history

In the beginning

It all began, as many things do, in a pub! Several moorers at Upware Marina (which itself had only been established a few years earlier) used to meet regularly at weekends in the Five Miles Public House conveniently situated next to the Marina, and decided it would be a good idea to form a Boat Club, as the nearest existing clubs were some distance away at Cambridge and Denver.

It was November 1985, and a meeting was held in the Five Miles to discuss the project with all those crews interested. The result was a Committee being voted in and a Constitution approved. Thus the “Upware Boat Club” was launched. At the helm were its founder members Sid Fisher and Maureen Taylor. Sid became the First Commodore and is still active as the Club’s Life President. Maureen became the General Secretary and the driving force behind the Club, but she has long since given up boating. The only criterion to being a member was simple – you had to have a boat!

A Commodore’s Welcome in March 1986 in the Five Miles Pub became the Club’s first function. Following on was a programme of events including a Regatta and Laying Up Supper, with various cruises around the Great Ouse and its tributaries in between. During the early years this became a successful formula and through word of mouth many crews interested in active boating came from far and wide to moor at Upware and “join the club”. Membership peaked in 1989 with 49 member boats, 48 of whom moored within Upware Marina.

The Laying up Supper and the Regatta, with Boat Handling and keenly contested Boat Dressing competitions, became the main events. Also featured at the Regatta was the Club’s first asset, an old oil drum converted into a B.B.Q.! A marquee was hired from the local scout group, Francis Pope (a local farmer) loaned us a trailer of straw bales which were adapted as seating and tables, and it all took place in the gardens of the Five Miles, with the pub providing a mobile bar. The Laying Up Supper was more of a party and took place in Wicken Village Hall, with party hats, a balloon net, pea shooters, a paper plane aeronautical display and anything else we could think of. An amazing 114 people attended our fourth laying up supper which remains a record. It is worthy of note that the Caterers whom Sid Fisher introduced still provide the catering at the Laying Up Supper.

The Middle Years

As the stature and reputation of the Club grew, so did links with the other boat clubs on the Fens.
These associations flourished particularly with Cambridge, Denver and the Pike & Eel, and these links are as strong today as they have ever been, producing great friendly rivalries during inter-club activities. None of these more so than an epic tug-of-war at the Pike & Eel Regatta in 1998 when, level at one tug each, the third and final tug lasted nearly ten minutes
before Upware finally triumphed!

An essential pillar of club life has always been the Newsletter and this reflects the huge change in society over the past quarter century. Initially produced as typed and stencilled, during this middle period it became more complex as cut and paste … literally, with scissors and glue, to its now computer generated format with colour photographs. It is no longer copied and posted to members in printed form, but accessed via the club website. The club’s website itself was set up by Committee Member Dave Foster in 1999, making Upware Boat Club the first motorboat club on the Fens to sign up to the electronic age.

In spite of not having a club house, aspirations were high right from the start and now, during this middle period, the annual list of events had expanded and become far more organised, with themed events; a sports day (the egg and spoon race being the equivalent of the 100 metres sprint, to give you
the idea). One of the highlights was an annual cruise into “The Wash” (weather permitting – when the sea-going boats would take the river-based crews, who conversely would take the seagoing crews when on the narrow/shallow areas of the river system) and of course there were the ever popular visits to various riverside towns, villages and pubs. All this resulted in a total of some 12 organised events a year! At this time a number of crews had young children, and a “Youth Development Fund” was set up to encourage the youngsters to attend courses with a view to improving their boating skills and safety. Although dormant of late, this fund still exists and awaits members with families to enjoy the training opportunities it is able to offer.

Also at this time the Club adopted as its theme tune “Living next door to Alice” by Smokie, but it became more appropriately known as “Living next door to Upware”, or after Closing Time: Upware, Upware, where the **** is Upware!! This song is still sung with great gusto at club events.

By this time the club B.B.Q, whilst still homemade, had become more sophisticated and was now stainless steel with adjustable cooking shelves, WOW !! A number of other mobile assets had been added to the club’s equipment, including a hi-fi system, a flag pole, which was erected wherever “The Upware Boat Club’s clubhouse” happened to be, and most notably a marquee, which ensured that club functions were no longer at the mercy of the weather. The marquee was rather cumbersome, but stored and transported by road to the various club functions (and still is) by former Commodore Gary Hartwig, to whom the Club owes a huge debt of gratitude.

A “Winter Cruise” was introduced in February 1998 organised by former Commodores John Dodsworth and Bob Wells. The first was a weekend ferry cruise from Harwich to Hamburg. It has since become more land based, with long weekends booked at various hotels and holiday camps around the East and South Coasts, although the occasional sea trip, such as to Bruges, still takes place. It continues to be on the events list during February each year and is well attended.

During the early 2000’s although the Club still maintained a healthy and active membership it went through a bit of a lull. Enthusiasm for the Boat Dressing and for events with Fancy Dress opportunities was in decline and was replaced by a more sedate atmosphere, possibly fuelled by the recession at the time. There was even difficulty finding anyone prepared to take on the role of Commodore; however Philip Baker took over the reins 2002 and 2003, steering the Club through this difficult period and giving it the new lease of life which it enjoys to this day.

The Later Years

A few of our members have left for pastures anew on the Broads (and even the Thames), but they have maintained their membership and kept in touch via the Newsletter. They even occasionally turn up at functions – by road ! There has been a resurgence of interest in Fancy Dress at themed events and an “illuminated boats” display at the Regatta has replaced the boat dressing competition. New burgees have been designed and there is a range of clothing available bearing the club’s badge with your own logo added if desired. Even a club tie has been introduced.

Members come and members go, but the Club is as prolific and active now as it has ever been with a current membership of around 40 boats and healthy attendances at all events. On most weekends you will see a group of Upware Boat Club members somewhere on the river.

Generally Speaking

Competitions require prizes, and over the years successive members have very generously donated a range of trophies which are presented annually. Today members compete for eleven awards covering success in a wide variety of activities, however, at the start there were only two: one awarded to the winner of the Boat Handling Competition and the other to the person considered to have made the most significant contribution to the life of the club and these really summarise what Upware Boat Club is all about.

Upware Boat Club was and remains unique on the Fens Waterways in that it has no permanent base, no club house, land, or any valuable fixed assets. All its gatherings were, and still are, held out and about on the river; the Cam, Old West, Great Ouse and its tributaries. Upware Boat Club’s base is wherever members want it to be on any chosen date.

Having no fixed assets means the membership fee is low and effectively only provides a working “float” to fund any advance expenses on the events. In the early days of the club any money remaining at the end of the year was spent on the Laying up Supper. In some years this enabled some very extravagant events indeed. Unfortunately this is no longer done, as the Club needs to maintain a working bank balance to replace/ repair its mobile assets. Over the years at various club events members have provided generators, gazebos and a variety of other equipment, which typifies the spirit of the Club and its members.

Statistically Speaking

Only two original crews remain from the Club’s inception, only two member boats still moor in Upware Marina (others mooring at Tiptree, Ely, Denver, etc.). There have been 16 Commodores, 10 of whom are still members, and there has been only two lady Commodores, Peggy Drage in 1992/3 and Jane Read in 2018 /19.

In conclusion

Well, a short article hardly enables more than a snapshot of a club such as UBC. However, those of you who have met us out and about on the river know that we are committed boaters who know how to have a good time.

What of the future? Who knows, but if the next 25 years is as good as the last 25 years then current and future members have a lot to look forward to!!

Co-Authored by Sid Fisher (Warrior), President of UBC and “Dick” Dickinson (Blues Legend)
Edited by Philip Baker (Aquila), Secretary of UBC