Torture for Torquay sailors
The action was taken at very short notice, by the local authority following a structural engineer's report to the Health and Safety Executive which highlighted many problems with the slipways, which were built for the D-Day landing preparations in 1944 and were intended to have a very short life.
Fifty-seven years later the slipways have been heavily used for launching an increasing number of powerboats, dinghies, tenders and rowing boats. In the late 1990s English Heritage started a programme of identifying structures of importance to 20th century history. Due to the slipways' role in the D-Day landings English Heritage listed them as Grade 2 structures, which restricted future development and led to the structural report.
It is not now possible to launch a dinghy in Torquay and the dinghy and rowing programmes of the Royal Torbay YC and Torquay Rowing Club have been put on hold. A number of businesses on Beacon Quay who are dependent on the slipways, including two sailing schools, are now very concerned about their future.
The RTYC has held well in excess of 100 dinghy national championships in the 70s 80s and 90s and most dinghy sailors will have taken part in an event in Torquay launching down the slipways. The 2001 programme for the RTYC is very full with the Cadet and Albacore Nationals plus a GUL RS Racing Circuit event. Roger Porteous, secretary of the RTYC was pleased to say that these events will be going ahead. "The Council has been helpful with regard to these events; we will be able to launch and store the boats on Torre Abbey Sands, the main beach in Torquay. The Council is supplying a marquee, water supply and security to help these events go ahead."
There are immediate plans to build a small slipway onto pontoons to allow small numbers of dinghies to launch into the harbour within the next month. "This will allow our normal dinghy racing to resume and for our many casual visitors to be able to sail. It will soon be service as normal," stressed Porteous.
Many people who have visited Torquay Harbour recently will be well aware that the whole area of Beacon Quay and the Outer Harbour needs re-developing. The site of the former Coral Island Leisure Centre is a major eyesore and does nothing to attract visitors to the area. News of the closure of the slipways came at the same time that a revision order had been placed on the Outer Harbour. This week the good news came through that the Department of the Environment had approved plans to develop the area, which will now start this autumn.
Many of those involved in sailing in Torquay have been well aware of developments taking place at the former Portland Naval Base in Weymouth and the Mountbatten Centre in Plymouth. These centres are able to provide much better facilities than exist in Torquay and there is already a drift of events away from the town. If the Torquay Council gets the proposed re-development of the Harbour right and actively helps to attract events to Torquay then perhaps this trend can be reversed.
Many sailing clubs use public owned slipways; the experience of the RTYC should send a warning to them all. Perhaps it's time to talk to the local councils concerned and ensure that plans are in place to maintain the slipways and that a contingency plan exists if the slipways are closed.
Anyone who would like to have more details about events in Torquay or when general dinghy sailing in Torquay will resume should contact Roger Porteous during normal office hours at the RTYC on 01803 292006 or send him an email.