Our History

Years of Service from 1910 to 2010

The history of Mombasa Yacht Club must be told in the context of the history of Mombasa itself since the club's foundation and development were the results of events taking place in Mombasa and, indeed, Kenya as a whole. In particular, the Club's history has been closely tied to the development of the port of Mombasa and the nature of the various Port users over the years.

Mombasa has for centuries been one of the major trading centres on the East African coast since the natural harbour formed by the deep waters around Mombasa Island provides one of the few safe anchorages on an otherwise inhospitable coast.

The original development of Mombasa town with its Arab / Swahili culture, now known as the Old Town, took place on the north side of the island and, following the visit of the explorer Vasco Da Gama in 1498, the Portuguese built Fort Jesus, completed nearly a century later, on its seaward side to protect the entrance to what is now known as the Old Port.

The history of Mombasa with its tales of conflicts between Portuguese, Arabs and local tribes makes fascinating reading but in the latter half of the nineteenth centre a more general European presence began to be felt and by 1895 although nominally Mombasa still belonged to the Sultanate of Zanzibar it was de facto a part of British East Africa. British warships present in the area largely in an effort to control the slave trade to the Arab world charted the sea around Mombasa and the Officers of these ships, Midshipman E. O. Tudor and Lieutenant J. J. Reitz have given their names to the waters on the north and south of the island respectively.

At that time Uganda was seen by the British as the jewel in the East African crown and it was decided that, to provide reliable access to Uganda from the Coast a railway line should be built from Mombasa to Lake Victoria.

It was immediately found to be impossible to import the material for the construction of this line through the narrow streets of Old Town lying behind the Old Port and a new Port, Kilindini, was thus developed on the south side of the island which provided the easier ship to shore transfer which was required.

The business provided by the railway resulted in a great expansion of Mombasa and in the period immediately following the turn of the Century the two major European Clubs, the Mombasa Club and the Mombasa Sports Club were formed to provide for the needs of the mostly male, European businesspeople and colonial administrators stationed in Mombasa.

THE FORMATION OF THE CLUB 1910

Pleasure sailing had become popular among the upper classes in Britain during the Victorian era and, given the mostly steady winds and warm seas of East Africa together with the presence of visiting Naval and commercial vessels, whose officers would all have been trained under sail, it was a popular pastime in Mombasa.

Races between yachts equally inevitably followed and records exist of ad hoc races being held in 1906 and 1907 between

"Mbuni" Mr H.C.E.B Barnes
"Charlotte Jackson" Judge A.T. Bonham - Carter
"Mdudu" Mr W.H. Tanner
"Noma" Judge R.W. Hamilton
with occasional participation by Public Works Department boats.

In March 1908 the first Kipevu race was contested between
" Kagee" Bonham-Carter, "Mbuni" Winkler, "Seagull" Lemm, "Agnes" Rayne, "Ubique" Ford, "Noma" Hamilton
"Falcon Aarup, "Inhalanzi" Sykes
and in September of that year the second Kipevu race was sailed by no less than eleven boats, the winner being Judge Bonham-Carter.

Several races for trophies donated by visiting Royal Naval and other vessels followed in 1909 by which time it was obviously becoming clear to those concerned that racing should be placed on a more organised footing and, accordingly, at a meeting on the 18th April 1910, the Mombasa Yacht Club was formed, the following officers being elected: Commodore Judge A.T. Bonham-Carter, Vice Commodore Judge R.W. Hamilton, Secretary Mr. W.S. Wright, Treasurer Mr. A. Lemm.

Judge A.T.Bonham-Carter was a High Court Judge and Judge R.W. Hamilton was no less than the Chief Justice of British East Africa and it may seem strange to a reader in the twenty-first century that such senior Judicial officers should be resident in Mombasa. It should, however, be remembered that at that time the Government of British East Africa was based in Old Kilindini house located behind the present Mission to Seamen building and that its Law Courts were located near Fort Jesus. It was not until 1923 that the government of what then became the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya was moved to Nairobi. At the time of the formation of the Club, there were forty-seven members, including two ladies, but only nine Members actually owned boats.

EARLY DAYS - 1910 to 1918

Once the Club had been formally constituted a search was made for a suitable piece of land on which a Club House could be built. Possibly using the influence of the high powered Flag Officers of the Club, the Uganda Railway was persuaded to make available a Plot at Ras Kilindini for a nominal annual rent of one Rupee and a small wooden Clubhouse on brick piers with a shaded verandah was constructed. at the same time, the Club obtained permission to moor the boats belonging to its Members in Mbaraki Creek since the beach and water in front of the Club House was the main operational area of the Port and the mooring of boats there was clearly unacceptable to the Uganda Railway management.

Having the Club House located a considerable distance away from the boat moorings must have caused considerable inconveniences to Members but this became the least of the Club's worries shortly thereafter when the Club's lease was terminated in order that the first real pier for the discharge of cargo from lighters could be constructed in that area.

There followed another search for a location for a replacement Club House and eventually, in September 1913, a suitable plot was leased at Mtongwe on the south mainland. While this site had a splendid view of Kilindini Harbour it again had the disadvantage of being separated from the boat moorings in Mbaraki Creek on the Island, so that Members, who must all have been based on the island, were required to sail between the Creek and Club House before and after the racing.
No records exist of the types of boats then owned by Club Members or other Organisations which took part in the Club's activities but it may be assumed that these were relatively heavy, timber builds open or half decked boats with a mainsail and jib, gaff-rigged and of different detailed design and sizes. There is no record of how handicaps were calculated for this mixed fleet in order that competition between them could be made equitable but no doubt a gentlemanly consensus on how this should be done was established and accepted.

 

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