Sport & Recreation
Folkestone yacht and motorboat club
The Folkestone Yacht and Motorboat Club is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the summer of 2023, but there has been a club for yachting for over 90 years in Folkestone. It’s a thriving hub of seafarers. The club has moorings in the Harbour at Folkestone for yachts and motorboats but it also has space for paddleboards and kayaks at its North Street boat park. There’s also a Sub Aqua section for divers and areas for refilling diving members’ cylinders with air or NITROX. Commodore Ron Shucksmith talked to Folkelife about the club.
“I can remember coming to the pier here in Folkestone and fishing as a boy and then my interest in boats grew. I’ve always loved fast boats so I’m part of the motorboat side of the club. We all support each other here though as we love the sport and mainly want to see people get out on the water. There are 36 moorings in the outer harbour for yachts which range from around 21 to 28ft long. That’s the sort of boat you could get between 4 and 6 people on, so it’s good for a family or for a group of friends to get out together. In the inner harbour, which is behind the viaduct, that’s where we keep the motorboats.”
“What’s important to know about Folkestone is that we’re tidal so at low tide we dry out completely. This means that your boat has to have a bilge keel which look like two feet on the bottom of the boat. Your boat won’t fall over when there’s no water in the harbour this way. Sailing times range between 3 to 4 hours either side of the high tide time, but we’re here to help you work out when’s best to get out on the sea.
“We feel it’s important as a club to share the wealth of knowledge we have here with our members, new and old. There are useful tips to know about the harbour and the waters around Folkestone. When to go out, how far to go, how different tides like Spring and Neap tides affect getting in and out of the harbour and so on. If you’ve got a motorboat like me, you’ll learn that you can get out under the viaduct one end, but need to come in the other end due to the tide and how much water you have underneath your boat. Being part of the club means that there’s always someone around to help advise if you need it.
“Likewise in winter; we take the yachts out of the harbour in the last week in October, and put them back on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) every year. This gives time for general maintenance to be done in the boat yard. It also protects the boats from being bashed around by the winter weather. Once you get a boat, it’s really hard not to tinker so there will also be people around who can help with advice on things that need fixing.”
“The Folkestone Yacht and Motorboat Club is affiliated with the RYA (Royal Yachting Association) which means that we can link people up with training if they need it. The 501 Divers are all members of BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) which they have to be to keep up with regulations and training for diving. We also have close links to the Folkestone Sea Sports and Folkestone Rescue. They do a great job at keeping people safe and need to know who’s out on the water, so it’s good to work together.
“Over the past couple of years we’ve welcomed paddleboarders to the club too. We’ve got shower facilities here and a place to store your board. The boards are inflatable and I guess you’d just deflate it when you got home, but storing it here means you don’t have to do that. Two of our members are instructors at the Sea Sports centre – one for paddleboards and the other as a powerboat instruction. Again, it’s about spreading that knowledge and advice should you need it. We’re also building up more storage space for kayaks and these two sports are popular with people living in the town.”
“The 501 Divers are an elite breed. It takes something to dive in the English Channel as the visibility at times can be very poor. Also, the tides restrict the amount of time you can be under the water. I would say that our divers are among the best in the world. The concentration of wrecks in the Channel is huge, and our guys have the expertise needed to work in these conditions.
“Whenever you go out, whether it’s for diving, fishing or just for a jolly, you get to see the most wonderful array of wildlife. It’s not unusual to see porpoises, dophins and seals. The other day there was a humpback whale around and one of our divers came rather close to it. I love watching the birds too and you can see gannets, cormorants, turnstones… there’s a kingfisher that lives in the inner harbour too.”
“Once you’re afloat you can be out on the sea for about 4 to 5 hours at a time. There are particular places that people like to go, depending on what they’re doing. Some people like exploring the wrecks and the divers know a lot about those in the area. Others, like me,go out to do a bit of fishing. You can catch all sorts of things such as dogfish, whiting, conger eels, plaice, a few thornback rays… We’re really conscious, as a club, to the diminishing fish stocks around so many of us catch and then release the fish back into the sea.
“In a motorboat you can get out to about the Varne Bank which is around 9 miles south-west of Dover. It’s a fairly safe area to be because it’s quite shallow and the bigger tankers you see coming through don’t go along that bit. Some of the yachting crews have international licenses so pop over to France for a nice picnic. They make a day of it with three or four of them going off together. It’s rather a nice day out!”
“We have a few members who are part of the Cross-Channel Swimming Association. Our guys skipper the boats that accompany the swimmers. You have to have someone who knows the water and the conditions so that they’re in charge when you’re out on the water.
“Another skipper runs the Folkestone Voyager which you can charter through Folkestone Boat Charters and do trips around the bay, fishing or sight-seeing. He’s the only one who runs these so it’s rather a treat to go out if you haven’t got your own boat.”
“We get involved with the community events such as the Trawler Race which is a lot of fun. In 2023 we’ll be introducing a paddleboard race for the first time during the Trawler Race weekend on 5th and 6th August 2023. Anyone can enter, whether you’re a member here or not. You can find application forms on the Trawler Race Facebook Page.
“That weekend, we’ll also have a sea safety event happening along The Stade. The National Coastwatch Institution, Folkestone Yacht and Motorboat Club, RNLI, Kent Fire and Rescue and a lot of others will be available to help everyone understand the importance of being safe in and around the sea. There will be demonstrations, activities and lots to see and do.”
“We’ve always been a family-based club and I think our youngest member is around 9 or 10 years old, and we go all the way up to 80 or 90 years old! It’s a place where we share knowledge and support each other to be safe on the sea and have fun.
“We work with the National Coastwatch Institution at their Folkestone base, the Lions Club and the Rotary Club of Folkestone and other groups hold their meetings here at the club too. Everyone who lives here has a love and respect for the sea, so we’re ready to welcome new members who want to see what motorboating, yachting, diving, paddleboarding and kayaking is all about.”