Racing has taken place in the Port of Falmouth for centuries at regattas and local events, and many boats involved then are still sailing today. By the early 1980s gaffers and Falmouth Working Boats were racing regularly from Mylor and Flushing Clubs and the Cornwall Old Gaffers Association (OGA) was holding its own races. Boats were going to Dartmouth for the OGA annual area race, or crossing the Channel to the events being held in France, especially in Douarnenez. Those returning from these events were full of enthusiasm, and along with the encouragement of the then Mayor of Falmouth, Ron Hicks, a small festival was held in Falmouth in 1987. Such was the success of the event that a similar event was held the next year with 80 boats.
With movements afoot to enhance and develop Falmouth Week, a Falmouth Classics Committee was formed by some dozen enthusiasts under the chairmanship of Mike Rangecroft. The majority of this committee owned or crewed in classics boats or were involved in the maritime Industry. Having drawn inspiration from the French events they brought a unique Falmouth ingredient to the classics rally. To be held the day before Falmouth week, it was to be a standalone event, though sharing in the facilities and support of Falmouth Week, a partnership that was to continue for many years.
The 1989 event took place in very little wind with 105 boats in 11 classes. Prize giving took place in a marquee on Greenbank Quay with a fireworks display in the evening. The following year the event was extended to 3 days and a format established that has continued more or less to this day. Reduced berthing fees were offered to encourage visitors. Friday evening would be a reception evening and briefing, for crews to meet, pick up their race instructions, purchase clothing, posters, programmes and other items for sale. Impromptu singing often sprang up as the more “musical” crews brought their instruments along.
Saturday was Race Day when Carrick Roads and the Bay would be full of sails, of all types and colours. After a day on the water, competitors returned to the marquee for tea, at which, a local brass band provided accompaniment. A Pasty Dance was held in the evening and was always well supported. The highlight of the evening was a visit from the Falmouth Marine Band several of whom were on the Committee. As Falmouth Carnival had been held earlier in the evening they were resplendent in their latest uniform, and their antics and singing have always been greatly appreciated by visitors and locals alike. The evening was rounded off by firework display set to music.
A Parade of Sail was held on Sunday, from Flushing heading for a barbecue at St Mawes. Always a little bit haphazard, but enabled those ashore to see some of the craft. Gig racing, both rowing and sail became an established event for several years. The pilot gigs Royal and Fear Not sailed against each other. Fear Not of Devoran still sails in the event. Evening entertainment in the early years was a singsong with the Cadgwith Singers.
After several years at the Greenbank, the venue moved to the area which is now the Events Square. Many will have fond memories of the old marquee with high poles, and guy ropes to catch the unwary. Hopping and bopping on the rough ground with puddles all added to the atmosphere. With more space a barn dance was held on the Sunday. Another sell out, with adults dancing around and small children and dogs weaving in and out. Visits from the Carnkie Cloggers and Morrismen made it a truly Celtic Evening. This theme was continued when the Events Square was ultimately built with concerts by the Treverva Choir and local bands, and was continued when the venue was moved to the marquee at the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club.
Numbers over the years grew rapidly and by 1995 there were over 300 boats entered in some 20 classes
Numbers over the years grew rapidly and by 1995 there were over 300 boats entered in some 20 classes. Boats were of all shapes, sizes and rigs, from 12’ dinghies to a 100’ Brixham trawler. Gaffers and luggers taking their place alongside sleeker bermudans. Many had a working history behind them, others are of more recent build, though along traditional lines. Several had many miles under their belt. The Quay punt Curlew, now donated to the Maritime Museum, was sailed to South Georgia by her owners Tim and Pauline Carr. On her return they entered the Classics and were overall winners. Hirta, owned by Tom Cunliffe, sailed around the British Isles with John McCarthy (who had been hostage in Bosnia) and Sandi Toksvig, arriving in time for them to present the prizes. Lin and Larry Pardy, yachting journalists had sailed their Taleisin across the Atlantic. Local racing fleets such as Sunbeams and Working Boats and some of the older dinghy classes all graced the water with pilot cutters, and luggers while traditional bermudans such as Folkboats, South Coast One Designs and Vertues sail alongside their larger sisters such as Lutine, St Kitts III, Charm of Rhu and Cerinthe.
More modern craft built on traditional lines were represented by Shrimpers, Cornish Crabbers, Toshers and Marieholms regularly raced, while the Heard 28’s built with a cabin enjoyed close competition. The diversity of craft was immense but they were all Classics in their own right and their owners were coming to Falmouth to meet old friends make new ones and enjoy the atmosphere of being amongst these lovely boats.
Racing was keen, sailing instructions simple and there were no handicaps. (confusing to some). The Committee boat crews were drawn from various clubs and interested parties, and committee boats were loaned by their very generous owners. Amongst the boats used were Morlanow, owned by Peter Grigg of Mylor, Hardiessse the local sail training boat, Brian Pope’s Whitbread, and the motor boat owned by Pete Townesend of the Who. Andy and Julie Scantlebury (Radio Cornwall) lent their lugger I.R.I.S, complete with their cat which was adept at climbing the rigging. In recent years Andrew Pool with Sweet Briar and Neil Hopkins with Buccaneer Charlie have been Committee Boats. Identification of craft was not easy and often caused delays or anomalies with results, which were all calculated by hand in the early years. A small numbered canvas banner for each boat was made by Tina Rangecroft, later to be replaced by numbered boards and flying of a class flag, it still causes confusion, but if entering into the spirit of the event then it is taking part that matters and everyone one is a winner. There are memories of hot sunny days with little or no wind, though some were very wet or windy, limiting racing to larger boats and then in the Roads. One year fog set in and no one is total sure if those boats seen to finish even managed to complete the given course. But whatever the weather, just being part of it was enough.
Prizegivings were always important and amongst the notable prizegivers have been Rodney Bewes (Likely Lads) Sir Robin Knox Johnson , Rear Admiral Robert Woodard (ex HMS Britannia) BBC War Correspondent Mark Laity, Tom Cunliffe, John McCarthy and Sandi Toxvig and Lord Shawcross. Captain Chris Banks also did the honours when the bark Endeavour was in Falmouth on her UK tour. All classes had appropriate trophies donated by local companies, and varied from cups, tankards, pictures models to some very odd bits of wood! To add to the enjoyment of the occasion special prizes were presented e.g. the youngest crew, most dogs on board, most musical boat, boat having a “special birthday”, best fancy dress, most welcome boat, and the “biggest blunder”.
For many years a feeder race was run on Friday from Fowey. Boats could attend Plymouth Classics, move on to Fowey ending up at Falmouth. Probably the most successful competitor in this was the then harbour master of Fowey, Mike Sutherland, who raced his 16’ Troy, Aquamarine, and gained line honours against some much larger boats including Eric Tabarlay in PenDuick. Mike went on to win his class, though the return trip was much harder.
1995 Aiden de la Mare introduced classic motors boats, which had a time trial around the outside of the racing area. Speed was rarely more than 3 or 4 knots. There appeared to be little conflict between motor and sail, just a few deviations of course.
In 1992 one of the most popular events was born. THE SEAGULL RACE, ably organised by Vic Wardale. All one needed was “a Seagull outboard motor and something to attach it to that floated”. 6 turned up the first year, increasing to 15 or more.
Rules were simple – start – if your engine feels like it – motor round a given course and reach the finish line
Rules were simple – start – if your engine feels like it – motor round a given course and reach the finish line normally in the Custom House basin. However the rules did not detail devious plots, devastation of the opposition, water/soot bombs and other foul deeds. If your engine didn’t start just get out the bucket and wait for the others to come round. Some inferior outboards were cleverly disguised as Seagulls, or so they thought. Eventually the supply of outboards dried up and the event ceased – unless you know better!
By 1999 the OGA were holding their annual race on Sunday as well as racing on Saturday.
Links with France were established from the beginning and for several years there was a feeder race from Douarnenez. One year there were 2 Belgium, 1 German, 1 Dutch and 16 French entrants. In 2000 the event was tied in with the Coupe des Trois Phares a race from Falmouth – Douarnenez- La Rochelle, a race in a series to encourage the preservation of classic yachts rather than boats that have worked. Although Falmouth boats attended the Festivals in France, the optimistic comment by Yves Perrot on departure that “next year he hoped to bring 40 boats,” did not materialise, and the number of boats from Brittany dwindled. Relationships have been rekindled and a growing number are returning to enjoy our event.
During the early 2000s, the original committee was reduced to one or two stalwarts, who were still organising a limited social side. It was time for the Classics to move on and the race management side was taken over by Port of Falmouth Sailing Association (PoFSA) .The venue was moved to the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club where PoFSA was based. The RCYC eventually took over running the event. When based there and earlier at the Greenbank, boats would come in and sit on the beach giving a very nostalgic atmosphere.
Entry numbers were gradually dropping off and enthusiasm for the event was waning. It had become a one day event tagged onto the beginning of Falmouth week. A meeting was called to look at the future of Falmouth Classics. It was acknowledged that something needed to be done. A three day event was considered, which would encourage boats to cruise down and make their stay worthwhile. The Racing calendar for the Port was already very full for 2013, however the only weekend that had no specific racing was the weekend of the RNLI Shanty Festival. It was obviously meant to be and after discussion with the Shanty Festival Committee this date was chosen for Falmouth Classics. The format of a briefing, reception, dinner, and Parade of Sail with prize giving was planned with racing on three days. Heavy weather dogged the first year, though many boats revelled in it. Building on this success the committee planned the next year, adding free berthing at the Yacht Haven. Numbers were increasing again, as visitors and locals came to enjoy the fun and camaraderie that has been such an important element throughout the Classics events.
Sue Treneer, 2015