The Duke of Connaught, our first Commodore, was largely responsible for obtaining the Admiralty Warrant from his mother, Queen Victoria. This means that Royal Cinque Ports is one of just 29 yacht clubs in the United Kingdom permitted to fly the undefaced Blue Ensign. Members of the club must apply for permission to do so and once granted, protocol dictates that the Blue Ensign must only be flown along with the club’s own burgee, or flag.
A frequent patron of the club in those exciting early years was the then Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. He had been bitten by the sailing bug and invested in a series of ever-more impressive sailing vessels, which culminated in having Britannia built in 1893. He often raced from our club, whilst his mother, Queen Victoria, gave trophies to be contested at our regatta. Britannia, sometimes with His Royal Highness on board, used to race against similarly impressive boats in a series of events around Britain, with Dover and the Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club featuring prominently as one of the highlights in the racing calendar. What a sight it must have been to behold these 200-tonne cutters doing battle in the English Channel!
In 1893, at the RCPYC regatta, Britannia beat Valkyrie a boat built specifically to contest the America’s Cup, the blue riband event of all yacht racing. The Prince collected the Commodore’s Cup for his victory, which was slightly tempered by the fact that the two boats and another called the Vendetta all collided on the way back to port and had to be towed back to Dover. A newspaper report of the time stated: “When the impact occurred, many of the persons on the decks of the vessels were precipitated into the water, but they were all rescued.”
Among those to have visited the club in its formative years were Capt. Matthew Webb, who had a reception held in his honour in 1875 for becoming the first person to swim the English Channel, and Paul Boyton, who is renowned for crossing the same stretch of water with the aid of a somewhat bizarre patented rubber lifesaving suit, an achievement, while perhaps not as impressive as Capt. Webb’s, is said to have “caused the wildest excitement over all the world”.
The club’s President is the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, the post held by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother until her death in 2002. Former holders include the Duke of Wellington, Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, and Sir Winston Churchill. The current Lord Warden, Admiral the Lord Boyce, KG, GCB, OBE, DL, was installed in 2005, and is a great friend and supporter of our club. On St. George’s Day 2011, Her Majesty the Queen created him Knight of the Garter, an award granted to only 23 persons outside the Royal Family.
As for the club’s name? The “Confederation of The Cinque Ports and Ancient Towns” was founded in 1050 by Edward the Confessor. Dover is one of the Cinque Ports, and provided ships and men for the defence of the country, in consideration of which they were granted certain privileges, particularly in regard to taxation. Cinque derives from the Norman French for five and is pronounced “sink” not “sank”.
The club’s original premises were destroyed by fire in 1940. A seemingly disastrous occurrence at the time, it did lead to our moving to our present outstanding harbour-front location after the Second World War at the invitation of the then owners, an exclusive businessmen’s club known as the Dover Club.