Created: 04 Apr 2015 11:08
Updated: 06 Apr 2015 00:10

After two years at the helm, Peter Newbury handed control of the Little Ship Club wheel to our new Commodore; Michael Forbes Smith at the AGM on 10 March 2015. To find out more about him and his plans for the Club, Charli Hadden went to investigate.

CH: For many, you are a familiar face around the Club, but perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your sailing history?

MFS: I began sailing in the army, in the 1970s in Northern Ireland – my first coastal skipper course was in Lisburn in 1978, long before GPS appeared!  After joining the Diplomatic Service on my long leave from Ethiopia in 1981, I took part in Cowes week and the Fastnet, but thereafter my foreign postings took me further and further from the sea until I took early retirement in 2004. In 2006 I bought my first boat, a 19 foot Hunter Legend 'Highland Magic' and kept her at the Royal Findhorn Yacht Club in Morayshire until November 2008 when I trailed her down to Chichester Harbour. In 2008 I also helped sail the boat I now co-own, a 1986 Gib’sea 34 'Dream of Osprey', from Greece to Croatia. My first big adventure with the Little Ship Club was chartering 'Tripikata', a Dufour 36, for our 2009 Rally to Mallorca.  I have since chartered boats for the Club’s rallies to Maine (2010); South Brittany and Desolation Sound off Canada’s west coast (2011); Turkey (2012); the River Lot river cruise in France and the Northern Dalmatia rally in Croatia (which I organized, sailing my own boat) in 2013; the Scottish Rally (a three week odyssey) in 2014; and both the Thames Trafalgar Races in 2013 and 2014.  In addition I have crewed with many of the Club’s members on fast cruises and smaller UK-based rallies.  And of course I sail in the Adriatic – at least four weeks a year, trying to avoid August, when it’s too hot and crowded!  Do look at my blog on michaelforbessmithblog.tumblr.com.

When did you join the Little Ship Club, and what were your reasons for joining?

I joined the Club in 2008, in order to upgrade my RYA  shore-based 'tickets' – a necessary requirement to charter and very useful practice!  I found it online; with no previous knowledge – truly the best kept secret in the City – but we are doing something about that.

What would you say you have gained most from your membership so far?

I would never have had the confidence to begin skippering a substantial cruising yacht without the encouragement of the many supportive members who have become firm friends. The ability to sail “in good company” but not to be nannied like Sunsail is one of the great unsung bonuses of Club membership.  In addition, I’ve met some truly great fellow spirits. We need to upgrade our Skippers and Crews offering, but it gave me a great start.

Do you have a Little Ship Club memory or story, which you would like to share?

I think the sight of Hunter, Tom and others in their red-haired highland bonnets as I recited the Immortal Memory at the Burns' supper, will live with me for a long time!  And the wonderful magician at the last one: even though his presence was the result of a mix-up, it was more than worth it.  So you never quite know what to expect – but it’s always better than expectations. My best sailing memory is from the Scottish cruise, when we played truant for two days in beautiful, settled weather, got ashore on Staffa to walk into Fingal’s Cave and then anchored overnight opposite the abbey in the Sound of Iona – both the company and the weather were quite idyllic.

You’ve just been elected as Commodore. What are your main priorities for the next two years?

We have been blessed with a series of great commodores who have worked magic on the commercial side of the Club, which now all but pays for our clubhouse expenses.  The priority now is to take an urgent look at the Club’s activities in order to keep our existing members through exciting boating and Clubhouse programmes (note: boating, not just sailing; we’re both a sail and power club), and attracting new members through new ventures in both sail and power; through more work on bringing our training to a 21st Century audience and listening to what busy people in today’s world want to take away from their boating experiences.  We’ve started by an internal re-organisation of the Committee – see the autumn journal for more details.  And we are seeking many more volunteers with new and bright ideas and commitment to the club to come forward.

How would you like to see the Club develop?

I certainly don’t want to change the ambience; summed up in our traditional strapline of “Sailing in Good Company” – which includes at the bar and on Tuesday evening clubnights.  But we also want to encourage potential and current members to “Raise Your Standard” in the words of our current and already successful marketing campaign.  We want to offer the opportunity to upgrade their social and boating lives to all our members and potential members in whatever aspect of boating or entertaining the Club can offer – and if we don’t already do it, to explore with them any new avenues they are interested in.

If members would like to share their own experiences and ideas with you, what would be the best way for them to do this?

Catch me at the bar!  Or email me or the office and we can meet up for lunch or a drink: I welcome any and all ideas, however off the wall they might at first appear.

If you were to meet a new member, what would you suggest is the best way to get involved with Club activities?

First, be committed.  You can’t expect to get anything for nothing in this world, and that includes social intercourse.  So come to the Club on Tuesdays. Sign up for a weekend rally; we’ll do our best to find a berth.  Better still, find one of our skippers and badger him or her.  Think about chartering for a rally; or make up a syndicate with other newer members – we will do our best to find experienced hands if you lack experience.  And most important, offer your services as a volunteer – nothing will get you noticed more quickly and swept into our activities and the really serious sailors in our midst.

If you aren’t at Little Ship Club what else might you be doing?

Either playing my bagpipes with the Pinstriped Highlanders (come to the beating of retreat at the Club on 30 June).  Or running my charity, the St Francis Leprosy Guild, whose mission since 1895 has been to help alleviate the suffering caused by leprosy around the world, currently in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Finally, a few ‘quick fire’ questions…

Favourite place to sail?

Maybe South Brittany; but Scotland beats most places.  And my boat is in Croatia.

Favourite class of boat?

Gunfleet 58 – one can but dream.

What would be your Desert Island Discs?

Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings

Mozart: Don Giovanni

Fauré’s Requiem

Schubert’s (Piano) Impromptu No 2 in E Flat

Prokoviev’s First Cello Concerto in E-Flat Minor

Maighdeanan Na H-Airidh, from the album “The Blood is Strong” by Capercaillie

Brahms’ Violin Sonata No 3 in D Minor

Lasan Phadruig Chaogaich (A Flame of Wrath for Patrick Caogach), Piobaireachd, Donald Mor MacCrimmon

Biggest sailing influence?

That’s a problem: I came to sailing through historical novels – Horatio Hornblower and all that.  I’ve never had the competitive drive of Sir Robin, nor the stolid determination of Alec Rose.  But there’s just something about the sea…

Any sailing confessions you’d like to admit to?

Most people know I fell overboard on the Maine cruise without a lifejacket (never again).  But came back onboard with my cap and glasses intact!

If you weren’t a sailor, what other sport would you do?

I’ve skied a fair bit – living in Switzerland for four years who wouldn’t? 

Michael, thank you so much for taking the time to talk today. We all look forward to seeing your plans for the Club progress over the next couple of years.