Having marked its centenary in 2010, Mombasa Yacht Club in Kenya has begun a rebuilding and development programme that is taking full advantage of the splendid facilities and grounds occupied by the club alongside Kilindini Harbour on the south side of Mombasa Island.
Mombasa Yacht Club has one of the most picturesque outlooks of any yacht club in the world. Club racing is held in the waters directly off the colonial-style clubhouse, which stands on an elevated headland overlooking the harbour. In spite of all the commercial traffic passing through the same stretch of water on its way between the Port of Mombasa and the open sea, the club is able to run a full racing programme for its dinghy fleet from October to June. Most racing is held off the clubhouse, though longer races do occasionally venture out to open sea.
Although the club has fallen on harder times in recent years, it has a long and fascinating history. In fact, Mombasa Yacht Club was the first sailing club on mainland East Africa. The enthusiasm to rebuild and rejuvenate is obvious, with Commodore Chris Soper and club manager Eric Rupia leading a committee that is determined to change the direction of the club and attract new members from the local community.
The club has about 40 registered dinghies, mainly Toppers and Lasers, but also Bosuns and a few Ospreys. In general, the Topper and Bosun fleets are owned by the club while the Lasers are privately owned. It also has an enviable trophy cabinet, including silverware dating back to 1911.
One of the shields on display is a reminder of better times, when club member Tony Bentley-Buckle
, along with another member, Ron Blaker
, represented Kenya in the Flying Dutchman class at the 1960 Olympic Games, when the sailing events were held in Naples. The shield contains all the badges collected by Bentley-Buckle at the Olympics from other organisations and teams taking part. Bentley-Buckle qualified for the Kenyan team after the club adopted the 505 class and won the first All African 505 Championship, sailed in Mombasa in 1960.
As part of the development programme to attract new members, the club grounds are undergoing a total refurbishment and substantial new building work. The club occupies a large and attractive parcel of land south of the busy business district of Mombasa with a large dinghy park next to a launching ramp, a range of boatsheds and outbuildings and the quaint clubhouse overlooking the water. The club even has its own small beach, while off to the left is a disused and half demolished stone pier which at one time was much used by visiting yachts.
Included in the rebuilding work are new changing rooms, a new boat store, paved areas by the pool, fencing and security. There are tentative plans, too, for a children's area, an outside pool bar, an events area, improved landscaped gardens and perhaps even tennis courts and a restaurant. Most of the improvements so far have been sponsored by club members.
When complete, it will offer a pleasant respite away from the bustle of Mombasa town and the club's officials hope this will attract guests to the club, first to sample its facilities and then perhaps to join as members. It also hopes to hire out its newly created facilities for functions to generate both income and interest.
One of the biggest challenges facing the club is promoting itself to the local community and bringing in new, active members. As Eric Rupia put it, "One of our biggest problems in expanding is that no-one knows we are here."
Although the club is just a stone's throw from some of the main business areas in Mombasa and next to its two shipyards, even the local taxi drivers have a problem locating it.
However, since the club initiated a 'sponsor a junior' programme a few years back it has attracted a number of young Kenyans, who are now active racing members. The long-term hope is to get sailing more widely recognised by the Kenya National Sports Council and ultimately to train sailors to a level high enough to qualify for the Olympics. At the moment the emphasis is on sailing tuition.
One of the club members, Teddy Ndaro
, is already an RYA qualified instructor. He hopes to train to Level 2 while undertaking an IT degree course in the UK. After graduation he plans to take these skills back to Mombasa to pass on to club members and help to make sailing available to more of the local youngsters.
Chris Soper said, "Sailing is not a big sport in Kenya at the moment, but it could be, as we have such fantastic conditions all year round. If we could get it more recognised in Kenya and more widely publicised locally, then that would be a big help."
In July the club sent several of its members about 50 km north to Kilifi Creek to take part in the 2011 East Africa Laser Championship. In total there were 16 sailors competing for the title with sailors also travelling from as far afield as Naivasha Yacht Club, west of Nairobi.
The event was organised by the Kenya Laser Association and won by Don White, with 2012 hopeful Lara Granier in second in a Radial and Simon Woods in third, all three sailors coming from Naivasha. The championship was sailed over three days, from 15 to 17 July, in difficult and windy conditions that tested the stamina of all the sailors. The top sailor from Mombasa was David Mackay in sixth place, while the young Teddy Ndaro placed eighth and also won the prize for 'best effort'.
On the weekend following the Laser event, the Fireball class held its East Africa Championship, with eight boats attending. Kilifi Creek was the venue for the 2003 Fireball World Championship and mention of this still brings back fond memories for local enthusiasts.
Mombasa Yacht Club also had two sailors competing in the recent All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique. Ndaro placed 15th in the Men's Laser Radial, while Alfred Okoth
placed ninth in the Laser Standard. Lara Granier
, from Naivasha, finished fifth in the Women's Laser Radials after winning the three light wind races.
Looking to the future, Chris Soper said, "MYC has links with the Kenya Yachting Association [which comprises a representative from each sailing club in Kenya] and we were given approval by the National Sports Council to send the team to the All Africa Games, with financial support from the Kenya government to cover expenses. Hopefully this means we will now be eligible to send a team to the London Olympics, if we can qualify."