ECA was founded in 1958 by a group of 21 Founder Members but quickly grew to a small but firmly established boating club, catering initially for motor cruisers. Over the years the total membership steadily increased until by 1978 it stood at 700 members, much the same as today.
The Association initially leased a small area of land from the Ministry of Defence on a yearly licence and this forms the present north compound of the Association.
The original clubhouse, known as the “green hut” stood here for many years, long after it was superseded by the new clubhouse. In its infancy the green hut had no mains electricity and the first duty of whichever member was on bar duty was to start up the generator to provide light. The green hut was not demolished until the early 1980’s, by which time it had been used to house the building of a fleet of Unicorn catamarans which raced successfully for many years. National catamaran open meetings were held at ECA over an extended period up to the late 1980’s.
It was the green hut which saw the birth of what became a very famous adventure – the voyage of Sir Alec Rose around the world in his yacht Lively Lady in 1967/8. Alec, as he was then, was an ECA member, a greengrocer from Southsea. He first announced his intention to sail single-handed around the world to some rather surprised ECA members in the green hut, probably in 1965. Initially he set off in 1966 in company with Francis Chichester (later Sir Francis) who was sailing in Gypsy Moth IV. Alec was given a great send-off from ECA but suffered some bad luck right from the start and was forced to postpone his trip by a year after colliding with a ship in the Western Approaches. Francis Chichester completed his voyage in 1967 around the same time as Alec set out again upon his, returning to a tumultuous welcome on Southsea seafront in the summer of 1968 and a knighthood. He was later made Life Commodore of ECA in recognition of his huge achievement.
The present clubhouse was built on land obtained on a 63 year lease from Portsmouth City Council and was opened by Sir Alec in 1971. The land leased also forms the present car park plus the bulk of the main compound to the south of the clubhouse. In 1984 a further area to the south was also leased from Portsmouth City Council.
In 1991 the “Nightwatch” scheme began and in the spirit of ECA’s self-help origins it took the form of a rota in which two members stood their turn each night from close of bar until 0700 next morning. With 750 members everyone’s turn came around about once per year. It worked well but required a lot of organisation to maintain the rota and after four years it was decided to employ a paid night watchman. Members were willing to bear the increased subscription in order to gain some sleep!
The clubhouse was extended in 1992 by the addition of a single story balcony area under which various rooms now accommodate the workshops, outboard store and diving compressor room together with other storage. These facilities had previously been provided in separate small buildings. This scheme was financed by a Members’ Loan Stock scheme, paid off over about five years.
A major advance came in 1998 and 1999 when the Association was able to purchase the freehold of its land, first buying the north compound from the Defence Land Agent and the following year completing the purchase of the remaining areas from Portsmouth City Council. The north compound was purchased from cash reserves but money borrowed from members over ten years under another Members’ Loan Stock scheme provided the necessary finance to purchase the City Council land. This scheme ran very successfully, the debt being fully repaid within only eight years.
Debt-free ownership of the freehold not only gives the Association complete security of tenure but also spares us from the cost of rent and regular rent reviews. The beneficial effect on the Association’s financial health has already been dramatic and will continue to grow, particularly as a major rent review would have fallen due in 2013. The previous 21-year rent review in 1992 produced a twenty-fold increase in the rent payable. Owning the freehold guarantees a very secure future and will enable a continuous programme of improvement to the premises and facilities.