Some memories from K.C. "Nobby" Clarke 1923 - 2004


When I first came to the Club ( 1947 ) the lightship ( "Garson 2" ) had only recently been purchased and "Garson 1" had been laid up in the Middle Creek. I was told that she had been used by a group of doctors who kept small animals on board on which they used to experiment.

A member called Joe Elvin, a retired printer, lived on his boat all through the war and with the help of his shot gun kept intruders at bay!

The "Garson 2" was purchased from Trinity House in 1945 for £140 and was delivered FOC to the Club Saltings lashed alongside the THV "Patricia". In those days the only lighting aboard was by oil lamps.

The engine room of the lightship was lined out with lead and the member who removed it all sold it for his own gain,or so it was said.

With strong northerly winds "Garson 2" would come out of her hole and when the tide receded would take up a large list of about 40 degrees. There used to be a piano in the saloon but I only heard it played on two occasions. Because of the listing the piano was pinned in place with a row of nails.

Dave Wallace and I were trapped on board the lightship when the great tide of 1953 lifted the ship so high that the gangway left the bank and hung straight down. Many dinghies went over the sea wall (raised since then) and yachts came out of their mud berths ( there was then no fill, just marsh and creeks) and remained there when the waters receded. They then had to be man handled or dug back into their mud berth. High tide remained for many hours. Belvedere was flooded and the marshes where the Gypsies lived.

The first dance ever given on the "Garson 2" was in the 60's and a junior member provided a gramophone and home built amplifier. Dance records were obtained from the membership at large.The centre table in the saloon was dismantled to give room to the dancers.

About that time Dave Kennard brought an epidiascope and showed photos of members yachts of yesteryear. Some time later Robbie ( Michael Robinson ) brought a proper slide projector and a load of slides showing life aboard some square rigged ships. These he had borrowed from the Maritime Museum.

In the 50's I was part of the crew who laid the paving stone causeway, replacing the former wooden one. This was really too narrow and was eventually replaced by the M1 under the direction of Jimmy Green. Some lighters broke adrift and sat on this new wooden causeway and the Club had a large section professionally rebuilt at the expense of the lighter owners.

( These earlier causeways extended to low water mark from a position ashore, just astern of "Folgefonn" for launch/recovery of dinghies.The lighter roads extended from where they are at present upstream of EYC, to roughly where our bottom moorings are ). During this period Fred Lapslie ( the Club's White jacketed Steward ) and his wife used to supply a supper on Saturday night plus a breakfast and a roast dinner on Sunday ( all served on a white linen tablecloth ) and lots of tea, all for 10 shillings (50p ).When I was thrown out of my lodgings I lived on "Garson" for several days until I got somewhere to live.

At the bottom of the lighter roads was an old hulk called "Birchrock" ( an ex. wooden square rigger used for storing coal) on which lived a retired Captain ( possibly W.Johnstone, joined EYC 1940 ) who kept watch over the loaded lighters. He used to visit the Club on a Saturday night and spin fantastic sea yarns aided by the oil lights and a wood burning stove, a tortoise.

Sometime in the 60's there was an accident involving Howard Smith and Bill Frost. They had climbed the rigging attached to the lightship's mast to fasten some wet sails to dry out. The rigging snapped and they fell to the deck from about 10 feet ( 3 metres ).Howard injured his ankle so badly that he could not walk. He was carried on an improvised stretcher to Bill Frost's "bog boat" ( a Hastings Lugger) This happened on a Bank Holiday weekend and although Howard rested all day Sunday he could only walk with improvised crutches made from flotsam ( a broken paddle ).

He was put in a wheelbarrow and taken to the car park at the end of Manor Road ( where the barrier is ). Bill Curwood drove him up to the Savoy Hotel, London, where he was convinced that he could get a room.

In his muddied state, dressed in airforce battledress, walking with the aid of the driftwood crutch he was not given one! Not undaunted he asked for a telephone and booked a room at the Astor by name and got in there.

Sailing up river just above the town off the southern sewage outfall and treatment works, I met a wall of soap suds extending right across the river some four feet high! This supposedly came from a firm which made home perm kits. All kinds of chemicals were in the river then which discoloured the paint on boats, and was known as the purple plague. Cutlery and brasswork was also tarnished, not just afloat but also houses in Upper Belvedere, Charlton etc, not just riverside properties!

The pollution was so bad that a hand put 2 inches ( 5cms ) down in the river water became invisible due to the filth. Any members ( and general public ) swallowing riverwater were treated in the local hospital and often had their stomachs pumped out.

On about November the 5th we used to have a firework party and one of the set pieces was a Catherine Wheel made up of rockets. Another was rockets "back to back", the top one igniting the lower one which then hurtled back to earth.

Early one Sunday morning a Cadet Member banged on the door of the bar where I was sleeping to say there was a corpse fully dressed lying across the causeway. I got dressed and verified this find and checked that the man was dead. I phoned the local police and they turned up with a coffin on wheels and took the man away. Later I found out that he had been the watchman on the lighter roads opposite Erith Town and had been out celebrating prior to falling in.

On another occasion whilst dinghy racing I found a bloated corpse in the water and towed it into the town causeway. The man was an awful sight as his eyeballs were gone. I left my name with the police and in due course got some salvage money. 10 shillings ( 50p ) I think.

Another time,again midweek, when I had a half day off there was an exceptionally low tide. This caused the boats on the outer trot ( about where the middle trot is today,only two trots then ) to touch the bottom.Going searching along the exposed river bottom I found several anchors and rowlocks in good condition, plus many tools lying in the peat.

A further midweek incident was when an old fashioned sludger ( which carried treated sewage out to sea for dumping ) coming upriver rounded Crayfordness. She then had an electrical power failure with the rudder set to turn to the ship to port and the engine running strongly. The ship managed to miss all the yachts on the moorings as she came to rest on our foreshore.

Without electrical power the control of rudder and engine was lost although the crew let go both anchors run free from the lockers, slowing her down, as she approached the shore . When this happened there was an impressive display of sparks from both of the ship's hawse pipes. This all happened at half flood. Alan Beckett was also present at the club when this happened.

© Erith Yacht Club