Saturday, April 12, 2014
An appreciation of the sailing life of Ivan Wilkinson by Ben Jennings
Ivan Wilkinson was born 1934 and grew up in Northumberland an initially his competitive instinct was satisfied on road and track cycle racing. He was very successful at County level and that fitness stayed with him for years. He was the only one of our Commodores to do two terms and gave a tremendous amount of his free time to Club activities. Indeed Exe Sailing Club became his life’s work, writes Ben Jennings.
Ivan moved to Exmouth in the late 1960’s, joined the Club in 1969 and purchased his first Enterprise. With characteristic energy and enthusiasm he set about learning to race. He made friends with Michael McNamara, a top Enterprise sailor and from him picked up tips. Ivan studied the racing rules and soon demonstrated he knew his rights and it was not long before he was found at the front of the fleet. One day he had an altercation with Paul McNamara (a world Enterprise champion) at the weather mark. Paul stood up in his Enterprise and said “Ivan your terrible”. Thereafter he became “Ivan the terrible” or “Genghis”.
The old dinghy was then replaced by the yellow “Genghis Khan”. And at National championship level, (with fleets of up to 200) Ivan won the Yachtsman Trophy in 1977 and 1978 for the best helmsman over 40. He was renowned for keeping his boat moving in the lightest of zephyrs. In the quest for more boat speed Ivan then commissioned another Enterprise; “Genghis Again”. When Guy Farrant bought it and Ivan turned to yachts, one condition of the sale was for Ivan to crew. Guy credits Ivan with teaching him all the tricks. In 1981 he purchased a J 24 and having recently met Anne the yacht was rechristened “Mai J”, using the first letter of her and his Christian names; romantic. He later bought another Enterprise, named ‘IvannE’, largely for racing with Anne, or when he was unable to play yachts. The first season with the yacht was great fun and he learnt fast, so by 1984 he was able to win Torbay Regatta. Part of his practising was sailing single handed with a spinnaker or sailing up to a mooring.
In 1991 he acquired the Laser 28, “Silk Purse” and in his first race he was pleased to discover she easily slid past another Laser 28. With a regular core crew of Rex Frost, Mike Davies, Brian Abbott, Jim Attrill and Julia Cornish, Ivan found winning races had become much easier. The highlight of his racing was winning his class in Dartmouth Regatta in 2000, but every year he was in the top 3.
Soon after he joined the club he decided he would like to put something back into sailing. He became Sailing Secretary in 1970 and over the decades held nearly every management position, was Commodore twice and Secretary for 7 years.
He also sat on the RYA Regional Committee for 10 years. During dock area development he had to deal with a claimed public right of way through the dinghy park and another which ran through where the ladies changing room now stands. Both were successfully rejected. With Exeter City Council’s desire to rid itself of Harbour duties Ivan became a founder member of the Exe Estuary Users Association and chaired it for ten years. He also worked with the Exe Estuary Management Partnership for 12 years.
Ivan took on the role of berth marshal in the mid 70’s, continuing in it for 38 years introduced winter cruiser storage in 1982. Always a leader when working parties were required; cleaning the dinghy park, craning out and in, he was always on hand. Ivan also started winter Thursday evening talks finding speakers, not for one season, but for twenty years.
Since the 1950’s Exe Sailing Club had run Dinghy Open Meetings at high tide in the Estuary. With arrival of the Merlin Rocket’s in the 60’s it was suggested they race at sea. Many said it could not be done and it was Ivan and his committee that found the way. Ivan always liked a challenge and his solution was to start with a small fleet of fast multihull’s which could reach the race area relatively quickly. So the new Dart class came to Exmouth for the 1978 championship. East Devon District Council allowed the catamarans to be parked on the beach, together with a marquee for changing in and Ron Lavis opened up his boatyard for trailers. Ivan also persuaded Rank Xerox to sponsor championship buoys and a fast rescue rib. The plan was so successful that they asked to return the following year and so modern championship sailing was brought to the Exe.
Ivan met Anne at the Club over Christmas 1982. Anne had been a club member since a teenager and was an experienced crew. By 1983 they were engaged and were married at Holy Trinity in 1985. Over the years Anne was very supportive of Ivan and his work for the sailing club. She took on the role of minute secretary for some three decades as well as helping with other tasks.
The Wilkinson years were marked by the outstanding success of the club’s Cadet sailors. Our juniors regularly made it into the National team travelling to World Championships in India, the Netherlands, Australia, etc. Trained by Michael McNamara and Chris Rhodes they won National Championships in 81, 89, 90, 91, 94, 95 and 97! Of them Adam May, Joe Glanfield (silver medallist), Richard Sydenham, Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes have all represented the UK at the Olympics. Conrad Humphries won a BT Global Challenge and raced around the world in the Open 60 “Hellomoto” and Ian Williams has won 4 World Match Racing Championships.
Ivan has made a considerable contribution to the management of our Club. He was able to look back on his 45 years of involvement with considerable satisfaction, not only for his personal achievements, but also for the many successes of club members who benefited from the climate he created.