The club idea started out with a group of friends who met up socially at the Stirling Arms. It wasn’t long before they decided upon the Forest Hills Hotel as a club house. Although expensive, at 3s 6d per pint, the beer was good, and there was a superb site to start it at (where the current outdoor centre operates). And so, it came to pass that eighteen stalwarts met on the 3rd March 1968 and formed the Forest Hills Sailing Club with founding Commodore John Cooper at the helm. (He is on record as recording that the founder members consisted of some connoisseurs of wine, women and song, which they soon discovered existed further along the lochside). Perhaps understandably, the Manager of the Forest Hills, having lost his clientele, decided we could do without his site, and hence the change of name to the Loch Ard Sailing Club.
The Dinner and Prizegiving held the following year high-lighted what had been achieved in a short time by a group of active and committed friends. The first site was cleared, drained and fenced, a racecourse laid and the first race held on the 16th May 1968 with a Twinkle 12, a GP14, a Gull and two Mirror dinghies.
Who would have thought that within a year over 30 Mirrors from all parts of Scotland would be racing for the Mirror Open Championship from yet another well struggled-for location on Loch Ard? The club remains there to this day at its location by Kinlochard village.
In the first few years conditions were primitive with a tiny car park and a small duck green painted shed as a clubhouse and equipment store and unisex chemical toilet located approximately at the head of the current slipway.
Membership and enthusiasm blossomed in those years of the 1970’s when an old Forestry wooden mess hut (cost £50) was obtained and erected on the current site in 1970 and access had to be constructed as a raised slatted timber walkway from the edge of the current car park to the clubhouse building. The whole intervening area was marsh land. Toilet facilities were primitive indeed until 1976 when a septic tank was installed and flush toilets and running water provided. A pumped water system was installed drawing water from the loch for non potable purposes and a task of the officer of the day on a Sunday was to fill a 25-litre water container for potable use at the nearby farm (Farmer Smith).
During all this period the club site facilities were being developed, including the concrete slipway, the main jetty in front of the clubhouse and foreshore stabilization.
The site, however, was at that time rented from the Forestry Commission. The existing clubhouse was too small and following negotiations with our landlord an extended lease of 21 years was agreed followed by planning approval for an extension and upgrade of the building. The work undertaken during 1979. What you see now is what was constructed then.
Thereafter continuous improvements to the site proceeded to improve all the shore site facilities, the jetty made more permanent (it used to float away most winters) and mains running water installed. (electrical power had been installed at the time of the forestry hut erection from an overhead transformer. The construction of the Forest Hills Timeshare properties gave contractors Barratt a convenient place to dump spoil and provided us with convenient bottoming for boat and car park extensions.
The next major landmark date was the purchase from the Forestry Commission of the club site following a mooted rent increase in 1986 to £800 per year (from £25 in 1976). This was negotiated down to £375, but the direction of travel was becoming obvious. The commission had been charged with becoming increasingly commercialized warning that in year 2000 the rent would be set year to year. The committee decided to negotiate to purchase the site, but at £10000 was deemed beyond our means. However, the Scottish Sports council were offering incentive funding grants for local sports at that time, tied to a minimum expenditure of £20000 with 50% being refundable. The committee at the time took the bold step to undertake works to secure the site against annual flooding and improving the foreshore and water access facilities, requiring plant, labour and materials which came to a project total of £22,700.
50% of this was refundable which was way beyond the resources of the club. The bank was successfully approached for a loan of £8000 and a successful Development Bond issue among the members raised the balance – repayable with 5% interest.
On January 1993 the site became the club’s and groundworks were completed by the deadline of end March to qualify for the grant. The revamped site was reopened by Rt Hon Michael Forsyth commemorated by a plaque within the clubhouse.
The club has gone from strength to strength supported by a keen membership and while developments in recent years have not been as dramatic as in the past, continual improvement works and incremental developments have continued.
While a sailing club is in existence to provide all manner of sailing activities for its members whenever they choose to do this there is a core of members who enjoy racing and organized racing to RYA rules is provided on most Sundays during the season from April to October. Regattas open to visitors are run each year which can see an influx typically of 20 or more boats, but the most memorable sight perhaps was in 2010 when 40 plus Flying Fifteen sailing boats competed on the loch for the Scottish Championship of that year.
Shirley Robertson the successful Olympic sailor started life and honed her skills here at Loch Ard and each season we provide sail training for new members with a special emphasis on children to encourage dinghy sailors of the future.
In recent years the club has witnessed a change in the needs of its members with canoeing, simple leisure sailing, swimming, steam boat members and simply providing a base for picnics family days and other outdoor pursuits. We are, after all, located in a most beautiful part of the country. Queen Victoria in 1869 wrote in her journal “certainly one of the most lovely drives I can remember, along Loch Ard, a fine long loch with trees of all kinds overhanging the road, heather making all pink, bracken, rocks and high hills of such fine shape and trees growing up as in Switzerland-altogether, the whole view was lovely”
The sailing club hopes that with its small development we have not despoiled this and that she might even approved of what we have achieved!
Dick Arnold February 2021.