As part of our CBYA Crystal Jubilee celebrations, each month we are going to hear from a member who has made a significant contribution to our club. This month we are are publishing an interview with Dr Ron Shanson, founder of the Costa Blanca Yacht Association.

1) Dr Ron – tell us how it came about that you were instrumental in setting up the Spanish sailing club that has become the CBYA?

In 1989 I set up a UK sailing club in Portsmouth called High Seas Sailing Club, which is still alive and sailing, and has 30 sailing vessels, both in the UK and France.

In 1996 to 98 I moved to Javea, which was wonderful, the sea was gorgeous – but how to live here without sailing? I still had my 15m Prout catamaran, MiFleur, but mooring was very expensive in the Javea area, so I ended up purchasing a 20-metre berth in Puerto Blanco, the other side of Calpe, on a 35-year lease. I wanted to make new friends who appreciated sailing the seas, so that we could share experiences, including the 1,001 problems of keeping a yacht in a “strange” new country. So in 2002, I tried to set up the Costa Blanca Boat Club. Initially the objective was to send two sail boats from the Costa Blanca to meet up with four from the London club in Ibiza and Valencia. The Costa Blanca News newspaper allowed me to take some newspaper columns, and I also placed some radio adverts. This resulted in my finding about 10 to 15 fellow yachties… and the club started!

S/Y MiFleur

In the beginning, I used to take club members sailing on MiFleur, and a few other members also had yachts. I charged €12 a year for club membership, as I thought that if we could raise a little money, we could reward yachts for taking non-boat owning club members sailing, with equipment prizes such as fenders, lines, or hand-held GPSs – these prizes were presented at the AGM. We had no motor vessels at this time, but a new member, Jeff Rose, owned a 65 ft steel motor yacht, and allowed our yachts to moor up alongside him for raft up events. I was amazed to find he had a 7 ft bath hewn out of a solid lump of marble weighing 2 tons on board! Jeffrey would take his yacht to Monte Carlo every year to watch the Formula 1 motor race from his yacht, and take a lucky crew members from the club to join him.

On the PR side – one of the new members Mike Arnold had a 55-foot ketch called Don’t Worry, and he offered to produce a weekly newsletter in colour for the club, describing past and new sailing venues. Only a few of these have survived.

Social activity has always been very important to the club. Even from the beginning: my wife Faye would put on a dinner parties to promote the club. These dinner parties grew to 40 to 60 party guests, for which we did not charge.

Faye & Wally

…and the club grew!

2) Please give us a memorable first experience!

One of my first experiences that gave me a WOW factor was when I overloaded MiFleur”with 15 guests for a trip to Peacock Island just off Benidorm. On the way back the wind rose to a force 7 to 8. My club members (and perhaps myself) had drunk various alcoholic beverages, and I was really, really frightened that I would lose someone overboard, and that I would end up in court, and maybe jail, for manslaughter. I never overloaded my yacht again, and never took more crew than my on-board life jackets and safety harnesses. Indeed, I made my yachts dry, with no alcohol to be consumed whilst underway.

3) What was your role, and how did it change over the years?

By the time we grew to nearly 80 members, Faye got fed up with the weekly/fortnightly parties and stopped them. At this time, there we disagreements within the committee regarding roles. There were also concerns about legal liabilities, about some yachts charging for guests, charter regulations, and the system of paying some of the yacht’s expenses. These struggles had a silver lining, though, as they resulted in the current club being formed: Costa Blanca Yacht Association which was made legal under Spanish Law and correctly registered. Mike Arnold took his turn as Commodore, and I became Commander.

Other things were going on at the same time. There was a big upset at Puerto Blanca eventually leading to the port being closed down, and my losing my mooring rights for which I had paid a hefty five-figure sum  – even though it was a shallow berth (at 1.8m). I found it very upsetting to often be charged for two berths when I moored at a marina. The logic was that as I had two hulls, I should pay twice. My worst experience was at Ibiza Marina one August when I was charged €600 for one night. I therefore decided to sell MiFleur.

I put a deposit down to buy a 46′ lifting keel mono-hull called a Feeling 44 at the Barcelona Boat Show, which took two years to build. She was beautiful: designed for Faye and myself, incorporating our whims. We christened her Feels Great, and on our first trip from Barcelona to Majorca, 120 nautical miles, she took 10 hours, at an average of 12 knots, under sail. When we arrived at Dénia, Jacki and Gary Mudge had arranged a wonderful welcome party for Feels Great, Faye and myself. We took a mooring at El Portet Marina in Dénia. Later I paid the one-off membership fee to become a member of the Real Club Nautico Dénia, where I keep my current yacht Poppy, after I was forced to sell Feels Great for financial reasons.

S/Y Feels Great with crew

S/Y Feels Great in Big Seas

S/Y Poppy

4) What achievement are you most proud of?

It fills me with pride to see both RYA-affiliated yacht clubs that I formed, the High Seas Yacht Club and the Costa Blanca Yacht Association, flourish, grow and prosper. To get to where we are now has taken a lot of effort from previous members. My involvement was to lay the seeds, and start the sailing group. Once a new commodore and committee was formed, I was content to be a member with a yacht, and happy to take members sailing on MiFleur and Feels Great, leaving the management to the new people.

With hindsight, Jacki Mudge, as Social Secretary, made a quantum jump forwards with the popularity of the club, as well as Richard Jones as Chairman. Our current Chairman, Hugh, has kept the momentum going. I thank all these contributors.

5) Give us an amusing anecdote…!

One comes to mind… We were going to a raft up in Sardine Bay, but one of my crew was seriously addicted to smoking cigarettes, and asked to come sailing to help keep his mind off them as he was quitting. Unfortunately, when I was down below, he shouted to a “Spanish” yacht that was nearby, “can you let me have a cigarette?”. One of the Spanish generously leapt in to the sea and swam with one hand held high out of the sea holding a whole packet of cigarettes. When Roy scrambled to the swim ladder to receive the packet, all of the cigarettes were soaked with sea water, and his anguish made us all smile.

6) Dr Ron – what are your hopes for the CBYA?

Hugh is doing very well as Chairman, and has a committee that works well, especially on the social side. Most sailing happens on the dinghies, the TOMs, the 5 Clubs Regattas, and the CBYA charter holidays. The club needs more cruising yachts, but they are so expensive to own – so perhaps more charter holidays should be encouraged, and maybe yacht sharing could also be a way forward.

S/Y Feels Great 5 Clubs Regatta crew

Many thanks Ron for sharing this interesting piece of history. I am sure the CBYA members will enjoy learning how it all started!