In celebration of 85 years of sailing, 190 Strangford Lough Yacht Club members enjoyed a memorable gala ball in the Clandeboye Lodge Hotel in Bangor. Commodore Rosie Baird said “It was great to see so many members and their guests at our annual prize-giving dinner, where we also celebrated the club's 85th anniversary. It was a fantastic event and a really memorable occasion. SLYC has come a long way from its fairly humble beginnings when the first clubhouse was a small wooden hut on the shore of Whiterock bay.
Although it was not until the 1930s that a yacht club building was constructed at Whiterock, racing had been active in this part of the lough long before this. A key development in the 1920s was the establishment of the River Class in Strangford Lough. Originally raced at Bangor, the first River came to Strangford Lough in 1921.
A significant impetus in the early 1930s came from the formation of the Snipe Class, a 15’ 6” Crosby design dinghy. The first annual meeting of the Snipe Sailing Club at Whiterock was in 1934, by which time there were 44 members and 16 Snipes completed or under construction. In 1934, it was agreed that the club trustees could take a lease on a plot at Whiterock to build a clubhouse. This opened in May 1935, only to be destroyed by fire shortly afterwards.
In 1936, the Snipe Sailing Club and the River class came together as Strangford Lough Yacht Club. The original clubhouse was replaced by a more substantial building which opened in June 1937. Another boat racing at Whiterock in the 1930s was the Lough Erne No 2 class. After WW2, SLYC expanded rapidly, with more new classes, including the Clippers, Glens and Flying Fifteens. By 1953, the Snipe class had disappeared but that year the Flying 15 Class started and by 1958 there were 18 boats in the fleet.
By this time, club membership had risen to 583. In 1956, Cadet dinghies for juniors arrived at the club, and in 1958 Enterprises made an appearance. This was followed in Scorpions, 505s and Mirrors. Some members spent weekends and holidays in their caravans at the Caravan field in Whiterock and the Army Sailing Association was based at the club from the early 1970s for approximately 30 years with active dinghy training and sailing.
The 1937 clubhouse was replaced by the current building in 2000 and further funding in the mid-2000s enabled more development, with additional rescue boats, club dinghies, training facilities, infrastructure improvements and a dinghy pontoon.
SLYC remains one of the premier yacht clubs in Northern Ireland and it is unique in having two Alfred Mylne designed classic racing yacht fleets – all 12 Rivers ever built still race there and the Glen class remains strong. There are also active racing classes of Sonatas, Flying Fifteens and RS Elites, as well as a large fleet of cruisers. The Club has always placed major emphasis on training and development of novice sailors and offers sailing courses throughout the sailing season as well as competitive dinghy racing for Toppers, Lasers and other dinghy classes.