It is with great sadness that we learned that long time Flying Fifteen sailor Peter Clark passed away in May of this year. We understand Peter had been ill for some time. Older members will remember Peter as a very enthusiastic supporter of the class, who regularly trailed his boat many miles all over the country to open meetings and championships. The lime green Copeland FF1333 ‘Anaconda’ was a familiar sight and Peter, with his long-time crew Christopher Thompson will be remembered by many.
Peter was an active member in the days before Fifteens became a more or less ‘off the shelf’ type of product that they are today, and owners messed around to a greater or lesser extent with both structural, cockpit and control layouts. Peter was certainly in this category ‘Anaconda’ and underwent many modifications, including Peter glassing extra foam under the forward hull to try and upgrade her hull shape in line with more modern boats. Peter was also free with his knowledge and many will remember his famous Flying Fifteen tuning guide, the text interspersed with many drawings and unfathomable calculations. In fact, a lot of it was unfathomable, as Peter’s enthusiasm ran ahead of his grammatical accuracy, but if you got what he was saying, the knowledge was true and deep.
Peter was a former navigating officer in the Merchant Navy before setting up his own business just outside, Hull, which he ran until he retired. A long-time member of Humber Yawl Yacht club, ‘Anaconda’ lived in a mud berth in the Yacht Club’s creek at South Cave during the season and Peter kindly invited me to sail with him for an evening race many years ago. I remember walking down the very narrow and rickety walkways to the berth and waiting until the tide rose enough for the boat to lift her keel from the suction of the mud into which she had settled. Peter then climbed aboard and walked all round her with a long brush to scrub all the mud off, before we set off down the creek under jib only where, at the point the creek turned right into the river, Peter sailed ‘Anaconda’ gently into the reeds so we could raise the main, before pushing off and entering the river under full sail on the flood tide. The Humber under full flood is an impressive place to sail, the water filthy with mud and very fast flowing. Peter demonstrated his expert knowledge and we had a very enjoyable race in a good breeze, heading upriver. The course was in fact so long, that at one point Peter dived under the stern deck and produced a chart, just to confirm the position of the leeward buoy, it was so far inland. We then had a very long beat back, short tacking against the shore to avoid the worst of the current’s power. All the time, Peter chatted away happily, talking about the boat, his modifications and life in general. Although we met many times at open meetings, this was the only time I spent talking to him for a significant period, and I was left with the impression of a hugely knowledgeable, gentle and enthusiastic man, passionate about Fifteens and who was not afraid to experiment and put his ideas to the test.
Peter was also very charming and many of you who knew him will have your own memories of him. One story I heard of him putting this charm to good effect was on a visit to Dublin, (I think it was with the Fifteens) and he had booked a restaurant for dinner. The only problem was that the restaurant was in the city’s pedestrian precinct. Not a problem for Peter of course, who drove through the precinct and parked outside, where he wanted to be. Of course, it wasn’t long before the Garda arrived and enquired who the owner was. Peter went out and talked to them, the upshot apparently being, ‘Don’t worry Mr Clark, we’ll look after it for you until you’re ready, enjoy your evening.’ Only in Ireland, only Peter.
As we all know, the life of a class is made up of those who choose to sail the boat they love and in Peter, we have lost one of those true characters who, although not around much in recent years, will be remembered fondly, perhaps with amicable exasperation and certainly with respect for a true lover of the Fifteen and the people who sail her.