The Port Navas Regatta was first held in August 1914, in the same week that war was declared. The war inevitably brought a break, and it was not until 1921 that the Regatta got going again.
In the early years the Regatta was very much for local people, and the boys and men employed on the water and at the Oyster Farm played a big part in the competitions. There were about twenty-six men working at the oyster farm and about sixteen fifteen-foot oyster boats, which the men could use. These were heavy boats to race but they went at terrific speed, rowed by three men; two on single oars – one in the bow and one in the stern – and a pair in the centre. The men used to play tricks on each other, hiding the gear in the bottom of an opponents boat, tying a bag of straw underneath to slow it down, or covering the oars and tholepins with grease, so that they’d go all over the place. If they lost a race the men were planning for almost twelve months to win the next.
Between the wars the Regatta was conducted at a very leisurely pace. At Quay Gate an arch was built on a framework covered with branches and floral decoration and carrying the banner which is still used at the Regatta. On the way to the quay they had stalls, and sports were held in the evening. They also had a duck race; ducks were put in the water with their wings clipped so they couldn’t fly, and the boys would dive in to catch them. If you caught a duck you kept it.
Steam pleasure boats brought people from Falmouth and they would anchor to watch the races. The band would be afloat on one of the biggest oyster boats moored off the quay and after every race they used to play “Hoorah for Pinky, Pinky’s won the prize”. A professional comedian from Chacewater, dressed as Charlie Chaplin, and known as Chacewater Charlie, would fool about on the boats and finally fall in. He was paid 7/6d for the day.
The local people had big families – the Williams, Warren, Rendle, Hodges, and Collins families – some of these with twelve or more young children, and there was great competition from good hefty rowers. These races were taken seriously, rowing and running and also swimming and sailing. From a mark on the quay small sailing boats would sail up the creek and into the Helford to a mark at Groyne Point and back to finish at the quay. That meant they were out for about an hour and the other races would be going on meanwhile. There was also an annual Sunbeam race, sailing from Falmouth to finish at Port Navas. Nowadays the number of moorings in the river precludes this type of competition.
There were lapses in the years before and during the second war, and it was often difficult to get a committee together. The Regatta was re-started properly in the early sixties by a determined group of local people including Maurice Tonkin and the Rendle brothers. Walter Warren became Chairman in the mid-sixties and used to lead the band marching from Inow down to the Quay. Howard Rendle was Commodore until his death in 1983.
Read more about the 1962 Regatta Revival
In 1962 a group of men sat in the Port Navas Yacht Club (downstairs in the main house) and talked about how good it would be to revive the Regatta. John Harris (J.O.) who was one of the main people in the Club syndicate, asked Commander Leward (from Helford Passage) whether he would like to be Commodore of the Regatta. He replied in a 4-page letter that he did not want to be Commodore of a Regatta that was operating from a Club that did not have planning permission. However, everything was ready for the Regatta to take place in two weeks’ time, but without a Commodore J.O. said they would have to call it off, and anyway, he wanted to go to France on holiday then.
At this stage, Maurice told him that he could not cancel the Regatta as he had originally promised that they could have one, and therefore he suggested they call a meeting. The problem was that there was still no Committee. Therefore, J.O. gathered together four people: Bruce Whale, who Maurice had never met before; Percy Smith, from Bosryn; Peter Stock, who was renting the boats and bar on the small quay; and himself. Maurice got together three people: Howard Rendle, Roy Guy and himself, and all together they met outside the main Clubhouse. Howard, the Gweek river pilot, was gardener at Ridifarne on the Helford for the Bickford-Smiths, and was awarded the DSC for his part in SOE operations out of the Helford River during the Second World War. Roy Guy was a stone cutter at Bosahan Quarry, and Maurice was working for Trethowans, the builders, where he worked until his accident in 1971. Maurice proposed that they carried on with the Regatta and Roy Guy seconded it. J.O. acted as Chairman and put it to the vote. Howard, Roy and Maurice voted for it by raising their hands, and Maurice then kicked Peter Stock under the table so he too raised his hand, and the proposal was carried.
The Regatta was a success because the Club was popular with people from Constantine, Mawnan Smith, Helston, and even further afield, who came to dance there on a Friday night, and they wanted to support the Regatta. On Fridays the music was provided by a small group of musicians, including Mr. ‘Jan’ Veal, Patricia Veal (nee Warren)’s father-in-law. In fact, it was there, Patricia said, that she met her husband, Larry.
The first Regattas were funded by Mike Wilkie, (from the Oyster House), asking for £5 donations from all those at the Club who could afford it, and the first Committee Boat belonged to John Harris, and was called “Stella” after his wife. This was moored opposite the shed near the Club, that Tim Rendle rented, and the races took place between there and the main quay. The Commentator was Mike Wilkie, and a Sea King helicopter from Culdrose came right up to where the races were taking place, to put on their display. As the Yacht Club was operating without planning permission, most of the residents of Port Navas did not support it, and consequently the Regatta which was being run from there. At the first Regatta there were only three residents, apart from the Committee, who supported it – Millie Tremayne from Rose Cottage, and Gwen and Robert Gardiner from Croft Cottage. Many of the others went out for the day on their boats. When J.O. returned from France he realised what a success the Regatta had been, and he decided with Maurice, Roy and Howard that he would organise a band in future. This would meet at Inow and then walk down through the village, with “The Mayor”, Walter Warren, leading it. Maurice arranged for lots of balloons to be blown up, and these were given to the children to carry.
After a few years the Regatta Committee was told that no more Regattas were to be run from the Club, so Maurice suggested they move to the main Quay. Howard and Roy asked Maurice to be Chairman of the Committee in about 1964/5, but he declined saying that he felt Walter would be a better Chairman as he knew so many people, particularly as he had the shop in the village. Walter remained Chairman for 6 years. Once the Regattas had moved to the main Quay, the residents of Port Navas supported it.
Howard Rendle remained Commodore until he died in 1983 but once Gordon Rendle retired from being Chief Steward with P & O, he helped him with jobs such as putting out the course buoys and erecting the greasy pole. After Howard’s death, Gordon took over as Commodore. Maurice began the raffle when Van Marriott became Chairman (after Walter retired), and at first worked with Ann Badger and later with Dottie Roper and Mary Prall for many years. In all, Maurice helped with the Regatta for 29 years – from 1962 until 1991.