In 1974, Groomsport harbour dried out but various sorts of boating were becoming more popular and affordable, though most of the boats were of timber construction with either Seagull type outboards or else old petrol car engines which had been modified to fit into the boat.
Of course there was no council mooring fee but a local man was presumed to be in charge of the harbour and some of us would go out of our way to find him and pay the standard fee of £4 and sometimes we even got a receipt!
There was plenty of room then as there were probably around twenty or so boats in the entire harbour, so finding room for your own mooring was not a problem.
No ground chains or deep water moorings existed in the early days. You simply decided on a suitable spot and then with the help of friends, dug in an old lorry wheel, engine block or the like as a permanent mooring, before the incoming tide undid all your hard work.
As interest in “messing about in boats” continued to grow around Groomsport harbour, friendships were made amongst the owners and two people in particular, Francis McAuley and Dougie Cowan, were keen that a club be formed to encourage and cater for the needs of those moored in the harbour.
So it was in March 1974 that thirty nine enthusiastic folk, mainly motor boaters, but also some sailors and fishermen, crowded into Francis’ front room and agreed that a boating club with the name of “Cockle Island Boat Club” be formed. Most of us there that night did not know of any cockle island until Francis told us that it is the small cluster of rocks in the middle of the bay, but the title sounded both appropriate and a little romantic and so the gathered friends heartily agreed to it. It was important that the title be a boat club rather than a yacht club to show that it was inclusive of all those who an interest in boats and the sea.
In the summer, sailing, motoring and fishing events would be held and in the winter evening social gatherings, instructional classes and cruising talks etc would continue the year round programme.
Since the early days, the harbour has been dredged so that the deeper draught boats can moor onto heavy ground chains laid by the council. The mooring fees are no longer £4 mind you and vhf radios are no longer the preserve of the elite, but the ethos of the club remains the same.
Back in these early years a trip to Portpatrick was a major achievement and a trip up the Clyde quite wonderful as the boats had none of today’s hi-tech navigational or communication equipment. Running fixes, dead reckoning, prominent landmarks and careful chart plotting were the essentials to a safe passage and since marinas were few and far between, careful anchoring was the order of the day.
In more recent years many of our members have chosen to berth their boats in one of the local marinas but even so all our events are well attended and the club is well supported.
We are proud of the fact that our members have sailed or motored around Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides, down to the Mediterranean and further afield as boats have become bigger and more advanced – all things that the early founders of club could only have imagined.
The years continue to pass and not many of the original thrity nine members remain, but our numbers have increased greatly and our ethos remains – to provide companionship, help, encouragement in a family friendly environment to all those interested in the sea around us.