Beer Regatta a Potted History
There are several stories connected with Beer’s first Regatta back in 1913 or was it 1914. One story goes that in 1913 the Beer Luggers left Beer Beach to race against the Seaton Luggers in Seaton Bay as part of the Seaton & Beer combined regatta. Apparently Seaton did not wait for the Beer fleet to arrive and fired the starting gun too early. There was much rivalry between the two fleets and this action so enraged the Beer fishermen that they shouted to one another to return to Beer Roads; where they held their own race.
However, another piece of evidence comes from the speech made by regatta opener, Bill Blackmore, in 1975 when he said the first Beer Regatta was in 1914. On the tape cassette of his speech many argue that it sounds as if he said 1913, but he confirms the 1914 date later in the speech when he says “61 years ago”. He recounts that a visiting warship to Seaton Regatta, HMS Majestic, ran over some of the crabpots belonging to the Beer Fishermen, cutting the ropes so that they could not be retrieved. Apparently the Beer Boys took umbrage and decided to get their own back by boycotting the race and holding their own instead. And so was born Beer Regatta.
Colin (Ike) Westlake in last years’ opening speech referred to 1913. He also said the first ever sailing trophy for the working boats was the Dr. Blake Cup, won by Harry Henry Abbot. It is more likely that the HMS Majestic incident took place in 1913 with the ad-hoc race and that the first planned Beer Regatta was in fact 1914. Evidence shows that HMS Majestic helped transport the British Expeditionary Force to France in August 1914—just nine months before it was torpedoed off Gallipoli. Not surprisingly, the Regatta was cancelled for the duration of the First World War as the majority of the young men of the village had answered the call-to-arms.
In the 1993 programme it suggests the first cup was given for swimming, also by Dr. Blake, though because Beer Regatta was cancelled for the war years it was not awarded until after the Cenotaph was completed in 1922. Maybe someone would like to research this further. One starting point would be to see if there is a record somewhere of the years HMS Majestic visited Seaton.
Beer Regatta has gone through many changes over the years. When it started it was a one-day event with sea sports in the morning, land sports at Whitecliff in the afternoon and the dance in the evening. Later it was lengthened and became a full week of events with the land sports moving to the main street. Many changes were inspirational and planned by the committee, but others were thrust upon them by red tape. The Tuesday Night Barrel Rolling was one such case where the insurance premium escalated ten fold and it became impossible to continue. Insurance also put paid to the swimming races.
However, the spirit and enthusiasm has never faltered and Beer Regatta continues to go from strength to strength. All cultures, worth their salt, all over the world have their festivals and Beer’s is its Regatta, the heart and soul of which are the sailing races for the working boats, the Beer Luggers. They are a unique piece of history to Beer, which is documented in the record of the “Little Jim” (built in 1916 by Lavers of Exmouth) in the Science Museum in London. The question is… shall we celebrate the Centenary in 2013 or 2014?