SAILING: WEST CHESHIRE sailing club has taken its first faltering steps to recovery after it was plunged into its darkest hour by an arson attack.
It is now just over a month since the 111-year-old club's base on Harrison Drive was gutted by the blaze.
But they will be holding a fundraising dinner at Wallasey Conservative Club on Friday evening to help ensure the club not only survives, but prospers.
Vice-president Steve Hanna said: "It has been our darkest hour really because we were due to host the Wirral Regatta prize-giving ceremony and had prepared the club for that, only for it to be burned out.
"Over the years we had put windows in and a fireplace, as well as other touches for the evening itself, and all that work was a waste because of what happened.
"Because the club has been in existence for so long, the clubhouse was also full of old pictures and memorabilia which are lost forever as well.
"To see the club as it was on the morning after, you'd have thought it was all over but we said we would continue and we have done so.
"We are still concerned, though, about what could happen next because vandalism has been a problem for a while, although obviously not on this scale."
It was the club commodore Anne Ardern who took the call from the fire brigade to tell her the club was ablaze.
She remembered: "That was at about 2am and it just seemed like a nightmare. The club was well ablaze when I got there from a wheelie bin in front of the door up into the roof timbers and then there was no stopping it.
"It is my first year as commodore and it is the worst thing anyone could ever have to deal with, but we have come through it and have a definite way forward now."
Since that night, the club's 130 members have been working hard to clean up the site and continue their sailing programme, while the council-owned building has been assessed by the authority's insurance company to begin re-building as soon as possible.
Steve said: "We managed to keep sailing because we still had to race for the Cloezman Trophy, so it was great to keep going despite everything. We have also managed to continue our cadet training, although it has been a struggle.
"We sail anything here including optimists, lasers, toppers, a couple of catamarans, even a cruiser fleet, on New Brighton lake and tidal sailing as well. Quite a lot of people on Merseyside started sailing with us and that has been shown by the response to our troubles from the sailing community - they have all pitched in with massive support and encouragement to get us back on our feet." All the clubs have taken tickets for the fundraising dinner while Tranmere sailing club are hosting a quiz night to raise money for West Cheshire, a gesture that is gratefully acknowledged.
Anne added: "The other clubs have been absolutely fantastic towards us and I will be eternally grateful to them for that.
"Through their kind words, their work on the site and offering to help us raise money towards rebuilding work, we have never felt alone and that has meant so much.
"We are looking at the club as something of a blank canvas now and would hope to be back in business again sometime next summer, fingers crossed. Certainly I am looking forward to that day."
Steve said: "Even local fishing clubs have been very supportive, and we will need a lot more help before we are back to where we were.
"In particular we are looking for prizes for the raffle and we are appealing to our members and former members to see if they can dig out any old pictures or memorabilia to replace those that were lost."
He added: "When you think about things like that, it is so upsetting to everyone who loves sailing and in the wider area too.
"This club has been going for more than a century and we are here for the community to join and enjoy, while we also have done so much fundraising for good causes like cancer research.
"What has happened is well below the belt."
* To find out more about West Cheshire's dinner or donating memorabilia, contact Steve Hanna on 0151 652-0082.