Gorey Regatta offers local and visiting yachtsmen an annual opportunity to compete against each other in a range of classes, but its origins lie in Gorey’s oyster fishing industry in the middle of the 19th century.
Today’s organising committee place the date of the first regatta in 1857, although other sources suggest that it may have been five years earlier. Racing was initially confined to working oyster dredgers and their crews, competing for prizes offered by the merchants associated with their industry. It was an annual opportunity for hard-working men to let their hair down.
Apart from the war years the regatta has been held annually ever since. The original competitors were both hard-working and hard-drinking and it is said that almost every house on Gorey Pier and around sold gin at 1d a glass.
Racing was highly competitive and dirty tricks quite common, so much so that crews guarded their vessels overnight before the racing. In addition to the serious events the regatta also offered all the fun of the fair, with pillow fights on greasy poles, hunting of live ducks and rowing and sculling races.
Gradually additional classes were added and the regatta attracted competitors from all over the island, and in the years between the World Wars French yachtsmen were regular participants in their own special classes.
It is remarkable to note in this extract from the Jersey Times of 4 September 1857 that people from the town and west of the island who attended the regatta travelled by boat from St Helier. There was no railway then and, although the road from town had been completed, there would not have been sufficient carriages available to carry the numbers involved.
- "This nautical fete came off on Monday in Grouville Bay. The morning breeze promised well for the day's sport but it gradually lulled, and almost a dead calm succeeded, materially detracting from the interest of the sailing-matches. Crowds of persons thronged the pier of Gorey and the heights in its neighbourhood; and the steamers Venus and Comete and numerous cutters and boats, were filled with excursionists from the town. HMS Dasher and her tenders, the Mercury and the Ceres were gaily decked with flags for the occasion.
- "Between Jersey and the distant French coast the 24 cutters contended for the first and second prizes; and pending these contests the public were amused with duck-hunts in the harbour; a race along a greased bowsprit for a live pig attached to its foremost end, all the competitors falling into the water, but without accident.
- "At 6 o'clock the sailing boats had not returned, and it was found impractical to carry out the full programme of the day. As for rowing matches, there were none; a gig from St Helier, belonging to Mr F G De Ste Croix, was ready for any competitor, but none would accept the challenge."
St Martin Jersey, The Story of an Island Parish, Chris Blackstone and Katie Le Quesne, editors