John Herbert - dinghy sailor extraordinaire
John Herbert – Tribute 1937-2022
Among the many people who have worked for the John Lewis Partnership there are a relatively small number of very good sailors. Amongst them are very few superb sailors and John Herbert is one of those! Many, who took a trip to Brownsea Castle, right from its early days to the early 2000’s, will remember John as he was the boatman on ‘Castello’, the little ferry that took Partners from the mainland across to Brownsea Island.
Born in January 1937 in Bridport, Dorset, to bank clerk, Greville and housewife, Antoinette, he was the eldest of two boys. He later attended St. Peter’s School, Lympston, Devon, when the family moved to Exmouth.
Upon leaving school, he was drafted into the National Service and began his career in the RAF where he served in the air/sea rescue unit at RAF Stanmore for nine and a half years. He met WAF Anita at their sailing club and they married in 1965. Two children followed; Anna in 1967 and Neville in 1970.
John then began working for the John Lewis Partnership in Reading, selling carpets. It became apparent that the skill set needed to sell carpets didn’t match John’s and by mutual consent he looked elsewhere. Fortuitously, the Partnership was just opening their hotel on Brownsea Island, so he applied for a job there. His daughter, Anna, says “he got the job as Coxswain, skippering ‘Castello’, a position he held for the next 36 years”.
Now, one of the many benefits of living in Poole Harbour was access to sailing and John took full advantage. In 1966 there was an experiment to try dinghy sailing from the beach at Brownsea Castle. 11 dinghies gathered to race for the title of Champion Helmsman. The lineup included such names as Mike Comber, Stanly Cordell, the Rear-Commodore, Margaret Hogg, Editor
of the Dinghy Digest, a Firefly from the Welsh Harp, helmed by June Crossley, an OK helmed and crewed by Robert Williams and an Enterprise helmed by Peter Broughton. Another Albacore was helmed by Jane Holloway of the Castle (only her second race) but ably supported by her crew and owner of the dinghy David Pearce who is the 1966 Albacore National Champion. Now that’s some talented crew! So various classes of dinghy there: Albacore, Firefly, Enterprise, OK, Merlin Rocket and Mirror. Now with these illustrious sailors, although no odds were announced, it seemed that the favourite was John Herbert. Coxswain of Brownsea Castle and owner of an Albacore with a successful season already completed.The experiment went on to become the Brownsea Dinghy Regatta, a week long racing event which continued through to 2002 (before it was replaced with the Brownsea Dinghy week). John was always up fighting for and winning cups during these weeks as many a Gazette report will testify.
He sailed, amongst others, the Albacore and boy was he successful. In 1971 he became runner up in the National Albacore Championships sailing his boat “Nuki’s Temptation”, Sail No. 1932. In 1972 he became the National Albacore Champion. He went on to win the 1973 World Championships in Plymouth sailing with his crew, Ray Blake, against 148 entries.
He continued sailing Albacores through the 80 and 90’s at Parkstone Yacht Club with various crews and started attending opens again in 1998. He also raced Flying Fifteens from Royal Motor Yacht Club in the harbour. John retired in the early 2000’s and in 2007, aged 71, John raced to 5th at the Swanage Nationals as well as travelling on numerous occasions to the USA to race in the North American’s. John hung up his dinghy boots at age 80 (in 2016) but not before buying a family cruiser and continuing to race regularly in Poole harbour.
He was also a great character. I was told that on one occasion he was invited to a party at Royal Motor and persuaded three young ladies, who worked at the Castle, to join him. He took them down to the jetty and, suitably dressed for the party, they hopped into the Albacore to cross the water. Probably not the most appropriate transport whilst dressed like that!
So, in all, a remarkable character, always game for a laugh, sometimes in a scrape or two, great company and always partial to a glass of bubbly! I’m sure many will remember him but we, at the Sailing Club Archive, remember him very fondly.