It seems only yesterday that as a young oarsman and committee member I celebrated our Centenary. Little did we know then that the next 25 years would bring so many traumatic changes.
Many of my generation joined the Club in the mid 1960's when General Franco's Spain imposed its blockade on Gibraltar. Ironically, rowing standards benefitted from top class competition and coaching from the UK. I look back on those years with nostalgia and some trepidation, when I recall the intensive training schedules of Dennis Mount (Honorary Member and UK International Oarsman) which our then Captain, Lionel Codali ruthlessly imposed upon us.
Rowing knows no frontiers and in 1977 when the frontier was still closed I had the honour as Club Captain to host a rowing team from Club Nautico Sevilla. Thanks to the efforts of the then GARA Chairman, Louis Triay QC and his personal contacts with the King of Spain, special arrangements were made to pick up the Seville contingent from Algeciras in private launches. Two of those youngsters were later to achieve Gold in the Olympics and yet they still recall the unforgettable "Gibraltar experience" as they raced to victory followed by a massive flotilla of local spectators.
Some say that this "rowing détente" eventually led to the partial normalisation of relations with Spain in 1983. Shortly after, the new economic climate presented the Club with its greatest challenge - reclamation and development of the Montagu Basin.
As Consultant to the Developers, Gibraltar Homes Limited I experienced a very difficult personal predicament and I therefore had no option but to stand back from any official club position, until negotiations with the Developers were finalised.
During those 5 difficult years when the Club was landlocked we survived largely because of the Clubs responsible attitude spearheaded by our then President Bramy Benatar OBE who with his inimitable forceful style managed to not only secure a 99 year lease of our previous premises but also increase the Developers original offer of £175,000 to £450,000. He later squeezed a further £7,000 towards temporary shower facilities. Our rowers under the Captaincy of Clive Baker BEM and his Deputy Leslie Grech (1997 Masters Gold Medallist) also deserve full praise for keeping up our rowing morale during those 5 difficult years. At first by adapting to MRC's fine gesture of boating from their premises and later by continuing to boat from a very basic Nissen hut where the Club stands today. Although our rowing successes undoubtedly suffered during those difficult years the Club can be proud that it never failed to defend its colours with great dignity.
Once the negotiations with Gibraltar Homes were finalised I was able to volunteer my services as Project Manager for the new premises. In August 1995 after two hectic years we finally made it and our premises, including our dear old olive tree, were inaugurated at Europort. Despite all the problems which we experienced almost on a daily basis I have no doubt that without our Life President's negotiating skills and tireless efforts we would never have achieved what we enjoy today. Other members' contributions also added colour to our new premises and in this respect Eric Ellul's Mosaic Mural must surely stand out as a labour of love. More recently, 'old' and 'new' members joined forces to build the new bathing pier thus brought back many fond memories of the true Club spirit when we built the bathing pier at the Old Club.
Although many of us still reminisce about our old premises at Devil's Tongue we should feel proud that over 800 families are now adequately housed in the Montagu Basin thanks to a very large extent to our immense sacrifice during those difficult years. Indeed throughout its history the Club has proved its civic responsibility on numerous occasions and we will no doubt be required to do so again in the future.
An older member, who unfortunately, is no longer with us today, used to constantly remind me: - …"Always remember, young man - that this Club is not just a Rowing Club - it is an Institution". I know that we have not let him down and I sincerely hope that the Club will always remember those fine words of wisdom.
Let us therefore enjoy our 125th Anniversary with pride, joy and confidence so that future generations will forever cherish the solid foundations on which we are built.