Passing of David Finch

We are sorry to share the news that David Finch passed away 16/08/20 aged 90

Phil Jackson writes:

I was very fond of David, as I was of Robyn. I probably knew him longer and better than most Sailing Club people. He was our family’s lodger in the 1960s, when we lived in Coppermill Road, when I was a teenager. I remember that he was always out running at the time; he always kept himself very fit. I remember his Mother visiting from Burton on Trent. He was courting Robyn at the time, which was quite amusing. It was not a standard courtship, and it was not a standard marriage, but they made it work very successfully. They were both strong, independent characters, and much of the time neither had a clue what the other one was doing, but they thought the world of each other nonetheless.

David was Mr. Silver Wing Sailing Club. Whoever was the nominal Commodore, David was the real power behind the throne. I served 6 years  as Commodore and 6 years as Vice Commodore alongside him, as well as stints as Sailing Secretary and Fleet Captain. We always got on well, and I believe had great respect for each other, although we are very different personalities. The Club facilities and buildings were always David’s sphere. As a Design Engineer he used to draw up meticulous drawings, even drawing up where every paving stone would be placed. He kept his ideas to himself, and was normally to be found in the corner of the Compound with an angle grinder in his hands, while the rest of us were in the bar. I just let him get on with it; it always seemed to work out very well. 

We didn’t always agree. One time when we didn’t was when we extended the Clubhouse. David’s drawings were very elaborate, but not ambitious enough in my opinion, and they didn’t include a bar! My idea was to tack a Pinelog swimming pool enclosure onto the end. I won the debate on that occasion, and the result stands to this day. David was quite upset at first, but I think that eventually he grew to like the new extension, and the bar that Ray Bennett and I built inside it. (Ray did most of the building!). We had to modify the design, however, to make sure that the door aligned symmetrically with the two brick raised flower beds which David had previously built, and which also stand to this day.

David, an ex RAF Pilot, took me on my first flight; in an Auster from White Waltham. He was of course a Development Engineer for B.E.A. / British Airways, specialising in structures. Soon after I joined the Merchantman (Vanguard Freighter) fleet, we had a fleet social come educational evening. David was the guest speaker, and he described in great detail the intricacies of the locking mechanism of the  Merchantman cargo door, which had a nasty habit of refusing to lock properly. It wasn’t the most gripping after dinner speech, but it was very important. The fear was that the door might blow open in flight, which would have been catastrophic. We were all in David’s hands, but it never did come open.

David was a brilliant sailor. When I was a teenager, the Club had four top sailors who won most of the races; David, Ralph Bodily, Ron Carter and Mike Fitzpatrick-Nash. With practice, as I got older, I got to the point when I could give them a race, as could Ray Bennett in his shiny new Avacraft, ‘Razava’. I travelled with David and Robyn, in the little back seat of his MGB, to crew for him in the Enterprise Nationals at Looe. It must have been in 1967 or thereabouts. In those days, the Nationals attracted well over 200 entries. In one race we rounded the windward mark in the lead. I think we came third in that race, and sixteenth overall for the week. Most evenings, David could be found in the boat park, tinkering with or polishing the boat, a Club owned boat number E10175 if I remember correctly. It was the fastest of the Club fleet, and was unofficially reserved for David. I fell into bad company, and they showed me around the many pubs of Looe.

David ruled the Enterprise fleet at Salcombe Regatta for many years in his own Avacraft, which was built by Ron Wadham at Maidenhead to David’s personal design. It was a controversial design, very fast but not quite ‘legal’ in some measurements, so he couldn’t sail it in the Nationals. I remember one year when my younger brother Peter was crewing for David at Salcombe. David decided to sit out one race, and lent the boat to Peter to race. Pete managed to collide with something very hard; a dredger I think, and he brought the boat back with a massive hole in the side. David was not phased at all. He dug out his huge roll of ‘Tank Tape’, (all BA Engineers had plentiful supplies of that excellent material; I think it was used in fuel tanks), and he crafted a beautiful repair with it. That tape repair lasted about five years, before he eventually got round to mending the hole.

David was one of the instigators and leading lights of the inter airline sailing circuit. I went with him and others on many trips, including the inaugural World Airline Sailing Championships in Sydney. We managed to win the WASC in Auckland, Gothenburg, Tokyo and several times at Wraysbury, and came second (I think) in Bergen and Lisbon. David was good fun on those trips. he wasn’t a great drinker and didn’t like beer, but he enjoyed a glass or ten of wine, and became quite funny as the evenings progressed. He was a great and uninhibited dancer at WASC events!

David was indestructible. I remember, when I was Commodore, he was working alone at the Sailing Club, up in the loft, and the folding ladder which he was using collapsed, leaving him on the floor badly hurt. He was there for quite a while before someone found him. I remember visiting him in Wexham Park Hospital. David soon recovered, only to manage to fall of the end of the floating jetty, badly injuring his kneecap. Again, he was soon back to his normal self.

David has a magnificent memorial; virtually every stone and piece of wood at the Sailing Club has his name on it. I will suggest to the current Committee that the Clubhouse is named the David Finch Clubhouse. That will give us the opportunity to have an appropriate naming ceremony, at which we can lift a few glasses and reminisce, sharing our memories of David.

Phil Jackson.