History of Gunboat Melik from 1926
By Colonel Tony Uloth (past Vice Commodore)
In 1926 when the Melik was retired from government service and leased to the Blue Nile Sailing Club (BNSC) she had a long career in front of her as its club-house. By the early 1980s rust was seriously corroding her bottom plates. In spite of the efforts of the Club to keep her afloat she was in grave danger of sinking at her moorings. In 1987 she was swept ashore by an exceptional flood – an event that undoubtedly saved her from an ignominious end.
Up until then, apart from in 1938 participating in the Alexander Korda film, The Four Feathers, and the war years when she was used for transport by the Sudan Defence Force, the Melik lay moored to the river bank. Here, for many years as part of the BNSC boat yard, she was a landmark and focal point for many generations of boat owners and their crews. The unmistakable silhouette of her tall funnel, high upper works and long straight-stemmed hull, set against the green of the mahogany trees lining the avenue behind her, providing a welcome sight to all those afloat.
Throughout its time as the club-house the Melik acted as a committee room, starting and finishing point for races (signalled in the early years by a cannon and later by a bell) and as a venue for social functions. It was from her deck that crews were ferried back and forth to their boats’ moorings.
The main focus of the Club was sailing races. Into the 1980s these took place, in the season from November till April, three afternoons a week. Normally round a set of buoys moored off the Melik, sometimes they would be further afield – a circumnavigation of Tuti Island or up the Blue Nile to Um Domm. Two weeks a year was set aside for racing in the White Nile at Gordon’s Tree and this provided an opportunity for more races on the outward and return trips.
From 1932 until the present day the Club raced a fleet of boats known as the Khartoum One-design. The fact that these boats have lasted so well demonstrates the success of the design. It also shows that the Club, considered in the Condominium period to have been a somewhat selective organisation, exercised remarkable foresight in commissioning the Khartoum One-design.
On its behalf, Morgan Giles, the well-known yacht designer of the 1930s produced a design, based on the sharpie with an eighteen-foot half-decked, steel hull, complete with centreboard and buoyancy tanks. The sail area of about 143 square feet comprised a Bermuda rigged mainsail and a jib. In the climate of the Sudan the early use of a steel hull proved a masterstroke. Over fifty were built. To quote from the Club Handbook: “The design has been worked out to produce a strong boat which will stand hard use for a long time”.
The BNSC, which still flourishes, was in 1994 investigating the purchase of a more modern sailing boat to enable the Sudan to take part in international competitions. In the meantime about a dozen of the old Khartoum One-designs were still being raced. Like their mother hen – the Melik, the chicks have proved survivors too!