Barry Finlay belonged to an elite group of sailors in South Shields Sailing Club. Yes, an elite group, the ‘Miracle’ sailors...the epitome of all that’s best in competitive dinghy racing in our Club. It’s a fact that all other sailors at the Club secretly wish they were Miracle sailors.Barry’s time in the Club came after the big Miracle fleet days at Shields, but when he did join, he certainly took up the mantle of his predecessors with great enthusiasm. Styles of sailing of course are often seen to be related to character and personality, as illustrated by past and present Miracle sailors: Bob Robinson...he sailed a Miracle which was never maintained much year on year and which had sails looking like old pocket handkerchiefs, but his bolt-upright posture, reflecting his general attitude to life, kept him both bang on the wind without deviation by so much as a half a degree and always in contention.
Ernie Johnson would march off with armfuls of trophies every season by dint of his detailed boat performance research, allied to an uncanny practical knack of being able to tune his boat to the sweetest of sweet spots...he likened sailing a Miracle to tuning-in an old style valve radio by twiddling the knobs a little to the left, a little to the right and then bang on the wavelength and into the groove. The two ‘Anns’, Wigmore and Allison, can still be heard calling for their own water at the Herd, whether merited or not, whilst making their mark for the ladies. Bob Newby’s famous rocking-chair style of sailing still produces optimum boat speed whilst cannily inducing a soporific state of mind in his mostly-trailing competitors...
But Barry was noted for his practiced and surprisingly effective ‘cocked-over’ style of sailing, designed to catch every last breath of wind whilst at times close to capsize (which he did, not infrequently, yet was always capable of coming back into a race to claim an on-the-line victory in its dying seconds). ‘Never write Barry off’ was the message in Miracle races...as in life. As one of the best readers of the Tyne Harbour tides and currents, he raised suspicions that he had access to a secret source of hydrographic intelligence. Disconcertingly he would often strike off from the main fleet to conduct some bold, last-minute and potentially winning manoeuvre. Barry was forgiven by his peers for trying to buy his way to the front of the fleet when he acquired a brand-new wooden Miracle. This simply because it was the most beautiful boat in the fleet, originally in British racing green, but then curiously repainted white by Barry, perhaps to make him more visible when in capsize mode following one of his characteristic pushes to the outer edge of the sailing envelope. Above all, Barry was a great competitor, worthy of his place amongst this elite. ‘Needle competition’ describes the essence of Miracle sailing at South Shields and Barry embraced that concept in full measure.
Off the water, Barry made a significant and effective contribution to the Club for a goodly number of years in the role of Honorary Secretary, in which he also displayed his obvious talent for seeking out funding from various sources for Club development projects. His loss will be keenly felt by the many young people who he helped as an active leader in the Admiralty-recognised Sea Scout Group affiliated to the Club, bringing to bear his long sea-going experience as a Chief Officer in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
Not least, Barry will also be greatly missed as a stalwart of the inter-club quizzes. It could be thought that, without Barry on the Shields team, the chances of the ’Key to Knowledge’ trophy remaining at Tynemouth SC have risen significantly. Barry wouldn’t want us to entertain that thought. The words ‘giving up’ were not in his vocabulary.