By Natasha Fernandopulle
The CSAC was founded in 1934 by a group of fishing enthusiasts. Then members consisted mainly of British tea planters and those from the capital’s mercantile sector.
“It was a varied and diverse club with sailing and yachting,” says Ruan Dayananda, Secretary CSAC. “People used to even fly their sea planes here – it was a hive of activity!” Whale and dolphin watching started in the 1980’s in Kodiyar Bay, Trincomalee, in association with NARA who have an office close by, long before it became popular in the South, he added.
Back in the early days, the club had permission to use all the lighthouses around the island as bases for fishing expeditions. Their permanent base was a wooden structure near the Beruwela Lighthouse on Barberyn Island. The CSAC moved to Clappenberg Bay in 1946, after World War II.
The British East India Fleet as well as an airstrip for the Fleet Air Arm was established in China Bay, Trincomalee, at the beginning of World War II. The Dutch were among the many nationalities that made up the British force and hence a separate Mess was built for the Dutch officers at Clappenberg Bay. When World War II ended, the CSAC obtained the use of this Mess as their permanent clubhouse. The building was owned by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and a 99-year lease was granted to the CSAC.
The Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCAF) was established in the late 1950’s and the land surrounding the China Bay airfield was taken over by the RCAF, unknown to club members. The result? In the mid 1970’s, the CSAC was informed that they were “squatting” on Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) property and had to enter into a “squatters’ agreement” with the SLAF which continued until 2005. Valid documents on the lease in the 30 years prior to the squatters’ agreement had been lost due to the Trincomalee Kachcheri being razed to the ground in the 1983 riots. In addition, a cyclone which hit the bay in 1977 resulted in the loss of most of their original documents dating from 1939 – 1974.
“The lease signed in 2005 was a 15-year renewable one which could be terminated at any point,” said Jonathan Martenstyn, President CSAC. And so it happened when the club was given notice by the SLAF in January this year, citing security reasons, and asked to move out by April 25, 2009.
Commenting on the termination of the lease, Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara, said, “It’s based on security reasons. Security does not relax with the war coming to an end.” He also stated that in the present context, a specific time line cannot be placed with regard to renewing the lease.
Club officials, however, are hoping there will be a change of heart. “The CSAC currently has a membership of around 500 with around 300 active members and it is one of the few resident-angling clubs in the world,” says Mr. Dayananda. “Moreover it is the only anglers club in Sri Lanka recognised by the International Game Fishing Association in Florida USA.”
From the breathtaking location, to its relaxing atmosphere, to the amazing food – the crab curry in particular, the members have many memories. “This is where people have caught their first fish or their biggest fish,” says Mr. Martenstyn. “It’s a beautiful spot, it’s paradise.”
The CSAC celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. “We had planned a number of activities to develop the club to what it was in the grand old days,” says Mr. Martenstyn. “But now we are at major crossroads. Still our members will stand by the club and we want to move the club forward so it can be there for another 75 years,” he said.