I caught up with David Mason, secretary of the Sailing and Cruising Association, to see whether I had what it takes to go cruising with the club.
Established in 1980 and now with around 450 members, are you continuing to see a growth in membership?
1980 was a very different time – when the club first began, a covert invitation was placed in a yachting magazine, instructing the reader to meet in the Dickens Inn with a copy of the magazine rolled up under your arm. Thankfully, recruiting new members has become increasingly easy over the years.
Set up originally by a group of gay men who were tired of hiding their true self from their sailing friends, the Club has gone from strength to strength, welcoming women and more recently making clear that we aim to make the broader LGBTQ community welcome on the water.
In those early days the club grew rapidly, but now for several decades our membership has been steady at around 450 members, with a healthy number of new members joining the club to replace those who decide to hang up their oilskins and sailing boots.
Is there a limit on how big the club can get?
One of the reasons membership had been steady at 450 was because we’d reached the practical limit that our volunteer Membership Secretary could manage. Just recently, we’ve started to use a fantastic membership system which already seems to be having an impact – not only does it cut out a load of the boring admin , it makes joining so much quicker and easier for new members to join.
Theoretically the club has no physical limit, although we’ll have to keep an eye on event numbers as some of our more popular events may get too big to fit in one marina. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it may make it viable for us to put on a greater variety of events to cater for everyone.
What draws people to sailing?
Fresh air, camaraderie, and sunbathing on the deck with a gin and tonic. Plus there’s competitive racing, cruising around different parts of the world, the technical challenge of setting sails, navigating and calculating tides, and understanding the weather. Or it might simply be the joy of owning your own boat. You don’t need to live near the sea, although it can make it easier to get out more regularly.
Some aspects of sailing can be really complicated – particularly if you’re the boat’s skipper – but there’s always space for less experienced crew, and we’ve plenty of skippers who will gladly take novice crew and show you the ropes.
Once you’re bitten by the sailing bug, it can be very easy to pick up. I started sailing as a complete novice in 2004. One of the club’s members took me out on his yacht, taught me some knots, how to steer the boat and how the sails worked. Within a month, I was joining the club’s charter flotilla in Croatia.
Is sailing a relatively elite sport?
You certainly need some access to a boat, but you don’t need to own a boat yourself. Several club members choose to charter a boat when they want one, but you need to have the relevant qualifications before the hire company will hand over the keys. If, like me, you don’t have the qualifications, there are plenty of opportunities to crew for other people. We even have a ‘crew match’ group for club members, which helps put skippers and crew in touch with each other.
You don’t need to be rolling in cash to enjoy sailing – don’t let the perception of it being elite put you off giving it a go.
If I was interested in giving sailing a try, what’s the best way to get started?
Find a skipper who’s happy to take you out for a sail. Our Club has plenty of events in the sailing season, and it’s likely you’ll be able to find a willing skipper in our crew match group. If you’d be happier having training before you get out on the water, then we can certainly help point you in the direction of a local sailing school that can take you through the RYA Competent Crew course syllabus which will set you off to a flying start.
What are some of the goals and aspirations for the club in the months ahead?
We’re already filling up our events calendar for 2019. A highlight is always the annual treasure hunt – fancy dress, boating challenges, and lots of fun. We’re also hoping to have a flotilla make it across the channel this year for a bank holiday rally – bad weather has spoiled our plans for cross-channel adventures in recent years. Plus, we’re starting to make plans for 2020 – it will be our Ruby Jubilee, 40 years since the Club was founded.