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"Dinghies or bigger boats, club challenges are the same" 

Peter Smerdon Peter Smerdon, new RYA Midlands secretary, talks sailing in the region

Last month we introduced the new Midlands Regional Volunteer team and explained how replacing the previous East and West regional committees will open up new opportunities for sailing development in the region (read that article to the right).

In the first of a short series profiling the new team, we introduce you to Peter Smerdon, the new RYA Midlands Secretary and a founding member of the Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association. Meet Peter!

1.  We talk a lot about club development in the region, but your background is big boats. So tell us about HOEOCA.

I first learnt to sail aged 11 in Wayfarer dinghies on the River Hamble. I'd always wanted to sail, both grandfathers were seamen and my father was in the Royal Navy so was in the blood. At 16 we moved to Perth and I briefly owned a wooden Albacore, but then didn’t sail again seriously until 1992.

I joined a Day Skipper theory course at the Heart of England School in Balsall Common, where I live, run by HOEOCA’s founding Commodore, Jim Race. This was followed by Coastal Skipper theory and Day Skipper practical. Jim suggested we set up a club to allow course graduates to sail together and HOEOCA was born. 

Many people find it strange that an offshore sailing club with 150 members is based more or less in the centre of England, but HOEOCA offers opportunities for offshore cruising and racing to people living in the West Midlands. We run rallies, speaker evenings, social events, training courses and enable offshore sailing enthusiasts, many of them still or ex dinghy sailors, the chance to get on the water in a cost effective way.

2. So why get involved in the regional team?

I have been Treasurer, Commodore and Secretary of HOEOCA and got involved with the RYA Regional Committee in early 2014, mainly as a) I wanted to put something back into a sport that had given me so much interest and fun and b) because I wanted Midlands-based cruising clubs, of which there are several, to have more of a voice on the committee. But, it's only since the regional reorganisation, and the launch of the Regional Volunteer Teams, I think we now have a structure that can start to move things forward.   

3. In what ways?

The RVT's main objectives are to support Gareth Brookes and his development team and to facilitate improved links between the affiliated clubs and the RYA. Gareth and his team have always been responsible for the whole of the Midlands so amalgamating the previous East and West Midlands committees makes perfect sense. 

We are now aiming to work ‘smarter’ to overcome the challenge presented by a very wide geographical area. Gareth only has a small team so using volunteers such as ourselves means the RYA can more directly keep in touch with a larger number of affiliated clubs.

I think all sailing clubs have the challenge of developing and retaining members and getting them out on the water more frequently. As long as members stay around, then the clubs, working with the RYA, can improve the standard of sailing and race competence. Whether a club is sailing dinghies or bigger boats, the challenges are the same.

4. What does your role of Secretary entail?

I’m responsible for our administrative arrangements, minutes of meetings and providing general support. In my working life I was a Company Secretary so have the right sort of background for this activity.  I’ve also recently agreed to become the representative for the Green Blue, to help spread the message on environmental matters.

5. The Regional Volunteer Team is a very new thing. What would be 'success' for the team this year?

Success in this first year will be measured by an increase in the number of affiliated clubs we have regular contact with, an increase in the usage of the dinghy fleets owned by the region and in the number of club representatives attending the RYA Midlands Affiliated Clubs Conference (see details to the right).

Sailing - whether inland or offshore – is a total sport, exercising not just one's physical attributes but challenging the intellect also. The RYA does a great job representing and supporting all those of us who venture on the water but has limited resources. As a volunteer and part of the RVT, it’s possible to help the sport to move forwards and enable more people to get afloat.

*Do you think you could make a difference to your sport in your region? The Regional Volunteer Team is still on the lookout for team members so if you are interested in giving something back please contact Peter at peter.smerdon50@gmail.com 

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