When the shortlist for the 2017 RYA Club of the Year was announced, one club stood out from the rest. The Coventry-based Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association isn't your average Midlands sailing club, yet the work they do to get people on the water was rewarded with the inaugural Innovation Award.
HOEOCA may have missed out on the top award but that innovation, and that of the region's other cruising clubs, is offering a different type of sailing experience across the Midlands.
As Judy Lambourne, HOEOCA Commodore and RYA Midlands Cruising Rep, explains: "One of the best things about sailing is there is always something new to learn. Midlands cruising clubs offer the chance for all sailors in the region to expand their sailing horizons, and take their passion on to the sea, should they wish or maybe if joints aren't quite so supple as they once were.
"Some Midlands dinghy clubs do have their own cruising sections, either formally or informally. We want to provide another way for people to keep their enthusiasm for sailing alive through perhaps developing their skills and knowledge in a different area of the sport and enjoying something they might otherwise have thought was out of their reach in the Midlands."
Each cruising club is different, but most have monthly meetings and organise rallies, charters and some arrange offshore race entry too. Some are, or have excellent relationships with, RYA Training Centres to offer access to practical and theory training from Competent Crew, Day and Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster qualifications to VHF, Diesel Engines, Radar, Sea Survival and First Aid.
Many also have impressive winter programmes, with guest speakers including Volvo Ocean Race-winning skipper Ian Walker and BBC weather forecaster, Penny Tranter, amongst the most recent visitors to the region for club talk nights. Burton SC hosted an Evening With Ian Walker in February while Ms Tranter has visited both Bromsgrove Boaters and HOEOCA.
One of the cruising clubs' biggest draws is you don't need to have access to a yacht to go offshore sailing.
HOEOCA, for example, organises longer charters and ‘shared cost cruising’ for weekend sails. Clubs also tend to be able to negotiate better charter rates and discounts than individuals too, and how many non-sailing weekends away cost as little as £100-200 including accommodation?
Judy continues: "Only a small percentage of HOEOCA's 150 members are boat owners themselves, and few have any desire to be, so our role is largely to provide a social network whereby people can meet others with similar yachting interests and ambitions and help them to make these happen.
"That might be through organising our own club trips, helping to arrange charters, gaining race entry for members to compete in events on club chartered boats or facilitate training opportunities.
"Whatever people want from their yacht sailing, our Midlands cruising clubs will be able to make it happen either directly or through contacts, and for many people, that itself is a revelation."
Who are the Midlands cruising clubs?
Watch this space...for details of an exciting new conference for sail cruisers Judy is working towards bringing to the Midlands in March 2018.
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