Women on the Water - Hunts Sailing Club

A case study on the Women's Sailing Group at Hunts SC, St Ives
17 May 21
Two women sailing blue dinghy, water, trees

The East Region has some very strong women’s sailing groups – one of these being ‘Women on the Water’ (WOW) at Hunts Sailing Club, in St Ives. Here, Vanessa Weedon-Jones from the Club, explains how the group came to be:

“The group started when I moved into the area about ten years ago. At that time I was a newly qualified SI and I’d spent a fair bit of time in various clubs and centres, and had noticed an absence of women sailors, instructors, committee members, in fact an absence of women, full stop. I wanted to set up a women only group with the hope of just getting more women into the sport, primarily just to enjoy sailing, but also to hopefully grow from there.

We started off quite slowly with just a handful of people who wanted to learn, but then started to grow as word got round. I soon realised I would need help and luckily a couple of people in the group were ready and willing for Instructor training and after that we went from strength to strength.

We’ve now ‘grown’ five DIs from within the group, also helped by the positive and friendly attitude within the club, plus plenty of AIs and one PBI. These has put the group on really firm foundations and I think we can continue well into the future. We also have a Keelboat Instructor in our number, who also sails at Colne YC with the women’s group there, and we have a day out planned so we can try some sea sailing. We’ve already had a visit from some of the team at Hertford County Yacht Club, plus a semi-planned trip out to see Jane’s women’s group at Snettisham might be resurrected soon.

During lockdown we met every week via zoom, with each instructor putting together a session on a different sailing subject. I also delivered some Assistant Race Officer training and a fair few are taking this up as a better duty option than being in the galley.

What I notice is that the group has a real ‘community’ feel. New members are always made welcome and very quickly become one of us. Everyone is welcome, whether they can sail or not, and people are always happy to take newcomers out and get them started. That’s where having our own instructors really comes to the fore. One of our more recent members, who has not long moved into the area, has commented how joining WOW has given her an instant friendship network.

We don’t just sail - quite a few people have taken up SUP and kayaking (sit on tops) and people are just as welcome to come and paddle as they are to come and sail. We’re going to be running some SUP tasters soon, with the idea of getting more people in to the group then maybe converting them to sailors. I think we have a potential SUP instructor in the group, which would be awesome.

Some of the additional benefits of the group are that we now have four women committee members (out of 12) three of whom are WOW regulars. It’s a shame that that has to be remarkable, but I think being regular users of the club has given people more interest in getting involved in what goes on, and maybe also the confidence to join what was a bit of a male dominated group. I’m really pleased with this; women being seen to be decision makers really helps with being seen as being fully active and involved in the club - about time too.

Another benefit has been the increase in numbers of women racing. We had a fifty fifty male - female split in our Get Ready to Race course over Easter, and likewise a fifty fifty male-female coaching team. That felt brilliant.

I’m a firm believer that it really helps if people can ‘see themselves’ or someone like them, doing an activity, so having a wealth of role models and mentors coming out of the group has been fantastically useful and has definitely influenced the club as a whole.”

The Hunts SC WOW group are planning a number of activities as part of the Steering the Course Festival – including a Trophy Race on Saturday 22 May, a Bring a Friend session on Tuesday 25 May, and featuring the club’s women sailors via the Club’s social media over the course of the festival.