Skipper development programme benefits Midlands cruising clubs

Training provides additional support for yacht sailors in land-locked region
Skippers from Midlands cruising clubs on a training weekend in the Solent, credit HOEOCA

A skipper training scheme is enabling cruising sailors from across the land-locked Midlands region to build skills and confidence to support the activities of their clubs.

There are around half a dozen yacht cruising clubs based in the region and a key factor in their success is the availability of skippers who are able to charter boats on the coast and ensure positive experiences for those participating as crew members.

The Skipper Development Programme provides an opportunity to develop boat and people management skills and was originally conceived by the Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association (HOEOCA). It is now available to all the region’s cruising clubs with some financial support from RYA Midlands.

Participants who have already completed the appropriate RYA courses for yacht cruising can apply to take part in the programme to learn more about skippering for club rallies, with two training weekends followed by one-to-one sessions with a personal development plan.

Judy Lambourne, a member of HOEOCA and Cruising Rep on the RYA Midlands Regional Volunteer Team, said: “The programme develops the boat management and softer skills that skippering for a club requires. The aim is to grow the skipper pool and enhance the quality of the sailing experience for cruising club members, demonstrate due diligence and support people to actively grow their confidence at skippering a boat for a group of people.

“Feedback shows it is something our clubs want and value, and the participants have appreciated the opportunity to take part in the programme. It upskills our skippers and enhances their RYA qualifications and it’s a particularly helpful scheme for the Midlands, where people are not necessarily able to get out sailing as often as if they were living on the coast.”

Essential skills

The Skipper Development Programme is run by RYA Yachtmaster Instructor Keith Harding, Principal of RYA Training School ‘Reach 4 the Wind, aboard his Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 35 yacht.

Four skippers who took part in the 2021 programme (pictured top, left to right) included David Gilchrist of HOEOCA, Mark Copeland of Stafford Coastal Cruising and David Harris from Penguins, with trainer Keith Harding, and Stewart Martin of New Parks Cruising Association (right).

As David Gilchrist from HOEOCA explains: “When sailing club members enjoy a rally, they’ll want to come again, they may even bring a friend next time. Good club skippers are one of the essential ingredients of a successful rally. Step forward the RYA Midlands Skipper Development Programme!”

The skippers on David’s course were all selected by their clubs and went to Ocean Village, Southampton, for two consecutive coaching weekends in late September/early October 2021. The first included a refresher of practical skills, consideration of legal matters and discussion about the important attributes of a good skipper with, as David puts it: “A little dose of honest self-appraisal.”

The second weekend then focused on skippering and specifically the softer skills necessary for the success of club events. Everyone took turns at all the key roles of skipper and crew, including compiling the sailing logbook with tidal info, weather forecasts, pilotage and passage plans. Debriefs were held for each day’s activities and the weekends overall, concluding with one-to-ones and action planning with instructor Keith.

As a bonus, anyone who had not sailed on a fully reefed yacht in Force 8+ winds and heavy rain in the Solent was able to add this to their experiences of sailing!

Crew management

“Having come through the RYA training ladder, we know that skippering a yacht brings responsibilities for the safety of your vessel and all aboard,” says David. “However, there’s much more to consider in keeping a well-motivated crew.”

David, whose full account from the Skipper Development Programme can be read here, says the many takeaways for participants included:

  • How to get the best from crew and enable each crew member to make a valuable contribution.
  • On matters of safety, having clear policies such as for the wearing of lifejackets, and enabling the crew to help enforce important safety rules.
  • Taking account of crew strengths and weaknesses and spotting the tell-tale signs of someone becoming dissatisfied or feeling unwell.
  • Giving crew members pride in what they’ve achieved, irrespective of how big or small the task, and being more crew focused.

David concludes that in his view it is an “essential programme for sailing club skippers” and that if just a few of the key points learned are remembered on each passage: “Good club skippers will become better club skippers.”

Following its success to date the programme is expected to continue for Midlands cruising clubs into 2022 and beyond.

Find your local cruising club

Cruising clubs in the Midlands offer a warm welcome for would-be members of all experience levels, whether complete novices, dinghy sailors wanting to try something new, or experienced yacht sailors. Many have been busy with activities underway again in 2021, including training, social events and yacht charter weekends and holidays at home and abroad.

Cruising clubs in the RYA Midlands region include:

Or for more information, advice, tips and knowledge visit RYA Cruising.