No water, no problem - how Halifax overcame the odds to stay OnBoard last year

22 Jan 20

"We went from from a sea of mud to a really successful year!" Sue Lamb, Chief Instructor at Halifax SC, laughs as she reflects on the predicament the club was facing this time last year.

Drought had already deprived Halifax's sailors, including their dedicated Saturday afternoon OnBoarders, of time on the water in 2018. So when they found out Yorkshire Water wanted to drain their reservoir - Warley Moor in Calderdale, West Yorkshire - add a syphon and repair the walls last year they were very worried.

The plan was to start draining in June, but in reality the water started going down at the beginning of the year, which led to their Push the Boat Out event and Youth Open being cancelled. 

"All our club members were either moving to nearby clubs or having a year off sailing," explains Sue. "But our main concern was our OnBoard group. We wanted to try to keep them together somehow.

"There are around 12-14 who always come every Saturday afternoon, and parents and other members attend to help to ensure these sessions are fun and instructive. If there are boats spare once the kids are afloat the parents sometimes have a sail too. They had grown up with us, it would have been such a shame to lose them."

So Sue took matters into her own hands...

Enter Denholme

Sue had learned to sail at Denholme SC, situated on Doe Park about 20 minutes north east of Halifax SC, some 30 years earlier. The previous year, Halifax had helped Denholme out by hosting an Lightening Open Meeting at very short notice after an event clash with a Dragon Boat Regatta at Doe Park.

Sue still knew a couple of members at the club so she asked if they might be able to return the favour, albeit for a bit longer. Denholme couldn't have been more willing.

"Denholme share their water with Doe Park Water Activities Centre, but don't sail themselves on Saturday afternoons. So they said as long as we didn't mind loads of kids using the centre milling around at the same time then it was all ours!

"They gave us a Group Membership to their club for all our members, keys and codes. We were allowed to use their club boats and, because we were now members of Denholme SC, we had access to the Activity Centre's boats too. It was the start of something we couldn't have imagined."

Different skills, better sailors

At over 406m above sea level, Halifax's OnBoarders are used to strong straight winds and their season ending at the end of September as it gets too cold and windy. But Doe Park is in a deep valley so is more sheltered and the wind blows from all directions. It bounces off the hill sides and the winds are lighter and more fluky.

This had two advantages for the Halifax youngsters - they sailed every Saturday afternoon, bar one, until the middle of November, unheard of at their home club, and developed new skills to sail in the different conditions.

Sue continues: "We had sessions at Denholme when it was quite windy, but that would have been blown off at Halifax. It meant the kids had more time on the water during the season. To begin with the young people found sailing on Doe Park quite challenging.

"They're used to raging winds and hanging out the side of the boat, now they had to learn to adapt to lighter winds that went up and down. Some struggled and struggled and then it suddenly clicked. Their sailing skills developed rapidly and most of them now have Stage 3."

The Halifax OnBoarders got to try different boats too. The club took their own Picos and a members' Mirror to Denholme, while having access to a range of Hartley boats through Denholme. The relationship with the Activities Centre also gave them access to Toppers and Topaz dinghies, which the kids thought were wonderful.

Halifax had no storage on site, but that challenge was overcome by the club keeping all their rudders and sails in large plastic boxes and Sue bringing down wetsuits on demand from her garage.

The two clubs ended up running joint sailing courses together on Wednesday evenings and then practise sessions. And, as a couple of other Halifax members joined Denholme, the two clubs even raced together, the OnBoarders taking part in Pursuit Racing for the first time too.

At the end of the season, Halifax hosted their annual OnBoard Fun Day at the Activities Centre, with kids and parents scaling the giant climbing wall as well doing some sailing and enjoying a BBQ. The two clubs even attended each other's laying up suppers.

What now?

Currently Warley Moor Reservoir remains empty. The work is due to be completed by mid-May, but with Halifax traditionally back on the water in March the two clubs are already talking about how they can work together again this year. 

There is also more good news for Halifax as a grant of £10,000, funded by the building of the nearby Ovenden Wind Farm, is enabling them to buy some new Quest and Zest training boats to replace their current Wayfarer. 

Meanwhile, Sue paid tribute to one of the parents who helps on the Safety boat, another is aiming to become a Powerboat Instructor and one of their instructors is now going on to do his Senior Instructor qualification.

Sue concludes: "No-one wants to leave Denholme behind. They are such lovely, lovely people and we cannot thank the club enough for all their help. We have different things we can each offer so now we're working out a way of continuing to work together. It's been a really, really good year. A triumph over the loss of our water."