A programme to bridge the skills gap for sailors wanting to get on the water more often or take part in racing has led to growing participation at a club in North Yorkshire.
Scaling Dam Sailing Club near Whitby has been encouraging members with beginner and intermediate race coaching, ‘how-to’ video guides, fleet support and e-newsletters.
The aim is to create a ‘what’s next’ pathway with pointers to resources and activities for newer members who have learnt to sail on courses at the club. Feedback reveals the initiative has also been appreciated by long-standing members keen to develop their skills.
Club Development Officer Phil Dickinson explains: “It is resulting in bigger turnouts and it’s starting to feel really vibrant because we’re seeing more people, getting more involved. It’s all about encouraging people to become embedded in the sport and at the club.”
The club’s pricing structure makes it cost effective for people to join as a member rather than simply take a course. The programme of support - as highlighted in a planned series of follow-up e-newsletters - then adds value and practical help to promote regular participation.
This includes sailing skills videos created by Phil, which started out as a lockdown project looking at essential knots but has since expanded to cover topics such as the ‘five essentials’ of sailing in greater depth, and how to launch and return to shore in different conditions.
“I made the videos as a tool to support people who had done courses with us and the feedback has been great,” says Phil. “When I highlighted them in club newsletters, it also surprised me who was chatting about them. It wasn’t just new members, it was people who’d been sailing for years, saying they were a really useful refresher.”
An RYA Start Racing course was followed up this year with six Intermediate Racing sessions on Sunday mornings, comprising a shore-based lesson and an exercise afloat, then the lunchtime club race with on-water support. A second block is now being planned.
With four coaches adding variety and different perspectives, it has also allowed everyone to get to know the front-runners as friendly people instead of intimidating competition.
A WhatsApp group enables everyone to chat about their sailing and racing experiences, and discuss rules and learning points. Club member Matt Jackson has also helped by offering a service which supports ILCA sailors to keep their boats in good working order - anything from an ‘MOT’ and rigging tips to new ropes, blocks and fittings with advice on how to install and use them.
Jess Pound, aged 27, is among those who have made the leap from learning the ropes to taking part in club racing thanks to the pathway provided by Scaling Dam Sailing Club.
Jess, a medical writer, first joined the club as a paddleboarder, then did a windsurfing course and thought she might as well try sailing too. She relishes the chance to get away from the desk and out at the club after taking RYA Level 1 & 2 courses in May 2022, moving onto the club’s Start Racing course in September, then its ‘race squad’ intermediate programme this April.
“It’s become my second home,” says Jess, who now races an ILCA 4 and is achieving respectable mid-fleet results. “When I learnt to sail I was the only person who didn’t get my Level 1 certificate because I was too nervous to get in a boat on my own, so I’ve come quite far since then!”
Jess says the support at the club has enabled her to grow in confidence and feel in her comfort zone on the water, with the training, newsletters and videos all helping her to understand the wind: “I couldn’t quite get it but with the videos you can pause, rewind and digest the information – and then it was a case of practise, practise, practise. I would go on Friday nights, when you can ask about any challenges you’re having, and then I did the race training sessions.
“The club is super welcoming and friendly: I got a 4th in a recent pursuit race and someone gave me a high five! People share tips because they want you to do well, and Phil is like the club pro and always happy to help. I really enjoy the ‘club’ feel at Scaling Dam.”
The club has seen 5 to 8 people on Level 1&2 courses every other weekend since April and delivers training using both volunteer and paid instructors, a hybrid approach which a growing number of clubs are finding helpful, including Yorkshire Dales SC.
Phil also devised an instructor academy reward scheme, which gives volunteers ‘credits’ towards courses, membership discounts and watersports kit in return for helping out.
Wednesday evening turnouts are 22% larger than last year, with up to around 17 boats racing at any one time, and the ILCA fleet has grown from 21 to 28 competitors, with the largest turnout increasing from 8 to 16 boats, and the average per race doubling to 10 or more.
The club has also seen growing numbers for its three Sunday races, growing from a maximum of 20 boats on a busy day to consistently higher turnouts of 25 upwards.
“The figures are good for a small club like ours and those who renewed their membership this year are now more active and using the club a lot more,” concludes Phil. “We’re getting more engagement on a more regular basis from club members and we’re still only part way into the season, so we are hoping that turnouts will continue to grow.”