Emsworth Sailing Club, near Chichester, and Guernsey Yacht Club, Guernsey, have both reached the national final of the RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Award 2021, supported by Gallagher.
The Award recognises the outstanding achievements of sailing clubs across the UK and promotes the hard work and dedication that goes into running a successful club – a feat made even more challenging this year with Covid-19 restrictions to contend with.
Both sailing clubs, as RYA (Royal Yachting Association) South Region Finalists, join eight other sailing clubs from across the UK in a public vote to decide the winner. Both clubs are hoping members, local sailors and Hampshire residents will vote for their club in their bid to become the national RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year.
In addition to reaching the final, the RYA has also awarded Emsworth Sailing Club with special recognition for its sustainability achievements.
Earlier this year the club launched its Environment Plan, which has embedded environmental thinking into the club’s decision-making, making it part of the club DNA and affecting every aspect of club activity, from on the water to in the office and even at the bar.
Numerous actions have been implemented to help ‘green’ the club, including fitting trigger nozzles on hoses to reduce water use and using LED lighting in the clubhouse. The club recycles as much as possible and looks to ‘repurpose’ things like old rope, that would have previously been thrown away.
The club’s Junior members have conducted litter picks and made videos on plastic pollution, whilst the sailing instructors are trained to be ‘green’ so on-the-water teaching does not disturb harbour wildlife and habitats. Despite not having the full calendar of racing events, those that have gone ahead have been greener, with online registration and tallying.
Peggy Field, Emsworth Sailing Club Sustainability Coordinator said: “We are incredibly excited as a club - being a finalist is a first for us and is welcome positive news at the end of a very challenging year for everyone.”
Peggy continues: “Whilst COVID curtailed much of our club programme, we pulled together to do what we could to support members and our local community. During the first lockdown, we opened up our boat park, next to the coastal footpath, so local residents had space to walk maintaining social distancing.
“Despite not being allowed on the water, our members took to virtual racing, keeping sailors of all ages engaged. As soon as we could, we got back to training and racing, albeit with restrictions in place. We realised how important this was to the wellbeing of our members - being back in the fold of their club.”
Peggy concludes: “We are incredibly proud to receive special recognition for all our work on sustainability. All members, whether they sail, surf, swim or paddle, appreciate how amazing our very own blue - ‘Chichester Harbour’ is. We want to make sure we look after it for the next generation of sailors.”
2020 marked the 130th anniversary of Guernsey Yacht Club, and whilst the island wasn’t subject to all the stringent restrictions which affected the rest of the UK, it was still forced to close its doors during the local lockdown in the spring. Despite this, the club saw a surge in its membership from 1,800 pre-Covid to more than 2,000. This was among many achievements during 2020 which impressed the judging panel.
Guernsey Yacht Club Commodore, Anna Rivers said the award would be the icing on the cake on what has been a challenging yet equally rewarding 12 months: ‘We are delighted to have been shortlisted as it recognises what the club has achieved against the odds this year. Obviously we are very much hoping to win, and we face some tough competition from the other nine shortlisted clubs in the country. On top of everything else it will really shine a light on the Channel Islands as a sailing destination.’
‘It has not been the year that any of us expected, but we feel we tackled all the challenges of 2020 head on and have come out thriving,’ added Anna.
When the club had to close in March it was also quick to embrace technology to ensure member participation and enjoyment was maintained in a virtual capacity. It replaced its spring series with Virtual Regatta fixtures and used Zoom for briefings and prize-givings. This appealed to all age groups with racers and cruisers alike picking up tips and becoming fiercely competitive. Anna explains: ‘We wanted to do all we could to keep the club spirit going and help ensure none of our members felt isolated.’
Although fully re-opening in June, it was far from a typical season with none of the large regattas and visiting yachtsmen bringing business to the club. Anna said they made the most of what they could do locally, staging events for the whole community: ‘Our open day felt like a mini boat show, with have-a-go sailing and a Rib dealership present.’
The club capitalised on the opportunity that presented itself when many islanders, who were unable to go away on holiday this summer, reappraised their local recreational opportunities instead. Anna added: “We successfully promoted the joys of sailing and the social scene that goes with it. Post lockdown we registered 200 members in three months, compared to just 12 during the same period last year.’
In August, to celebrate it’s 130th year, the club staged a sail past with a flotilla of more than 80 yachts, windsurfers and dinghies creating an incredible spectacle in the Little Russel. In addition, the summer dinghy racing series saw bumper numbers on the water, with some returning to sailing after many years away and lots of new members taking courses and learning to sail. Dinghy and yacht skippers have taken out new members and many are now looking to purchase boats in the future.
The club was also commended for retaining all its staff during lockdown. Anna concluded: ‘Our longstanding staff and dedicated volunteers put so much in to making it such a great club. Being shortlisted for this award is something that all of our members can be really proud of.’
The RYA also recognised Cowes Sailability Club, Isle of Wight, with a Certificate of Commendation for the club’s inspiring “Ahoy There” initiative, which helped to relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness for the club’s members and volunteers during the Covid-19 lockdown.
At the beginning of Lockdown, Cowes Sailability Club, a registered charity which provides sailing to children and adults with physical and learning difficulties, realised that many of its own volunteers and members - a large proportion of whom have disabilities or underlying medical conditions - were identified as high-risk criteria for contracting coronavirus and had to stay home and self-isolate.
The ‘Ahoy There’ initiative sought to provide emotional support to those who may have been feeling vulnerable during this difficult time, as a result of self-isolating or living alone, through a simple system of talking. Club volunteers telephoned any member or volunteer who requested a call, to lift their spirits and help relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness. In total, the Ahoy There initiative conducted over an impressive 100 telephone conversations.
Cowes Sailability Club Commodore, Judy Wyatt said: “We are all absolutely thrilled to have received a Special Commendation from the RYA, in recognition of the support that we provided for members during the COVID-19 lockdown. The Ahoy There programme was such a simple thing, but it really helped people when they were feeling most lonely. I would like to thank Trish, Kathryn and all the volunteers who took care to make sure that the club’s many vulnerable members had someone to talk to, at a very difficult and worrying time.”
Stuart Manton is one of the people who appreciated Cowes Sailability Club’s support during the lockdown. A club member since 2009, he lives alone in the west of the Isle of Wight and has a visual impairment. Stuart said: “You don’t realise the value of contact with other people until it is taken away. I’m normally a cup half full person, but there were definitely times when I felt quite low, so I really valued the support I received from Cowes Sailability Club. Every week, Chris, one of the club’s volunteers, gave me a ring for a chat and it was nice to be able to talk about all sorts of things, not just sailing. I found the conversations very supportive, especially at the beginning of the lockdown when everything felt very uncertain.”
Cowes Sailability Club Volunteers Toby (L) Paul (R) celebrate with a 'thumbs up'.
Michelle Gent, RYA Programmes Manager said: “A huge congratulations to all ten Club of the Year Finalists. This has been an especially challenging year for clubs and each and every person involved in the running of these organisations has put in a tremendous amount of time and effort so that others can safely get afloat. Now it’s over to you to pick a winner!
Rob Peake, group editor of Sailing Today with Yachts & Yachting, said: “Anyone who started at club level as a child, or who joined a club as their entry to the sailing world as an adult, knows how vital that experience can be.
"A good club will show you how to get better at sailing and encourage you to continue sailing. A great club will help you simply enjoy sailing and it will welcome people from all parts its local community. The Club of the Year Award is unique in that it recognises the hard work that goes on behind the scenes by volunteers to make sailing clubs great, and to encourage more people into our sport.”
Voting closes on 25th January 2021. The overall winner will be announced at the RYA Virtual Dinghy Show. To vote visit: https://awards.yachtsandyachting.co.uk/rya/