Like many clubs, Rudyard Lake SC, in Staffordshire, acted quickly when lockdown struck.

Keen to keep their members engaged while off the water, the 2018 RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year finalists introduced a Virtual Regatta series, which instantly proved popular. But when they looked at who was involved, they realised arguably the people they needed to keep engaged most – i.e. the non-racing new members and juniors – weren’t taking part.

The regular racers loved eSailing; but they were already committed members. The others needed something else. They needed to keep learning. Tricia Ordsmith, the club’s President and lead instructor for the junior section, picks up the story.

“The Virtual Regatta racing didn't hit juniors who didn’t race, adults who had done Level 1 or 2 in the past two years and women who had been to or expressed an interest in our Women on the Water (WOW) sessions. These were people we were vulnerable to losing as members, so we had to think about what we could do for them.”

“We knew some clubs were running RYA Training courses online but that wasn’t right for these audiences; we needed something more tailored where the sailors could refresh and gain new knowledge and build their confidence for when they got back on the water. It needed to be interactive and develop our DIs and SIs too.”

Building understanding

Rudyard Lake SC instructors Romy and Erin with their cloud tableRudyard identified six themes that could be run as online sessions on Zoom initially – Knots, Points of Sail, Five Essentials, Clouds, Beaufort Scale and Rules of the Road.

They ran the first session – creating a knot board - as a pilot for the juniors. A few days before, the youngsters were told what resources they should bring to the session and for 45 minutes the SI running the session got them talking, tying and sticking their knots to their boards.

At the end they were set a task for the following week, and the first part of the next session recapped what they had done previously before moving on. This set the pattern. Two weeks later the adult sessions were launched.

Tricia continues: “The adult sessions are more interactive and everyone knows no question is a bad question. We really talk through a subject and if the sailors don’t get something, we go over it and think about it in a different way. They really think about applying it to being on the water. For example, for their knots session, Janet (the instructor) filmed and demonstrated when they would realistically use each knot in a boat.

“As the sessions have gone on the sailors have linked together the subjects, and seen how what we have talked about one week relates to something in a previous session. That has naturally progressed to them thinking about what they are learning means on our lake and how they would set their boat up.”

The adult sessions are at 11am every Sunday, with the juniors at 10am on Saturday. Each week there have been up to eight adults and 13 juniors online, in addition to the instructor group members. Throughout the sessions the attendees are creating their own resource pack for future reference, while there is a competition for the juniors, where their resources will be judged and prizes awarded when everyone can meet up again.

Each session is recorded too, so if someone misses one or can’t regularly make the timeslot due to other commitments the club has a resource of password-protected videos to share both now and to use in the future for knowledge reinforcement.

Tricia says the biggest outcomes for sailors have been improved understanding and increased confidence for when they get back on the water. But the social aspect has been significant too. To nurture this, each Zoom session is opened up 15 minutes early so the sailors – both the juniors and adults - can catch up and chat.

But it’s not just about the sailors…

Challenging instructors

Lucas and Natalie Barrow demonstrate their model boatAs well as keeping sailors engaged, Rudyard recognised the sessions provided the chance to keep developing and challenging their instructors too, including six new DIs who qualified in February. Instead of leading the sessions herself, Tricia coaches the SIs and DIs who are tasked with setting up and delivering the session.

In the week before their session, Tricia holds Zoom one-to-ones with each instructor to discuss what they are thinking about session structure, content, the resources they will need and what they are going to ask the sailors to bring.

Then after each session, all of the instructors stay online to listen to the quick instructor debfrief with Tricia followed by a group discussion on what went well and what could be improved next time. It is challenging them all to really think about how to deliver the best sessions possible.

“I’ve asked what they are personally getting out of the sessions as instructors,” Tricia reveals. “They all said how much they have to put into it to overcome the fact it’s online and they need to be interactive. There’s a lot a planning to do. When you’re face-to-face you don’t have to think about things like where the camera is!”

As a by-product, many have ended up developing some excellent resources, including two sibling instructors who produced a set of model boats for their ‘Five Essentials’ session and two sisters who produced a ‘Cloud table’ for the juniors to complete and discuss what clouds they saw every day that week. This has all been supplemented with other resources, such as the OnBoard #SailFromHome content.

Tricia believes this will have opened the instructors’ minds for how to approach on-the-water sessions too, and is excited to see how they use the resources and knowledge they have developed in the next courses they are involved in. She is now encouraging the SIs to take up the coaching of the DIs to keep developing them too.

Tricia concludes: “We approached it slightly differently in that we thought about what outcome we wanted and worked backwards. You can't categorically say it’s kept people involved who might otherwise have drifted away, but we've had some of these renew their membership during this time so that’s a positive sign!”