Has January got your dreaming of sunnier climes? Of days idly cruising around warm waters with only where you're going to eat that night to worry about? Take me there now!
Of course anyone can book a summertime flotilla and cruising holiday overseas. But, what if you're not an experienced or confident yacht sailor? And of course cruising with friends is always more fun.
Thanks to the Midlands-based cruising clubs the world can become your oyster. Many of the eight cruising and virtual yacht clubs in the region organise summer sailing cruises abroad, taking the strain on the organisation and giving members the chance to join likeminded people in exploring new waters further afield.
To give you an idea of what goes on, this year the Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association are off to the Caribbean in March and Corsica in September and the Penguin Cruising Club head to Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes, having cruised The Azores last year. Meanwhile 2018 also saw the Go Sailing Association sail in Greece and the Bromsgrove Boaters travel to Turkey.
These rallies and cruises are always amongst the clubs' most popular of the season and are well-subscribed. But were you even aware that this sort of activity was being organised on your doorstep, hundreds of miles from the sea?
Judy Lambourne, the RYA Midlands cruising representative, said: "These opportunities are a bit of a hidden gem. Our cruising clubs offer different types of overseas experiences, but they all give members the chance to see places they might never have previously considered, the confidence to cruise further afield than they might ever thought was possible and, if cruising in the Med, the opportunity to skipper in non-tidal waters.
"Many of our Midlands cruising club members are not boat owners, and having the clubs' expertise and experience in organising charters and flotillas can give members peace of mind while enjoying a sociable sailing holiday with old friends and new."
As a taste of what's on offer, Bromsgrove Boaters' summer cruises are typically the usual 10-14 day sail to foreign parts, but 2018 was something different. A group of members chartered for three weeks, sailing from Fethiye to Bodrum (and back), with the middle week cruising in the Bodrum area to view the spectacular Bodrum Cup fleet of traditional wooden yachts under sail.
Crew changes at the end of each week made for an interesting logistics challenge - one person initially booking their flight to the wrong airport! - but it all worked out and, in total, 10 club members enjoyed a memorable cruise along the picturesque Turkish coastline.
Meanwhile, HOEOCA has been organising a September trip to the Mediterranean for nearly 20 years without ever returning to the same cruising grounds. Typically trips are 7-10 days long and the group of four to six chartered bareboats sail as their own mini-flotilla around a pre-planned route. The club acts as the banker and facilitator and costs are equally divided between the participants.
Closer to home
While the sunshine is doubtless a powerful motivator, get a summer like 2018 again and cruising at home can be just as glamorous!
As well at the overseas excursions, all the Midlands' cruising clubs run UK cruises, organise rallies and help facilitate charters, while also offering members the opportunities to get involved in some of the big open yacht races, such as the Round The Island Race and the Rolex Fastnet Race.
At this time of year, many of the clubs are helping members expand their skillset too, either by running or facilitating RYA shore-based training courses, such as Day Skipper, Coastal Skipper / Yachtmaster Offshore, Diesel Engine, Marine Radio Short Range Certificate, First Aid, Sea Survival and Offshore Safety, while guest speaker programmes also inspire members as to the great adventures and possibilities offshore.
Judy continued: "The whole purpose of the Midlands cruising clubs is to make getting on the sea as easy as possible for people who live as far away as it's possible to get in England.
"Whether dinghy sailors interested in expanding their horizons, complete newcomers enchanted by the appeal of the sea or people who have reached a stage in life where offshore sailing provides a more stable, potentially sedate way of enjoying their favourite pastime, our club really do cater for all."