When the British Youth Sailing Regional Championships were launched to replace the RYA Zone Championships this year, the idea was to make it a regional end-of-season celebration of all junior sailing, from squad racers to complete beginners.
The introduction of the new OnBoard Fun Fleet was integral to this, so with the first Regional Championships held on the last weekend of September, did the event have the desired outcomes for the OnBoarders?
"Yes!" believes Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer. "The Championships were a huge win for OnBoard."
"From my perspective the OnBoard Fun Fleets achieved what they set out to, which was to give the youngest or most inexperienced sailors their first taste of travelling to an event, sailing at a different location and having fun whilst making new friends. Hopefully, whichever event they went along to, those who attended now know sailing events aren’t as scary as they might seem."
Four OnBoard Fun Fleets were run at BYS Regional Championships in the South and South West at WPNSA, East at Grafham Water SC, Midlands at Northampton SC and North at Ullswater SC. Each had its own format but the objectives were the same; letting the youngsters have fun on the water while learning some new skills.
Midlands Sailing Development Officer, Tricia Ordsmith, ran that region's OnBoard Fun Fleet for 18 youngsters on the Saturday. The kids were put into teams of three at the start of the day as the morning focused on having fun in Picos borrowed from the club before the afternoon saw the teams progress into the region's Topper fleet boats as their confidence built.
The whole day was set in the context of the OnBoard character attributes with sailors and their parents being told in the briefing that prizes would be awarded for teamwork, determination and communication. Some of the 'games with aims' run over the day included the 'limbo' rigging game and fun race relays, where each team member had to have a go on the helm, either single-handed or with one of their team in the boat.
Such was the success of the fleet, one of the OnBoarders grew in confidence so much she signed up to race a Topper in the Regatta Fleet for coached racing on the Sunday.
Tricia said: "By keeping them in teams you could really see different characteristics come to the fore in different tasks. The rigging game showed those who could work together to solve a problem, while the winner of the communication prize demonstrated great ability to listen and relay information back to her teammates.
"The lad who won the determination prize had wanted to give up after losing confidence at not being able to do something. But with the support of his teammates and instructors he decided he would give it another go and at the end of the afternoon he told me how much he enjoyed it and how proud he was of himself for sticking with it. As a concept, the OnBoard Fun Fleet definitely worked."
Hannah, meanwhile, was at the South event where there were around 100 sailors on the water over two days. The Andrew Simpson Watersports Centre hosted the fleet and provided the boats, making it accessible to sailors who don’t own their own kit.
The fleet was split into two groups, dependent on ability, and again a mixture of ‘games with aims’ were employed, including from the OnBoard session cards, like paddle power, the whistle game and leap frog.
Hannah said: "The kids enjoyed themselves so much most of them came back the second day, even if they hadn’t originally signed up! For me a highlight was playing ‘sailing rugby’, when they were so focused on the game they had nothing else on their minds and were improving their sailing skills without even knowing it."
"At the end of both days prizes were awarded to those who had shown a particular strength in their character. This idea seemed to be very well received by the parents, who were beaming at the end of the day. There wasn’t one youngster who didn’t go on the water."
A full review of the OnBoard Fun Fleets will take place over the winter before the format for next year's Championships, which again will take place on the last weekend of September, is decided.
Both Hannah and Tricia said one thing would like to see next year is more alignment of the fleets so OnBoarders can make more of a connection with the event and picture themselves joining other fleets in the future. This could include a joint briefing at the start of the day, shared lunch time and a joint prize giving at the end, so all the sailors, whether friends from their clubs or brothers and sisters, can share in each other's successes and find out more about what they are getting up to during the event.
In addition, Tricia admitted she would like the Midlands event to run over two days, with day one setting up day two, while any youngsters who did want to join the Regatta Fleet for coached racing fleet on the second day could still do so. Hannah was also pleased the OnBoard Fun Fleet opened up the John Merricks Sailing Trust award scheme to so many more young sailors who didn’t own their own boats.
She concluded: "The main thing is the kids absolutely loved it. That is ultimately what this is all about. If these youngsters are inspired to carry on and love sailing the OnBoard Fun Fleets have done their job."