Seven sailors from clubs in the Midlands are among 44 ‘unsung heroes’ celebrated in the RYA Volunteer Awards 2020, which are held annually to say ‘thank you’ to those who have made an outstanding contribution to the sport.

John LinnellJohn Linnell of Cransley Sailing Club in Northamptonshire, has been a member and volunteer for 25 years and has been recognised with a Lifetime Commitment Award.

His practical know-how from his working life as a mechanical engineer ensures anything that has an engine at the club is operational.

He has also built pontoons, devised a solar-powered automated starting system for races and designed a weed cutter that is the envy of other local clubs. His non-stop efforts May to September allow members to sail over much larger areas of the reservoir.

In nominating John for an RYA Volunteer Award, the club said: “John is one of the unsung heroes of the club, working in the background to enable all members to enjoy club sailing. Whether on land, where he fixes and maintains equipment, or on water, where he reassures new sailors, encourages youngsters to crew with him to give them experience and lends a hand with safety boat cover, nothing seems too much trouble for him.”

John, of Irthlingborough, who is currently helping to rebuild the ‘duty hut’ from which members run club racing for sailors, said: “I’ve always volunteered because I like to be busy and I find it rewarding. We have a super set of people at the club with lots of volunteers and all of the committee members. Like everything it’s a team effort, so on behalf of the team I’m very proud to receive this award.”

Martin  ApplebyMartin Appleby from Girton Sailing Club in Nottinghamshire has also been recognised with a Lifetime Commitment Award.

Nominating him for the award, the club said: “Martin has been a member for over 25 years and his input has significantly boosted the club’s activities and inclusivity during this time. In addition, he puts time and effort into the maintenance and renewal of the equipment and improving facilities, saving the club significant sums of money.

"A real team player, Martin has used his knowledge and expertise to bring members together to work for the common good. He has rebuilt the social offering of the club, both on and off the water, making it an excellent environment for everyone and ensuring that all family members can get involved.”

Martin has served on the club committee and as Commodore from 2014-2018 was one of the driving forces behind the club being able to purchase the lake from its landlord. He also qualified as an RYA Senior Instructor to support training, including for Scouts and for the club’s Sailability group for disabled sailors, which he runs.

The retired hospital engineer, aged 70, who lives near Newark-on-Trent and whose son and grandchildren also sail at the club, said: “Receiving the award was a real surprise because I just enjoy what I do and also the company at the club, where many people volunteer their time and we all meet up and do things together.

“I first joined the club with my children because I’d always wanted to learn to sail and they made me very welcome. It’s been a nice family club and I wanted to give something back and as I’ve been involved with training young people and people with difficulties over many years through the Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh Award I thought I'd help the club in this way.”

Roger Partington on the water with his grandsonRoger Partington is the longest continuously serving member of Glossop Sailing Club in Derbyshire and has been recognised for his dedication as a volunteer with a Lifetime Commitment Award.

In nominating Roger for the award, the club said: “The difference he has made to all aspects of the club over the past 45 years is immeasurable. A calm, kind and supportive man, Roger is encouraging in his words and actions, passing his love of sailing onto many young sailors as well as quietly and consistently undertaking much behind the scenes, with working parties, club maintenance and practical projects. He is a constant club presence, on the water and ashore, always smiling and happy to chat.”

As an electrician and handyman, Roger helped build the clubhouse and boat store and last winter donated hundreds of hours to the refurbishment of the clubhouse. He was the founding member of the Junior Club, and also supports the club racing programme, encouraging others and never missing a duty.

Roger, aged 81, of Glossop, first started sailing after making a Mirror dinghy at home using a plywood kit, and his children and grandchildren followed him into the sport, making for three generations of the family now sailing at the club, including his daughter Kathryn who is continuing the volunteering tradition as an instructor.

“I didn’t realise I’d been nominated for the award until I got a letter from the RYA and it’s a lovely surprise,” said Roger. “I like to help the club. It has a great community spirit and it’s a good friendly club. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Ray and Pat West credit Richard HardingA joint award for Lifetime Commitment went to Ray and Pat West from Himley Hall Sailing Club, which is located in Staffordshire, near Dudley.

The club said in its nomination: “As founder members of Himley Hall Sailing Club, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, Ray and Pat bring valued in-depth knowledge and continuity to club operations, while remaining open to new ideas and initiatives.

"Both Pat and Ray remain on the Management Committee today. They are particularly keen on helping youngsters develop in the sport and are often seen at the lakeside passing on tips.”

Ray, a retired quantity surveyor, aged 84, has had various roles at the club, including as Treasurer and Commodore, and as an RYA Dinghy Instructor for 34 years has taught hundreds to sail, including his own family. Pat, aged 79, has always been a key member of the social committee, fundraising for the club and the RNLI, and has given countless hours helping with catering, facilities and the day-to-day running of the club. The couple donated their own dinghy to the club’s youth section when they were no longer fit enough to sail themselves.

Pat said they felt honoured to received the award and Ray added: “We really appreciate it and are proud to represent Himley Hall Sailing Club. We’ve enjoyed the lovely location and the people and the friendliness of the club. It’s always been a very family-friendly club and we’re both still on the main committee and like to help out when we can.”

Nadina Lincoln credit David EberlinNadina Lincoln from Notts County Sailing Club has an RYA Regional Award for services to boating and the RYA in the Midlands.

Nadina has been a member for over 25 years and serving on the general committee and as Commodore, was a driving force in the development of the club. Nadina is also a qualified National Judge, was a National Race Officer, and is currently a Regional Race Officer.

The club added: “A dinghy racer at heart, she has made a significant contribution improving knowledge of rules at her club, across the Midlands and nationally. Her wealth of experience has been invaluable to clubs in developing good practice and good racing. She is someone who exemplifies that sailing is a sport for life, not only enjoying it but giving so much back.”

As a Midlands Regional Rules Advisor and part of the RYA Race Management Group, Nadina has travelled thousands of miles visiting clubs to share her expertise, and has supported countless racing events large and small over the years at her home club and around the country. She has also been chairman of the Scorpion dinghy class association and still races competitively.

Nadina said she was inspired to help out with race management with her husband William when their two children started competing: “Rather than sit on the bank we got into helping with running the racing. I was very conscious that our kids had been through the regional and national squads and had a lot of help from other people, so it was nice to contribute and when they grew up we carried on.

“I took an interest in judging as well and I particularly liked the rules side of it. I like disentangling what’s happened on the water and trying to convey the rules in a way that is understandable, and enjoyed going to clubs to give talks. Now that I can’t sail so much, helping with race management and the rules is a good way to keep seeing people and stay involved with the sport.”

Maureen Highfield-SykesMaureen Highfield-Sykes from the Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association (HOEOCA) has a Lifetime Commitment Award.

Maureen became Social Secretary of HOEOCA 15 years ago and in nominating her for the award, the association said: “Her enthusiasm in the role remains undimmed. Her organisational ability has ensured the success of the numerous activities she runs and, more recently, the club’s promotional merchandise.

“Positive and proactive with a bubbly personality, she runs the club’s annual end of season supper and awards ceremony, as well as other social events and visits to nautical venues… Maureen not only has the skills to organise events but also to generate others’ interest, delighting in sharing her love of sailing.”

In addition to her role with HOEOCA, Maureen is a member of the RYA Midlands Regional Volunteer Team, helping to promote boating activities across the region.

Maureen, aged 67, who is a retired educator, said: “I was astonished to find my name had been put forward for the award. I don’t do one of the big important jobs and I’m not a fantastic sailor but I just love sailing and the people who are in HOEOCA. I enjoy being a part of the club.”

Members charter boats to sail off the British coast or join rallies abroad, offering fun offshore cruising and racing for people living in the Midlands and enabling sailors to improve their skills while also welcoming beginners.

Maureen started sailing in her 50s after taking a week-long RYA Competent Crew course and became Social Secretary of HOEOCA almost immediately after joining the association. She said: “What I love about sailing is that in a way it doesn’t matter how much you know. If you are willing to get on board and do what you can and be part of that group, you’re accepted for what you can do. You don’t have to know everything or be the expert.”

Although the 2020 pandemic has resulted in fewer socials and more activities online there has been some sailing, plus events like socially distanced rambles, with Maureen continuing to volunteer her time when needed. The group will be getting together to celebrate Maureen’s award once lockdown rules ease again.

There is usually a glittering awards ceremony in London but this year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the awards have been presented to volunteers at their local sailing clubs or during online gatherings from the safety of home.

Sarah Treseder, RYA Chief Executive, said: “This year more than ever before we have seen our club volunteers come together and work tirelessly to ensure members can continue to sail. The generosity and dedication of each of the RYA Volunteer Award recipients is simply outstanding and it’s a pleasure to be able to recognise these winners.”

Read more about each winner or find more information about the RYA Volunteer Awards.