Chris, tell us when and why you started the Facebook group?
Sailing and Cruising Northern Ireland (SCNI) was set up in January 2017. It was set up to run in conjunction with its sister groups in England, Wales and Scotland with the idea of running joint events in addition to on its own.
We had a slow first year as these things often do but after a few changes things soon started to take off. Today SCNI has its own identity and while we are keen to run joint events we are forging ahead with our own.
How did you become interested in setting up the group?
Personally I was brought up around boats from year dot and it seems to have stuck! Through the years I have been fortunate to combine my passion for the sea with work, having spent several years travelling in some interesting places. Several years ago I moved to Scotland and despite getting home as often as I can, it makes joining a sailing club in Northern Ireland impractical. In a roundabout way this spurred me on to create SCNI. Who are your members?
At this very moment in time we have more than 2,000 members in SCNI. The vast majority are from the UK and Ireland from places like Belfast, Bangor, Dublin etc. Over 20% are women and ages range from 15 to over 70, with most being in the 30-60 age bracket. What is the ethos of the club? What are your aims?
The club was set up to work in conjunction with its sister groups to provide a free and open to all, level platform for sailors to socialise, network and ask questions. Today people do everything online - from their shopping to meeting their partners! Why should boating be any different? We encourage members to post their activities on the group to inspire others. This is particularly true over the winter period when many are out of the water. We also have a crew finder satellite group which has provided numerous crewing opportunities for members. As well as a buy/sell group we also run.
SCNI has already built some very strong relationships with a few yacht clubs in NI, we want to see this increase and develop further in all four corners of NI.
Can you tell us of an outcome of having set up the club?
The club provides immediate access to the largest group of sailors in NI. On a daily basis we see members asking technical questions and these are often answered within minutes based on the experience of others in the group. This season one member was able to source a new inboard diesel engine for his yacht in the Isle of Man. Once located another member who was travelling back from there was able to deliver the engine all without any cost! It has been wonderful to watch this sense of community develop and helping each other flourish, especially over the last year.
Another positive I hadn’t predicted was the group being used as a "Coastwatch" for a vessel of concern during some recent bad weather. Members were reporting sightings of the vessel in question which were then passed on to the Coastguard. In addition to this you find members offering to check in on other members’ boats during inclement conditions. We are currently running a GoFundMe for the RNLI, over £300 has been donated in the last few weeks.
What is the most fun/unexpected aspect of the group?
Although the group is called Sailing and Cruising Northern Ireland, we welcome members from all walks of life and sports from sea kayakers and inland cruisers to commercial fishermen and members of the emergency services. Throughout the week we run various theme days including "FridayFunday" where members can post funny images or articles. It is great seeing such a broad spectrum of folk getting along. The group all but runs itself!
We also have members from Northern Ireland who are currently sailing the Far East and post to the group. When the group started I had no idea it would grow into what it is today. The scary thing is there is no sign of it stopping any time soon either! Weather depending we will also try to have a BBQ for members at events. For a little fun we ran several "best dressed ship" competitions this year at our events which certainly brightened up the harbours with some interesting and colourful displays!
What do your members want to gain from being a part of the club?
I think people want to keep in the loop with what’s happening. Anyone can post on the group, not just admin. We have members from all the sailing clubs in Northern Ireland and we regularly see posts about club meetings, AGMs or events taking place. SCNI provides a one stop shop run by sailors for sailors. We have dozens of posts every week ranging from news and events, to photos of members out on their boats, which might make some very jealous in the winter, including myself!
Having RYA Club Affiliation also allows members to race under the SCNI club banner. This is something we are keen to develop in the future.
It’s a modern approach, how do you get around physical meetings to run the club?
It's a club Jim, but not as we know it. We have members of the admin team who live in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, so having regular face to face meetings is not practical. That being said it is also not necessary as modern technology such as social media, emails, facetime, smoke signals etc allow all the means of communication we need.
Events are proposed by the admin team and once we have whittled them down to a few we will put them to the group and see which has the most interest and go from there. We also have members of the Emergency Services who have contacted the group offering their services. A few months ago we had a fantastic tour of Belfast Coastguard for our members, which was fully booked the night it went live. Indeed it proved so popular that we are planning on running it again this winter. SCNI has no clubhouse or slipway. We have no grounds to maintain or rates to pay. This means the overheads are virtually nil and is why we can allow free membership. We have a website which features a booking form. Members are directed here prior to any event to register themselves. Day to day activity however takes place on our Facebook group. The club is free to join although we ask for donations at events all of which goes straight back into the club. This means we are able to buy club burgees in bulk and pass on that saving to members. What events are you planning in the next 12 months?
The next 12 months are going to be very exciting for the group! We have been invited back to Campbeltown having had 10 boats attend the Mull of Kintyre music festival this year. The same goes for the Maritime festival in Ballycastle. We are keen to keep moving the location of our events to allow all members a fair chance of attending so next year we are already looking at locations such as Belfast, Bangor, Isle of Man as well as Scotland. We are keen to run join events with other groups and to continue building bridges and forging friendships all over the Irish Sea. In addition to this we are looking at setting up a sponsorship scheme which will provide a RYA qualification for a member of the club once a year. How can you join SCNI?
By writing a blank cheque! Alternatively all you have to do is look us up on Facebook and join the group or follow the link on our website. www.facebook.com/groups/SailingandCruisingNorthernIreland https://www.sailingandcruisingni.com/