A lot of comment has been made about how the Covid-19 situation has brought out the best in people – compassion, kindness, creativity and care. Whitefriars Sailing Club (WSC) members have been demonstrating those qualities for many years – which is why it’s known as ‘the friendly club’ – so in a way, they found themselves ready for everything the crisis threw at us all.

Commodore Tony Jackson explains that engagement, empowerment and involvement have been crucial in keeping the club as vibrant and active in lockdown as in the good times. “This club belongs to the members and they feel that very keenly – I’m the commodore helping them run their club. We’ve always welcomed everyone, of all ages and abilities, and that family ethos means that when the lockdown came, we could carry on doing the same things, but differently! People all started asking how they could help – they wanted to give, not take.”

WSC is a tight-knit community with a very active Sailability group and a massive spectrum of sailing ability and intellectual capacity. Everyone has been included in the very creative and incredibly popular programme of activity that has emerged during lockdown.

Social media, Zoom, virtual sailing and more

The club SI, Rupert Whelan, has been creating sailing scenarios with little boats on his living room carpet and posting them with questions on Facebook. He’s had a huge response, and some very funny comments. For example, does a chair leg count as a navigable obstruction?

Members have played cards together, entered an online Mr and Mrs contest (Tony isn’t aware of any divorces pending) and taken part in regular Zoom calls. And, of course, there are Virtual Regattas on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, just like normal club racing. This is taken very seriously, according to Tony: “Sometimes a couple will use devices in different rooms so they can race each other.”

A particular highlight of the lockdown for all members has been the fortnightly Friday night quizzes on Zoom. Run by Nicky Durston, the quizzes are fun, family-friendly and very popular – so much so, that Nicky has now set up a nationwide virtual quiz together with RYA DDO Leon Ward for every Sailability group in the UK.

Nicky also regularly posts pictures and video from the club’s past on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – another way she’s keeping members engaged till they can get back on the water.

Dave, Nicky’s husband, heads up the Sailability group, which has been running a series of Zoom sessions for volunteers on Wednesday afternoons, covering topics that include disability awareness, blind sailing, dementia, deaf sailing, mental health, autism, racing, sail trim and more. Club members and sailors have also been welcomed to these sessions.

Volunteers have made sure that everyone is engaged, whatever their abilities, says Dave: “To start the process off we did a picture message from our volunteers that showed them all at home holding decorated word pictures that formed an uplifting message.


“Then, for those who come with school groups, special need groups, the Forget Me Not group and individuals, we sent The Social Story – simple text and photos to help them make sense of what’s going on.

“The more able sailors and volunteers were messaged with links to video and scenarios about racing, as well as links to the RYA resources and webinars. We also sent out some boat pictures for colouring in, and details of a colouring competition, for anyone to enter, with the entries being posted on the club’s Facebook pages. And we made sure everyone knew about the ten-event series and the art/photo competition that the Hansa Class is running.

“Personally, I’ve never spoken to so many of the sailors at the club, and not always about sailing!  A lot of what we’re doing in lockdown is also potential activity for the winter in the future.”

Giving back to the club, and each other

Clearly, the WSC members want to be engaged and they’re looking at how they can help by giving back to their club while they can’t do their day jobs. One has volunteered to cut the grass, benefiting his own mental health as well as maintaining club grounds, and others have pedalled their bikes or walked around the outside of the compound checking club security while taking their daily exercise around the lake.

And they’re helping each other too. “Right at the beginning,” says Tony, “we put out a communication reminding everyone that we’ve got a lot of skillsets amongst our members - doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers etc – and suggesting that we should all speak to each other if we need advice and utilise the skills around us. People have taken advantage of this, with projects that they need help with during lockdown. As a result, people aren’t jumping up and down demanding membership value or rebates – they’re keen and committed to keeping the club going.”

Following the initial easing of the lockdown on 13 May, Tony, who has a background in health and safety, and his “cracking team” are now working on how to open the club safely, though it will be some months at least before the clubhouse and the Sailability group can be operational once more. In the meantime, he is clear that communication is key: “We tell people what we’re doing, what we’re trying and what they can get involved in, and they’re all happy to be a part of this. In fact, one ex-member even rejoined during lockdown – he still wants to be part of the club, and knows we’ll keep people safe.”

Remarkably, even a new 20+ member remote-control yacht sailing section that has only existed at Whitefriars since January, and therefore hasn’t been able to sail yet, is joining in with activities online. “We’ve not even met them all yet, but we’ve raced against them online!” he laughs. “There’ll be beers to be had when this is over!”