Two sailing clubs in the south west region have reached the finals of the RYA Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year 2018 award, which is now open for public voting, and will be announced at the RYA Dinghy Show on 03 March. Whitefriars Sailing Club (WSC) is the winner in the Inclusivity category while Dartmouth Yacht Club (DYC) won the Communications category.

Nominations for the awards were received from affiliated clubs up and down the country across five categories which throw the spotlight firmly onto the core values for any successful sailing club. The category winners were selected by a panel of judges including double Olympic medallist and award ambassador Saskia Clark, RYA CEO Sarah Treseder and Yachts & Yachting Editor Georgie Corlett-Pitt.

For the first time ever, members of the public now have the chance to vote for the sailing club who they think deserves to be named Club of the Year 2018. 

Whitefriars Sailing Club's Sailability group grew from just a few sailors in 2012 to over 90 in 2017, with weekly sessions often attracting over 40 participants, across a broad range of ages and abilities. This growth has meant a need for more specialist boats, equipment and training. In 2016, the club built a new training barn, which also included storage, a drying area and accessible changing facilities, to better cater for less able sailors. The club has also recently invested in a new RS Venture Keel boat, and training at the club develops all capable sailors to reach a standard which enables them to take part in club racing. 

Recognising that full membership was not appropriate for people with limited access to the club or limited means, or for volunteers who give their time to support Sailability sessions, the club has introduced a Sailability 'season ticket' for those individuals who are only able to participate in supported sessions.  

WSC is committed to offering sailing to everyone, by providing extra support to enable those who face physical or intellectual challenges to participate within their capabilities. The seamless transition between Sailability activities and the other training and sailing activities within the club, ensures that all feel welcome. 

Principal of Sailability@Whitefriars, David Durston, commented: "The changes in structure and attitude at the club have fostered an inclusive environment where sailors with more challenges can develop their sailing and integrate comfortably at all levels on and off the water. It is great for all involved to have this recognised by the award, and will hopefully inspire others." 

Simon Clark, Commodore, added: "WSC has strived to be fully inclusive since its inception by the teachers and parents of two local schools. Over the past 50 years all schools, groups and companies using the club have been encouraged to become full club members. The club owes much of its success to this sound foundation and continues to evolve to reflect the ever-changing needs of its users and members. The ethos of inclusivity remains at its core."

This is the second year in a row that WSC has been a finalist in these awards; it won the Facility Development category in 2017 after the completion of its training barn. 

Over the past three years Dartmouth Yacht Club has had to overcome a number of challenges to increase membership and on-water activity. Its volunteer team has worked hard to break down the perception of sailing as an elitist activity and has undertaken a significant communications campaign to ensure that people in the town know how to get involved and out on the water. The result has been a ground-breaking increase in membership from the mid-400s to well over 1,000, and it's still rising.  

Dedicated to offering opportunities for all to get out on the water, no matter what their income or circumstances, DYC has no joining fee, keeps its membership rates as low as possible, and offers bursaries for local young people to get on the water. It has proved conclusively that sailing and boating are for everyone, that you don't need to own a boat to sail, and that determination and hard work can turn even a club with few obvious advantages into a vibrant and successful social enterprise.

DYC Commodore, Kate Brown, commented: "We are proud, amazed and delighted to have won our category. This is an amazing result brought about by a number of hardworking volunteers over the last few years and it just goes to show that even when you think you have done nothing special it can turn out that others think you certainly have!"

Voting closes on 20 February and the awards will be presented on Saturday 03 March at the RYA Dinghy Show.

RYA Sport Development Manager Alistair Dickson said: "We're delighted to announce the 2018 finalists of RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Award. The people involved in each one of these clubs have worked hard to create fantastic projects and activities which make it possible for people to enjoy being out on the water at their venue. Don't miss the chance to cast your vote and have your say in which club will lift the coveted trophy this year."

Special thanks go to Arthur J. Gallagher who continue to support the Club of the Year Award and to Sailing Awards who donated the perpetual RYA Club of the Year trophy when the award was first introduced in 2008.