You don’t have to live by the sea to be a big boat sailor in the Midlands. Did you know the region has no fewer than eight cruising clubs, with a number of dinghy sailing clubs also having cruising sections?
Anyone interested in, or with an established passion, for yachting can join like-minded seafarers to participate in cruises and rallies at home and abroad, compete in major racing events, gain big boat qualifications and enjoy the social buzz of sharing their enthusiasm with other Midlands yachters year round.
And while some cruising club members are boat owners themselves, many are not and enjoy the advantages of being able to charter as a club or discovering opportunities to get their fix of the sea more regularly by sailing with club mates.
As Judy Lambourne, the RYA Midland’s RVT cruising representative and ex-Commodore of the Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association (HOEOCA) in Warwickshire, explains, people join for many different reasons.
“I’d say as many as half the members at my club came to cruising through the dinghy route, in that they sailed at local clubs and wanted to explore a different type of sailing, or were at a stage in life where they were physically less able to dinghy sail and cruising meant they could sail for longer. Or it may be someone is too short of time to commit to owning and sailing a dinghy and wants to dip in and out of sailing.
“A lot of people also discover our Midlands cruising clubs through taking shore-based RYA Training courses in the region, while we’ve definitely noticed an increase in people finding clubs through online searches over the past couple of years too.”
Chris Geere, a committee member at the Leicester-based New Parks Cruising Association (NPCA), is one dinghy sailor who made the leap into big boats.
A founder member of Rutland SC in 1976, Chris, a recently retired City Planner and Sustainable Transport Consultant, owned a Bell Woodworking Enterprise dinghy and sailed it at the club for several years until career and family put his sailing on hold.
The turning point came in 1995 when a former work colleague with a Kelt 28 kept at Swanwick on the Hamble River invited Chris to crew on weekend circumnavigation of Isle of Wight. He was hooked and NPCA has fuelled his passion ever since.
He says: “The first leg was a night sail across to Cowes and I realised the need for lessons in and experience of tidal navigation, lights and signals, etc for safe offshore passages. At my friend’s suggestion I joined ‘RYA Day Skipper’ evening classes at NPCA and over several years gained the RYA Coastal Skipper Certificate.
“With NPCA there was also the opportunity for practical on-the-water experience crewing and piloting boats of other club members on ‘rallies’ in England and shared charters in Scotland and Europe.
“In 2007 I bought my own 28ft Westerly Griffon ‘Angelica’ and keep her at the Tidemill, Woodbridge, Suffolk for exploring East Coast and rivers. But I still enjoy crewing on more adventurous voyages on well-found boats. Last year, for example, we cruised to the Baltic via Holland and Kiel Canal.
“Belonging to NPCA also gives me access to valuable training courses, but perhaps most importantly, I have gained lifelong friends and shipmates, sharing some unforgettable moments afloat and ashore over the years.”
Meanwhile, new HOEOCA Commodore, Mike Veal, came into it via a different route. Until 11 years ago, when he did the RYA Competent Crew course to go on a six-week sailing trip of a lifetime in the Caribbean, Mike had never sailed.
But since then he has qualified up to RYA Yachtmaster, cruised in UK waters, across the Channel and further afield in Croatia, Turkey, the Greek Islands and Malta, while he has also taken part in some iconic events including the Round the Island Race.
With four HOEOCA club mates, Harborne-based Mike, who owns a property maintenance and project management company, recently invested in a share of 40ft yacht and is planning a special birthday cruise to the British Virgin Islands next year.
He says: “Finding a big boat sailing club in the Midlands 10 years ago was a revelation and has changed my life for the better. To have gone from never having sailed to being Commodore, Yachtmaster and boat owner in 11 years is unbelievable to me.
“I found out about HOEOCA while I was doing my RYA Yachtmaster Theory at night school in Birmingham. They came and did a presentation so I went along to one of the Social nights. I was made to feel very welcome and signed up to a Sunsail Race weekend on a boat chartered by the club two weeks later. I’ve never looked back!”
Most cruising clubs are, or have good relationships with, RYA Training Centres to offer access to practical and theory training from Competent Crew, Day and Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster qualifications to VHF, Diesel Engines, Radar, Sea Survival and First Aid.
Meanwhile, for many people the social side, especially during the winter, is big draw as clubs run speaker programmes that often welcome high-profile maritime guests, and experts from across the marine industry to talk about practical ‘how to’ subjects.
You don’t have to be an RYA member to join a cruising club, but a recent HOEOCA member survey found over 65% of respondents were, a trend Judy believes is probably reflected across the rest of the Midlands’ clubs.
She concludes: “I think people, boats owners especially, are surprised to find there are these cruising opportunities on their doorsteps despite living in the Midlands. Just because we don’t live by the coast doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our hobby more of the time. Our regional clubs help people get on the water more often.”
*To find your nearest Midlands cruising club visit www.rya.org.uk/wheresmynearest