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A really good news story for sailing

by Mark Jardine 25 Jan 06:30 NZDT
ILCA training at West Kirby © Jon Holt

For sailing to benefit in the long-term from the boating boom of the past couple of years, then inclusivity, accessibility and a welcoming environment are three of the key pillars to realising increased participation.

Throughout the 2018/19 'Future of Sailing' webinars I took part in with Liz Rushall and Alistair Dickson we studied the insights from the Futures Project, used case studies of clubs which had success from various initiatives, and talked to sailors to learn from their experiences. The process was enlightening and has directly led to clubs turning around their fortunes and ultimately bringing more people on to the water and in to the sport of sailing.

The tireless Jon Holt, of the Greig City Academy in London and winner of the YJA International Sailor of the Decade in 2020 for his work with the Scaramouche Sailing Trust, brought to my attention a story of a club and dinghy class which are embracing the inclusivity and welcoming environment message to the full. Together with Jon Emmett, the equally tireless world champion sailor, coach to an Olympic gold medallist and author, here is what we believe is a really good news story for sailing...

In December Jon Holt sent an email to a group of influential sailors about the experience two Greig City Academy sailors had during a training event at West Kirby Sailing Club (WKSC) in North-West England for the ILCA class (previously known as the Laser). The training was organised by Paul Colquitt, with coaching by three-time Olympian and Laser Radial World Champion Ali Young. Jon was full of praise for the formula which WKSC had in place and believed that it was a blueprint for other clubs and organisations to follow.

From the get-go the organisation was superb, with clear communication to the sailors, establishing the range of standards and making those who were early on in their progress feel like they belonged, talking about expected conditions. On arrival at the club the sailors were met by helpful staff and volunteers to help find a parking spot, giving advice to those who are unfamiliar with the club geography. It is this kind of approach which makes newcomers and old hands alike feel welcome and relaxed.

When organising events, Paul Colquitt has drawn on his own family's experiences of when they started sailing twelve years ago at a local Scouts taster day; he had crewed a dinghy with his two sons, and they became hooked. The family joined WKSC, took RYA beginner sailing courses, continued to progress, and have since travelled throughout the UK, Europe and Australia taking part in events. In Paul's words they've, "loved every minute of it," and Paul remains friends with the Scout helm who introduced him and his family to sailing. Paul's ethos is to encourage visitors to the club and help make them feel comfortable.

"I've realised that my experiences have helped make training friendly, inclusive, welcoming and exciting," said Paul. "Sailing is a great sport that teaches so much. The true success of the training is down to the encouragement and commitment of all involved."

As the expression goes, the proof is in the pudding, and who better to ask than the two Greig City Academy sailors, Christopher Joel Frederick and Jaydon Owusu.

Christopher said: "When I came to the ILCA training session at West Kirby my main aim was to improve my sailing and become more independent. I'm in the Sixth Form now and want to carry on sailing longer term when I pass school age, which means I need to join a club. There were some of the participants at the event who are aiming to be at the front of the Youth Nationals. I want to do better, but my main aim is to improve and be independent. The ability range was big, with some very good sailors there. I had an injury to my knee, but the coach Ali was really good, structuring the session so that I could still take part and improve. After three visits to the club I'm now a member and have somewhere that I know I can sail and enjoy it for the long term."

Jaydon added, "I hadn't been in a Laser for a while due to commitments sailing on keelboats, so my boat needed setting up. The club was so welcoming; I didn't know anyone at the club before this event but there were a lot of other sailors and parents on hand to help if you had a problem! The coach Ali helped a lot with clear objectives. I was trying to just get back into Laser sailing again, but she made it so that I slotted straight back in and regained the Laser bug. When I sent her questions in the evening after sailing, she replied really quickly with long answers, so I was able to set objectives for the next day, instead of just rolling into the next day.

"With our Scaramouche project we have a lot of experience with keelboats, whether it is arriving and departing from offshore races or entering and leaving marinas in Quarter Tonners. We are in a bizarre 'bubble' in Cowes - we are known and have integrated into the local and sailing communities.

"Taking part in competitive dinghy sailing is, however, more daunting. The effort is concentrated onto one individual youngster per boat and as we know, you need decent equipment and clothing which can be expensive. What is more challenging for a parent/sponsor of a young sailor I think is the logistics: turning up to a club you don't know, with facilities you don't know and protocols around trailers, parking etc which are not immediately obvious. To put it bluntly, it's very easy to make a fool of yourself before the boats even go near the water. Our situation is, perhaps, exacerbated by arriving with four ILCAs and a 17-year-old minibus!

"Many clubs up and down the UK (especially Lymington Town SC) have been very helpful and key individuals, including Harry Blowers, Matt Reid and Micky Beckett, have been fantastic in helping to sort out individuals in Weymouth etc, but without this experience, it is daunting for an adult/parent/sponsor/teacher with some, but not vast, knowledge. Our experience at West Kirby Sailing Club was different. Different in a wholly positive way."

So, off the back of an ILCA training event, two inner-city London students have joined West Kirby Sailing Club. Whilst this is 200 miles away from where they live, they both pointed out to Jon Holt that transport links are good, the train is cheaper with the rail cards they have, and accommodation is relatively cheap in the North-West of England.

Jon Holt adds, "Membership was not only affordable but so easy - one form to fill in from an amiable club secretary, doing everything she could to keep the costs low, for example only paying pro-rata. Indeed, they ended up coming back for three days before the New Year to get more time in. So, there we have it, two boys from disadvantaged backgrounds now have club membership. The 'sorting' of their logistics, then getting on the water is a useful education in itself. I know there will be other clubs which are very welcoming, but the combination WKSC have put into place achieves results with inclusivity, and the result with these two boys speaks for itself.

"If Paul can make the club a northern 'hub' for the ILCA fleet that would be even better- with bigger fleets, accessible to so many parts of the UK - then that could unlock masses of talent in the UK for this great class. Clearly there are geographical advantages at West Kirby of having the lake and sea so close to each other.

"The key lesson for me is that when accessing the sport from a parent/guardian point of view, more will come if (like at West Kirby SC) it is easy, straightforward and welcoming on arrival. Rather than writing about what can be improved, it's easier just to point at what that club is doing! Lymington Town SC are also amazing - they have incredibly helpful members who have not only facilitated our dinghy sailing but helped with fund raising etc. Between these two clubs is all the knowledge we need to continue to improve the inclusivity of the sport."

Here we have a shining light of a club which is getting it right, directly attracting newcomers to sailing, who in turn have become the organisers of training events, and then attracted emerging sailors to join the club and progress their own sailing. Yes, it relies on volunteers and dedicated individuals, but that was always the case and I know first-hand with running junior sailing at my local club just how rewarding that volunteering can be.

Bravo Paul Colquitt and thank-you Jon Holt for bringing this experience to my attention, and to Jon Emmett for working with me on bringing this all together. If this case study is replicated throughout the world, then sailing can have a very bright future indeed.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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