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Building participation through social activities

by Rupert Holmes 4 Aug 2016 13:36 BST 4 August 2016
2015 Impala 28 nationals at Cowes © Bertrand Malas

Everyone likes a quick beer or coffee after racing, but does making an effort to nurture the social side of a club make a worthwhile a difference to numbers on the water? Rupert Holmes looks at two very different clubs, each with growing membership, that are under no doubt as to the importance of their social activities.

Cowes Corinthian YC may not have the swish premises and stunning Solent views of other clubs in the town, yet membership is growing steadily thanks to a strong social aspect to the club's activities. "The social side of sailing is one of our focuses and over the last 12-18 months we've increased both the number of people racing and the number of volunteers that help run the club's racing," says vice commodore Dave Ross. "As a result we've been able to take on a lot of events, including numerous Etchells regattas, the Contessa 32 nationals and training regattas for blind sailors. Previously we wound not have been able to run such a full programme."

A big factor in this is an ongoing drive to get volunteers involved to help with running racing. "It started by roping in friends and family," says Ross. "Those people then brought in their own friends and family, which increases membership and increases the vibe in the club – it's almost exponential. They then get exposure to the sailing side of things, building knowledge and background skills with time out on the water."

"Much of the attraction stems from the social side of things. It all helps to provide an atmosphere that's conducive to socialising and also for learning, whether that's for new members of the race management team, or the sailors. It also brings revenue into the club, because they bring their friends down as well, who then start to get exposure to the sailing side of things.

"The major point about Cowes Corinthian is that it is run by volunteers – both race organisation and social organisation is done on a volunteer basis. I think that sense of team and achievement is well received, event though a lot of the effort is unseen and often unsung. Providing food in the evening when there's an event on is important and that's usually all done by volunteers as well.

"The use of volunteers both helps to engender a wider social vibe and enables subscriptions to be lower, which makes the decision to join an easier one for new members. In addition, if the club is not spending on staff wages it allows money to be spent on facilities. We're very lucky at Cowes Corinthian that the club has its own marina and dry sailing facilities, which makes a big difference."

The Solo Offshore Racing Club is a very different operation – one that doesn't even have any premises. So how do social activities help a bunch of single-handed offshore sailors? "Social cohesion has been fantastically important for us," says racing director Nigel Colley. "For instance, last season George Isted got Wayne Mortibouys to come along in his Contessa 32 for a couple of offshore races and he was absolutely hooked, on the social side as much as anything.

"Wayne has now replaced the Contessa with a Sun Fast 3200 and brought along his mate, Richard Clark, who initially joined in with some socials after doing a couple of delivery trips with Wayne. It wasn't long before he ordered a new boat specifically to come and race with SORC.

"I can think of lots of occasions like that when someone comes across us socially by accident. Then they start to make new friends who persuade them to give single-handed racing a try. When they do they are usually absolutely hooked.

"Once someone is on the hook and has started to participate in our racing they want to improve the manageability of their boats. That means they are keen to see what other people are doing, ask questions and come along to the training sessions, seminars and socials we organise to find out how to make it easier. These are also built around socials.

"It's a parallel life – when we go home we've all got another life and other social groups, but we've got this little bubble called SORC that we all escape to. With fully-crewed offshore racing, each team tends to stick together, drinking or eating in different pubs. With SORC we have to socialise with each other and everyone appreciates the magnitude of the challenge, so to a degree it doesn't matter whether you've come in first or last – you've done it and everyone has shared that experience."

About MS Amlin / Haven Knox-Johnston

Run by boating enthusiasts for boating enthusiasts, MS Amlin / Haven Knox-Johnston has grown to become one of the UK's leading providers in boat insurance. All policies are backed by the financial strength and security of MS Amlin Syndicate 2001 one of the largest Syndicates in Lloyd's.

MS Amlin / Haven Knox-Johnston has over 30 years of experience in providing boat insurance for most types of craft including sailing boats and yachts.

MS Amlin / Haven Knox-Johnston is a trading name of MS Amlin Underwriting Services Limited, The Leadenhall Building, 122 Leadenhall Street, London EC3V 4AG which is authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority.

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