Sailing is back in a big way in the UK. Sailing clubs are coming out of hibernation and serving a pent-up demand to get back out on the water again and it’s wonderful to see. The sound of boatyard cranes back in action, the whirr of sanders and the aroma of fresh antifouling (love that smell) are fused with the sight of happy kids launching their dinghies and getting wet again – all a far cry from and antidote to the pandemic gloom of recent months.
The weather helps. And at long last is starting to play ball as well. The bubble community worlds that we live in now, devoid of international travel and even concerns about national travel, are thronging again. Those clubs that battened down the hatches and closed their gates are back in business and as ever, the fabulous volunteers that keep sailing alive at clubs up and down the country are brewing the teas, manning the safety boats, setting the courses, flying the flags, awarding the penalties and coaching like fury – all at a safe social distance. It’s the new norm and the sailing world is adapting with charm and sheer grit. Brilliant.
There will be casualties for certain though. Some clubs with a different business model centred around dining and conviviality are still closed. Plans are afoot to cautiously open but the coming months will be tricky. The sailing world at its core won’t change much but structurally things will. The pandemic is a watershed of business plans and strategy. Those that are catering for sailing and sailors will flourish. Those that are stuck in Victorian times will merge or die. It’s a necessary cull of the weak. Those limping along before on the life-support of membership fees, occasional largesse and endowments will go and in will come a return to sailing clubs for participants. It’s an exciting time.
And looking at my own locale – Cowes – there’s a stand-out club that is thriving and could well be the model for the future. I’ve mentioned them before but it’s well worth mentioning again. The Junior Offshore Group, or JOG as everyone knows it, doesn’t need a fancy clubhouse to stake its claim as the best club in Cowes. It doesn’t need a membership criteria and the formality of a proposer and seconder and a meeting with a member of the committee to join. Everyone is welcome. Bring your boat and come racing. As a model for the future, JOG is bang on the money with an electric calendar of events for cruiser racers all the way from Easter to the last light of summer and its business model is to market itself heavily on social media with fabulous photos (taken locally) and a pure concentration on racing. As a focused proposal goes, it’s right for the times, stays in its lane and surprise, surprise the JOG is now THE club in Cowes. Everyone is talking about it.
Having come out of the pandemic blocks like a greyhound on steroids with a full racing schedule, the JOG is attracting a whole host of race sponsors all eager to be a part of this absolutely unique British success story. And with the announcement today that Crewsaver has signed up to sponsor September’s Lymington to Cowes Race, they join a roster of race sponsors that just keeps on growing. This year Salcombe Gin, Seversys, One Sails, Highfield Honda, Exposure Lights, NJO Sails, Osmotech and Stoneways Marine Insurance have all signed up. That’s remarkable and it’s so pleasing to see that sponsors see such great value in supporting Corinthian grand prix racing – for that is what it is – and as a sport we should be extremely thankful.
For my part, my money will be going the way of those sponsors that support sailors and sailing. It’s our duty to put down the Gordon’s at the supermarket and seek out the Salcombe Gin bottle. When you need a new boat engine, buy Honda. Or when you need to insure your vessel, go to Stoneways etcetera etcetera. Look for the sponsors in sailing and buy from them. The days of poo-pooing them because you think you know better are over. Supporting sponsors and your local chandlery and boat building services and sailmakers is absolutely critical – now more than ever. Stop looking at the internet, support your local business.
I wish the Junior Offshore Group every success at its next event on the 1st May with the Cowes – Owers – Cowes race sponsored by Salcombe Gin. To see the full racing schedule for 2021 and to join the friendliest and most inclusive club on the South Coast see: https://www.jog.org.uk/programme/programme-2021/