Monday, June 27, 2011

Sailing North: Evolution of a Yacht Club

27th June 2011
The Wharf Marina, Mooloolaba

We are trapped in Mooloolaba at the moment. The weather here is very overcast but sailable, but the forecast is not promising at all. 40 knots + wind. Given that there are no boltholes for the next few days if we do sail, we have decided to hang out at the Marina.

Which makes me give thought to that institution of sailing, The Yacht Club.  In the 20 years I have been sailing I have been a member of a few different clubs. Some were great, some were mediocre, a couple were seriously crap.

Big or small they all have one thing in common. Every Yacht Club was initially conceived with one common purpose, to let people interested in sailing get together and promote that interest. Unfortunately those lofty ideals can get often get sidelined.

The history of a lot of clubs is more like this:

  • A couple of friends, bored with sailing alone, get together and sail their boats each weekend. At the end of the sail they have a couple of beers on one of the boats.

  • A couple of other boat owners hear about the couple and ask if they can join them.

  • After a while the group has swelled to seven boats and it doesn’t seem fair that one skipper keeps providing the grog so they put $10 a week in towards the beer.

  • The boat fridge is too small for the amount of beer they now consume so they buy an esky to leave on the beach while they sail. One member’s wife comes down with the kids and looks after the esky during the afternoon.

  • The member’s wife invites a few friends and they put a BBQ on at the end of the day.The cost of food puts the contribution up to $20 per week.

  • The amount of food and alcohol that has to be transported each week gets too onerous for one person. They decide to rent a shed so that the BBQ, alcohol, food, sailing clothing etc can be stored.

  • The wives need somewhere to sit while the sailing is happening so tables, chairs, cutlery, crockery are purchased.

  • The amount of boats sailing has now reached 30 which is too many people to consult every time a decision has to be made. A committee is formed.

  • People who don’t sail but like being around boats, or have just heard of the fun, or because it’s local want to join. The committee agrees these “social” people are welcome but they need to contribute to the costs. A separate level of membership is made to cater for them.

  • Of the 30 boats, some are very keen to race whilst others prefer social sailing. The racers want crash boats, bouys, race officials, and membership to the peak sailing race body. The cruisers feel the cost outweighs the benefits and would prefer to invest the funds in their shed. Meanwhile the wives and social members feel the focus is too sailing oriented and want dinners, club nights, pokies, entertainment, and a children’s playground because “It’s all right for you, you spend all day sailing”.

  • The AGM is heated. The club has split into factions with each group convinced that their view forward is the only way of survival for the future of the club. Life long friends now glower at each other across the committee room as people jockey to become Commodore and then get their supporters elected, or get their particular viewpoint across.

  • Two yachties sitting at the back of the AGM and who have been with the club since its inception shake their heads and say, “I just want to go sailing”. They agree to meet next weekend and sail in company. One says he’ll bring the beer.
I realize that this is just my sarcastic humour. Unfortunately in too many cases it is also true. We spent yesterday evening in the newly opened yacht club here in Mooloolaba. Despite bragging about the speed the membership was growing, on a Saturday night the number of patrons, including the two of us, was....2. Is this the Mooloolaba Yacht Club? No, this is the Yacht Club at Mooloolaba. Not 500 meters away the Mooloolaba Yacht Club meets in the local pub. They have a few members but no premises. Neither club has sufficient members to fill a phone box but amalgamation is both inevitable and impossible.

Conversely, Rona has just joined The Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron at Manly, Brisbane. Admittedly it is a wealthy club with a large paid staff, but the most satisfying experience is the attitude of current members to a “newbie’ She has been invited to “New Members Drinks” where she was introduced to the flag officers, their wives and other members. Never once have we been into the bar and not greeted by at least one member joining our table and introducing themselves. Nothing is too much trouble for these volunteers as they promote their club. They are proud of what they have achieved, and it shows.

Compare that to one club I joined where, once I had paid my membership fees and even though I was in the very small minority of members who actually owned a registered sailing boat, far from being welcomed members and even Flag Officers pointedly ignored new members and made it difficult for them to get involved.

So, I think it is worth clubs taking a look at themselves if their membership is dwindling. Do they still exist for the benefit of ALL sailing members, or just a few “Old Guard”. Does a look at the membership show that people who join continue with the club, or is there a concern that first year members are not renewing their membership? What does the club give back to those who are willing to share their time, and boats for the benefit of their fellow members? Are the members of the Committee too busy fighting with each other or rival clubs to focus on why the club was actually formed?

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