2016 to 2017 has been a year of ups and downs, not only on the water level. As we mentioned at the 2016 AGM, the course bookings for that summer were lower than we would hope, and our Treasurer will refer to that further in his report since our accounts to April this year reflect the effects of lower sailing school income. 2017, in contrast, has been a good year, with 630 places booked on holiday weeks this summer, and an upsurge in birthday parties and school bookings. All of this is not only a necessary factor in the financial health of the club but also introduces more people to sailing, encouraging participation in sport, and brings new members to the club.
We also welcomed new members from Datchet Watersports, as it ceased its operations with Datchet Water SC earlier this year and entered a one year arrangement with QM to direct DWS users to QM to deliver booked courses and honour existing memberships. In common with other clubs, traditional boat-owning membership numbers are less buoyant than in the past. This has been a concern for UK sailing clubs for several years and to date QM has managed to buck the trend, but we are now beginning to see a slow down in these memberships. Select Membership, however, has seen a healthy growth and QM’s scheme is seen by many other clubs, and the RYA, as a model for UK clubs in the face of increasing and varied demands on people’s time and resources.
Our bigger Fleets remain strong, for which we have to thank both the enthusiasm of members who sail in them and their active and effective Fleet Captains. We do, however, want to keep the diversity of classes at QM, welcoming other boats, and ensuring that those who sail other classes still enjoy the sailing at QM and keep racing in Sunday’s handicap fleets and, of course, the Wednesday evening series. We are almost getting to expect stellar performances from our Laser and RS400 sailors, both at home and away, and they have not disappointed this year. It has also been great to see the continued success of sailors such as Liz and Roger Pescod in their Tasar, and Andy and Jill Peters in both their Cherub, and their RS200, in which they retained the Wed eve series’ Kenneth Chinery trophy in a closely contested battle which went all the way to the final evening. Meanwhile, in the newly established UK Keelboat League finals in the Solent, QMSC’s team finished equal third on points and placed 5th overall on countback.
Racing numbers this year have fluctuated somewhat, with the frustrating weather conditions on a Wednesday evening undoubtedly a factor but, again, also reflecting a wider, national decline in racing numbers including at some major events. The Bloody Mary, however, continues to deliver with 287 entries in January 2017 despite the light winds forecast for the day. 444 sailors took part, in 61 classes from 105 clubs, and it was great to present prizes to some QM faces: Sailability Trophy and QM Sailability cup winner Nev Millard in his International 2.4M, and class winners, Richard Grey & Jon Dyas in the RS400, and Magnus Handley (who is also QM Junior Club Champion) in his Laser Radial. A big thank you, as ever, to our magnificent team of volunteers, and staff, who work throughout the event to make the Bloody Mary run smoothly and enjoyably for competitors. The call for the 2018 BM will be going out shortly and, if you’re not planning on sailing this celebrated event, getting involved as a volunteer is a great way to be part of it.
Other big days at the Club in 2017 include: 120 windsurfers in February at a new “London Calling” Student Windsurfing Association event, developing our close relationship with Imperial College; our second year hosting the London Youth Games sailing weekend in June; and, coming up in November, the RS End of Season Championships on 11/12 November and a Laser Masters Open on 25/26 November 2017. Club dates to add to these include the Club Championship in a couple of weeks on 22 October, the convolutions of the Christmas Fun Race course on Sunday 17 December, immediately followed by the celebrations of the Christmas Lunch and Annual Prizegiving, and, on 6 January 2018, the 45th Bloody Mary.
All our racing events depend on the continued commitment and enthusiasm of our team of Race Officers and Assistant Race Officers, and we are always working to increase the pool. PRO Paul Schroeder runs RO training days, which are free to Club members, to train up new recruits and also refresh anyone who feels they need to brush up on their skills. New ROs are supported on the water by experienced mentors until they feel able to run races themselves. This is a hugely valuable contribution to core Club member activities, and without the dedication of our ROs Club racing simply would not take place. So, if you are an RO, I really cannot stress too highly how much we appreciate you, and if you’re not, then do think about doing the course and joining the team.
Youth sailing and windsurfing continues to thrive, with a revamped youth sailing programme including introductions to racing and a youth race series, and a flourishing Team15 windsurfing programme. Winter youth squad training will begin shortly. Once again the youth group went to the NSSA regatta with some great results for the team whilst at the London & South East Zone Championships, at Datchet Water SC in September, we saw some very impressive performances including 1st and 2nd for Cameron Kersey and Iona Shefford in the windsurfing 4.5 fleet, 2nd and 3rd in the 5,8 fleet for Will Ziegler and Rory Shefford, 1st for Elektra Day-San and 2nd for Maya Kersey in the 6.8 fleet and, in the 7.8 fleet a 2nd for Emily-Jane Eldred. Joe Slipper and Tea Sirolla were 1st RS Feva and Robin Stein and Bjorn Handley were 12th and 15th in the Topper fleet.
Sailability grows and grows, with more racing on a Thursday and a new Drascombe Longboat bought with a generous donation by a Club member and additional funding from Spelthorne Borough Council. The new boat was launched on a special day for the Club in late June, when HRH the Princess Royal visited, to celebrate QM Sailability’s 20th birthday and meet Sailability sailors, both individuals and school groups, as well as volunteers. I was very pleased that paralympians Alexandra Rickham and Mike Browne were among the Sailability luminaries who joined us to welcome the royal party and make the day such a success.
For those who prefer a gentler approach to racing, or indeed, no racing at all, Saturday Club continues to meet regularly at QM and also repeated its trip to WPNSA this summer. Saturday sailors also formed the core of this year’s member-organised sailing holiday in Sardinia and no doubt there will be another happy band doing the same next year. I say gentler racing, but nonetheless a Saturday Club team competed in this year’s J80 Battle of the Fleets and secured third place.
I mentioned the water level earlier. We managed almost the entire summer with only a couple of weeks’ hoist launching lost to the dropping water level, and then just as we were breathing a sigh of relief, it dropped overnight by approaching a metre and has continued to fall. I believe this is a pattern which will not go away, and Council has set up a working group to identify practical solutions for the Club’s keelboat sailors.
The environmental issues contributing to the water levels are not the only ones we face today. Sailors have been in the forefront of global work this year to highlight the problem of single use plastic, and we have been working on an innovative proposal to combine plastic education in schools with a drive to increase sailing participation and connect the Club still further with schools in our local boroughs. The Club has secured a £17,000 grant from the Heathrow Foundation for this work and the plastic bottle Recycling to Sailing project will be launched in November.
Keeping to the environmental theme, Thames Water are installing hot boat wash stations on the upper and lower levels to help combat the spread of invasive species. They are also about to install two electric gates at the main entrance. These will replace the blocker and will provide separate entry and exit points.
Volunteers are an integral part of Club activities, but as you know, QM also has its professional staff, on whom we depend for the Club’s day to day running and who continue to bring their expertise and enthusiasm to the Club. This year we saw some changes: Julie Harrison and Greg Dawson have moved on to new challenges - they have both been great members of the QM team and we wish them every future success. Janet Hawkins is our excellent new Sailing Secretary and has rapidly made the role her own. I would like to thank all our senior management staff and the rest of the team for their continued dedication and contribution to the Club and its many activities. We are lucky to have them.
We also have to thank our catering team, under their new name of Blue Wave Catering, for continuing to feed us after our days on the water and for meeting the challenge of fluctuating numbers and demand so efficiently.
Finally, as outgoing Commodore, I must thank my fellow Flag Officers and Council Members for their dedication and support to the Club. It has been a privilege to serve here and one I heartily recommend to future volunteers. This Club really is a special place. It is a large, professionally staffed Club, yet it is friendly and genuinely welcoming. It is not elitist, it is constantly working to be more diverse and inclusive so that more people can enjoy sailing at every level. It is a real achievement to manage this and still offer the extremely high standard of Club and Open racing which I believe is our hallmark. All of this is down to you, the members, and to our staff. I believe everyone should be very proud of their contribution and of this Club. I certainly am. Thank you very much.
Outgoing Commodore at our Club's AGM October, 2017