Taking to the water with Hollowell Sailing Club

Zooming across the water, perched on a motorboat and with the sun beaming down on my face, I felt like I could easily be in the Mediterranean.

But no, it was a just a spring day in Hollowell, Northamptonshire, and I had visited the reservoir to meet the members of the Royal Yachting Association’s Club of the Year 2012.

Hollowell Sailing Club.

Hollowell Sailing Club.

The title was not an easy one for Hollowell Sailing Club to land, given that there are 1,500 RYA accredited clubs in the UK, with a membership of more than 100,000.

And this Saturday, others will have the chance to visit Hollowell and try windsurfing and sailing for free when the club hosts a Family Open Day from 11am.

The event is being held to coincide with the national RYA Push the Boat Out weekend, which sees many sailing clubs across the country inviting local people to have a go at the sport themselves.

Hollowell Sailing Club commodore Nicola Wilkinson said: “There are benefits to being in the club I would say; the social side of sailing, doing something with like-

minded people which is outdoors and physically demanding. It builds character and, quite apart from that, it is a technical sport too.”

She continued: “We will see youngsters of eight-years-old in charge of a craft, they will learn to take responsibility from quite a young age. Last year we went to the Olympic venue in Weymouth and 750 children took part in the regatta, they were off out into the sea sailing.”

Club members range from babies who accompany parents, to people in their 70s and 80s. The club, which was founded in 1966, has 114 acres of water at its disposal and is a non-profit making organisation.

When I visit it is clear that each member has their voluntary job and does it willingly, ranging from cooking lunch to instructing younger members.

There are 52 qualified instructors at the club who volunteer time to deliver training programmes. These educational schemes include the RYA level one and two courses, which teach the skills of sailing.

The club now has about 350 members, according to membership secretary Elaine Coulton.

Nicola continued: “It was originally a small fishing hut and grew from that. The club now has a 25-year lease from Anglian Water to have use of the water and the site.”

Throughout the year, the club hosts many activities, including seven annual open events, when it invites people to come and compete with members.

It also competes against other clubs in many events, such as the Anglian Water Junior Series for those aged eight to 18.

Although sailing remains popular, the club has not, perhaps surprisingly, seen an surge in membership since the exposure the sport received during the Olympics.

Nicola said: “Last year we were looking at more people getting involved with sailing in line with the Olympics but we haven’t experienced a significant surge, however we have a rowing club affiliated and they certainly have.”

For Caroline Cranfield from Guilsborough, being a member of Hollowell Sailing Club has really transformed her family life.

Less than three years after they first joined, her daughters Freddie (14) and Eleanor (13) are now members of national training squads.

She explained: “We first came to the club in June 2010 and we have three children who at the time were eight, 10 and 12. Their school offered the RYA Onboard course and the purpose of this was to get them sailing. They did the Onboard course and got their RYA level 1.”

Being members at Hollowell meant the children could continue their sailing, and reach a high standard.

She said: “The first winter we did a sail and then my two girls got into racing.

“Two months into that summer, we bought a boat, then we were off up to Rutland. Since then we have done 18,000 miles, we have been to the National Championships and have four boats.

“It has completely changed our lives now and the children are extremely committed to it and, as a family, we have to tailor our lives around it.

“But the children are so organised, everything they do has changed because of sailing, they are so much more independent now. They were inspired by the Olympics.”

Club attracts sailors of all ages:

With five years of sailing experience behind her, 15-year-old Melissa McCullough has gone on to represent the county at a national level.

Melissa, from Hannington, pictured above, said: “You don’t really appreciate sailing until you actually do it and then that is what keeps you going. I have done the nationals twice but I’m staying at club level this year, you can make it what you want it to be.”

As for future ambitions, Melissa said she would eventually like to coach others in the art of sailing.

But Hollowell also has plenty of keen adult members who enjoy the challenge of regular competition in sailing.

Keith Lancaster, aged 64, from Braunston, first got involved with sailing in the 1970s when he was a Borstal officer.

Working in the north of England, he used to take prisoners out to do their community work, which involved working on a boat.

This activity first sparked Keith’s interest in sailing as it started seeping into his spare time.

He said: “I lived in Lancashire and when I moved to Daventry I did a course and learned to sail. I spent 20-odd years at a club in Rugby but I wanted more competition so I looked for another club.

“I sail every week now, on a Sunday and a Thursday evening and I have a few trophies from Hollowell and Rugby, and open meetings.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing well and it really relieves stress, it is good for the mind and body.”

Hollowell Sailing Club facts:

-Hollowell Sailing Club is open on Sundays and Bank Holidays from March until December, and Saturday afternoons from April to October. It is also open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the summer months.

-As well as sailing, training at the club can also be carried out in windsurfing and the use of motorboats.

-Those who do not have their own boat can hire one.

-Prices vary but the annual rate (including joining fee) for a family is £190, £160 for single membership or £90 for young adults aged 18-24. For more information, see www.hollowellsc.org.uk.