Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Joining a sailing club -- what's in it for me?

What a lovely time we had meeting up with now old friends from the Irish Cruising Club (ICC) in Oranmore near Galway just before Christmas.  Not only was it a nice venue for lunch, we are beginning to actually know some of the people. And one of our favourite members, Jarlath Cunnane, of Northabout fame, sat next to me at lunch and traveled home with us on the return trip.  Kay and Fergus Quinlan were at our table too so we felt right at home catching up with everyone.

It's an interesting thing when you join a social club. The first year, you are feeling things out: the people, the politics, the etiquette, and the expectations. The second year, you begin to recognize people's faces and sometimes even their names. By the third year, you're a regular, contributing to the newsletter and annual, joining in on events, getting together with members informally, and so on.  At least that's how it has gone for us.



We've become members of two different yacht clubs on both sides of the Atlantic, and three different cruising clubs, SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association), ICC and OCC (Ocean Cruising Club).  They were all massively different yet remarkably similar experiences.

SSCA is an American based cruising association we joined many years ago when we first thought about the cruising lifestyle. At first, we didn't meet anyone for a long time as there seemed to be very few members in our cruising territory. Lots in Maine, lots in the Chesapeake, lots in Florida and the Bahamas. We read about their adventures and dreamed of going off on our own. We wrote for the Bulletin and searched for the burgee to no avail. Then, en route to the Caribbean, we started to meet quite a few SSCA members. It was fun reading their Bulletin entries, joining in to the SSB nets, and meeting up island after island. Then we started to deliver our Happy Hooking seminar by webinar through the Seven Seas University and got o meet lots of members in that way. We are even the cruising station for Ireland now.

With American Yacht Club in Rye NY, we knew no one when we first joined and it was an arduous joining process that took almost a year to complete. But because we had skills that allowed us to manage the website and were immediately co-opted for that duty, we got exposed to everyone within the first year of election to membership. Being one of the oldest institutions on Long Island Sound, AYC is a rather proper club. But it is loose enough to be great fun in a spectacular location. Despite its racing heritage, we were well accepted as "the cruisers" in the club. By the third year, we were frequent contributors to the newsletter, assisting the Race Committee with results distribution, and organizing informal weekend cruises in company. Then we fell in with "the commodorial crowd".  If it hadn't been for the knowledge that we'd be leaving to live in Ireland soon, we would have been flag officers. We even started Sail4Kids Make a Memory Cruise for which we were awarded the club's highest prize. It was a hugely positive and rewarding experience, and totally dependent on how much we put in.

Then we decided to sail across the Atlantic and resettle in Ireland. In Clew Bay is a wonderful little club, the Mayo Sailing Club, which of course we had to join. It couldn't be more different than AYC, except that once again it is situated in a magnificent location. Joining was about paying the dues.  But lo and behold, here we were, hardly knowing a soul once again. We first joined the cruises in company.  Then we both volunteered as crew on racing boats for the Thursday night racing. We attended lectures and were even invited to deliver a lecture after we crossed the Atlantic twice more to spend a winter in the Caribbean. Now we are about to manage the website and have loads of friends among the members, who are among the most adventurous sailors in the world. Sound familiar?

More recently, Alex applied for membership in the ICC and I decided to join the OCC.   The ICC is entirely Irish in its membership whereas the OCC is international in membership but based legally in Britain. The split is pretty even between American and British members, with a smattering of Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans, and Europeans. Neither ICC nor OCC has a physical clubhouse so get togethers are more challenging to arrange. People have to really go out of their way to get to wherever an event is staged. So once again we were faced with the three-year getting-to-know-the-members process, although this time it could very well take much longer.

However, because there was a glitch in my membership application, I got to know the Commodore very early on. He quickly co-opted me onto the Committee. Within a year, I became the first PR Officer the OCC has ever had. Being an American living in Ireland, I am politically mid-Atlantic which gives me a certain measure of freeboard.  Once again, within three years I can count many members among my good friends, this time scattered all over the globe. I have developed an effective PR strategy, have helped to organize the website, serve on the awards subcommittee and head up the publications subcommittee. Once again, I am getting back as much as I give.

Alex first joined ICC and is among an elite group of Irish sailors who have amassed blue water distance. As we got to know members, we realized that many are also members of OCC. Recently, Alex decided to join OCC as well since it offers a different and broader membership experience!

What's really funny is that neither one of us considers ourselves "joiners". Most of the members would say the same. I, in fact, consider myself an introvert and loner although most people who know me superfically balk at that notion. What I have found is that joining gets me out of myself and into the world. It's kind of like leaving Facebook to go to a party. You might actually see someone twerking in public before it's tweeted. So go out there and join. Guaranteed you'll meet some extraordinary people. Far more than you'd ever meet cocooned below decks.





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