The Sailing & Cruising Association was set up in 1980 by a group of gay sailors who wanted to create a sailing club where you didn’t need to hide who you are… where you can relax and be yourself. As David Mason, the club’s Commodore explains, nearly 40 years on, that’s still at the very heart of the S&CA, the home of LGBT+ sailing in the UK.
Our three main functions as a club are enabling boat owners and those keen to crew to find each other, organising rallies so boats can meet up and sail in company, typically at bank holiday weekends with group meals ashore in the evenings, and helping members get together to charter (hire) yachts, typically for a week or two in the Mediterranean.
We currently have about 400 members, roughly three-quarters male, who between them own over 100 boats, mostly sailing yachts but also some dinghies, motor boats and canal barges.
The membership continues to be increasingly diverse, united by their love of boating. As our constitution makes clear, the club is open to anyone in the LGBT+ community, their friends and family – the ‘qualification’ is being keen on boating, or at least wanting to explore becoming keen.
Like lots of members, I started sailing with the club as a complete novice in 2004. I went along to one of the club’s monthly socials and before long I was crewing for one of the club members. I quickly learnt some common sailing knots, how to steer the boat and how the sails worked. Within a month I was joining the club’s charter flotilla in Croatia. Now, I take turns with crewmates in skippering and navigating both under sail at sea and inland on the canals.
Lots of our members are experienced sailors, but we do also make it easy for novices to get into sailing, including helping groups of members get together to take the various boating training courses. As with any outdoor activity, there is an emphasis on safety both when we’re training and when simply crewing for each other.
Crewing is not ‘being a passenger’; taking part in appropriate levels of working the boat (adjusting the sails, lifting the anchor), as well as sharing cooking and washing up. The camaraderie is a big part of the reason for going sailing – as well as enjoying the destination when you get there!
Although the club started as a refuge for gay sailors back in the very different days of the 1980s, we now play a big part in making LGBT+ part of the sailing world, and making sailing part of the LGBT+ world. So, like most sailing and yacht clubs in the UK, we are affiliated to the Royal Yachting Association and recently featured in that association’s report on diversity in boating.
Some of our more competitive members take part in large organised races. Our club also hosts ‘GUST’, the Gay UK Sailing Team which represents the UK in LGBT+ sports tournaments. We’re very proud that the GUST team won silver at 2018’s International Gay Games in France.
Most of our boating is on The Solent in the south and the Thames Estuary in the east. Our typically varied calendar in 2018 included intrepid crossings of the Channel, a fabulous Mediterranean flotilla cruising in Sardinia and Corsica, and a sun-baked canal voyage on the River Severn into Birmingham. The annual sailing treasure hunt saw the crews of over 10 boats descend upon Cowes (Isle of Wight), clattering up the high street in ‘Swinging Sixties’ themed costumes ranging from vintage football kit to miniskirts and platform boots! We spent a fascinating weekend at the RNLI lifeboats HQ in Poole at the beginning of the year and were welcomed by the Royal Navy Yacht Club in Portsmouth for our annual black tie ‘Laying Up Supper’ at the end of the season.
As I write, the 2019 calendar is being planned, and longer term our ‘Operation Ruby Slippers’ is getting ready for special events to mark our Ruby anniversary in 2020.
How can you get involved?
Anyone is welcome to come along to S&CA monthly socials in London or you can catch us at London Pride. Details of our social and sailing events are at gaysailing.org.uk
Club members who are on Facebook can join our private group, as well as a ‘crew match’ group to put skippers and crew in contact with each other. The club has plenty of events throughout the sailing season and you should have no problem finding one to join.
You can follow us @GaySailingUK on both Instagram and Twitter.
If you’d like to become a member, the annual subscription is just £15 and it’s easy to sign up on gaysailing.org.uk
If you’re London based why not come and meet some of our members at one of our socials on the second Wednesday each month, upstairs in Retro Bar?