An inspirational eighty-four year old sailor is encouraging Sussex families to get out on the water together.
David Skinner has been an active member of Sussex Yacht Club since 1971 and was the club’s Commodore in 1994. For the last 40 years he’s been sharing his passion for sailing with those who are new to the sport by taking them out on his own boat to show them the ropes.
He said, “I always encourage people to do the Royal Yachting Association courses, the classroom stuff is important, but nothing beats getting out on a boat and gaining hands-on experience. I try to gently stretch them, to encourage them to have a go. For some people simply walking from one side of the boat to another is a big achievement, whilst others are happy to climb up and down the mast; it really does depend on the individual. It’s all about gradually building people’s confidence on the water.
“I had a love of the sea from very young; I come from a Lifeboat family and my father had boats. He was a keen angler and we’d often go fishing together – although he always caught more fish than me!
“So, when we moved our young family down to the south coast, I bought a 17 foot boat and we took up sailing. I’ve always enjoyed Arthur Ransome’s books, particularly Swallows and Amazons, because it’s about youngsters playing about on boats. I think learning to sail is one of the best things children can do, it teaches them so many life skills and they are outside in the fresh air gaining new experiences.
“My wife, Jennie, and our two children would spend all our spare time on our boat. We’d row out in a dinghy to where it was berthed and spend our days sailing as a family. We had some terrific times as members of the Yacht Club; it’s really been a major part of our life. I’ve made great friendships over the years and so has my wife; there’s such a lovely social side to sailing too.
“We’d often take part in races run by the Club and rallies where we’d go over to France to meet the French Clubs and then they’d come back over to see us; it was fantastic fun. My son and daughter crewed in many races and I’ve taken part in a number of Cowes Weeks. Even now I take my grand-children out on my boat and we’ll have sleepovers with a takeaway as a treat.
“My son even completed the Southern Ocean leg of the Round the World Yacht Race, which took him from Sydney to Cape Town amongst icebergs on one of Sir Chay Blyth’s boats. He wouldn’t have had that opportunity if he hadn’t had learnt to sail as a youngster.
“I like the Club because it’s so welcoming and encourages sailors of all ages and abilities. We regularly have the Sea Scouts and Sussex University Students sailing from here, but we also have people of all ages taking up sailing for the first time; I took a lady in her seventies out on my boat and she fell in love with sailing straight away. It’s a sport that anyone can enjoy at whatever level they feel happy with.
“I was one of the original Trustees of Sussex Sailability, which is a voluntary organisation that enables people with disabilities to sail from the Yacht Club. It now has fifteen boats, which are all specially adapted to allow people with varying disabilities to helm and crew. So I’m really looking forward to the building of our new Club House, which has been designed to include much better accessibility and facilities for our Sailability sailors.
“When the new Club is built, it’s going to give Shoreham-by-Sea the finest sailing facilities on the south coast. It’s going to be a fabulous new building and will be a huge asset to the local community.
“Sailing keeps me active so I still race and, now that I’ve now moved up to my 42 foot retirement boat, I can sometimes have a crew of up to nine people on board for the more serious races. However, there are times when I’m on my own, that I like think of my boat as being like my shed. I’m aboard her most days, pottering around, so I might have a cuppa and just spend some time quietly listening to the shipping forecast.
“I love being on the water; it’s where I raised my family and we had some amazing adventures. In my view, sailing is a perfect activity for families to enjoy together. It means so much to me and I have so many very happy memories.”
Families can join Sussex Yacht Club for an annual fee that works out at less than £20 per month, and you do not need to own a boat. To find out more about membership, courses and taster days please contact 01273 464868.