The yachting scene in Antigua may take a pause between June and November but not so the yacht club. In some respects, it is a busier time with the Summer Sailing Programme for school children in full swing between the beginning of July and the end of August. This year, events are being jointly run with the National Sailing Academy which is catering for the younger children more interested in activities than the intensive sail training offered by AYC.
As some members may recollect from the last Newsletter, Antigua narrowly missed out in obtaining a place in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games to be held in Nanjing, China. However, one of AYC's young sailors has been offered a wild card and Rhone Kirby has been chosen to represent Antigua & Barbuda. The National Olympic Committee headed up by the new Minister of Sport, Chet Green, has offered to meet all costs.
The yacht club will be sending Rhone to the Cayman Islands where he can get some specialist training on Byte 16 dinghies, the type to be used in the Olympics.
Not to be ignored, AYC is also sending a team of its young sailors to Tortola next week to defend the Premier's Cup title they won last year. As the competition is restricted to 16 to 18 year olds, it will be a different team from last year but they are just as keen to bring back the silver. Thanks to Antigua Sailing Week who donated the flights in their sponsorship deal with LIAT.
In the middle of June, AYC sent a team with boats to St. Maarten to compete in the Caribbean Laser Championships and obtained 2nd, 3rd and 5th out of 14 in the Laser Radials and 6th & 7th overall out of 28. The long, overnight motor back into the wind and sea in Frankie Hart's fishing boat, Overdraft, was rather tough after a weekend of frantic racing.
It is sometimes said that AYC is no longer about sailing but, as the above shows, this is far from the truth. Every day, from my veranda, I can see a dozen or so dinghies out sailing from Antigua Yacht Club and, most of the time, they are race training.
Over the past few months, discussions have been going on with the staff and the Directors to look at ways the club can be improved. Some are just small things such as the staff agreeing to be paid monthly rather than fortnightly but others are much bigger. The Directors are keen to incentivise the staff and to that end daily and weekly work summaries have been introduced so that both Directors and staff have an understanding of how the club is run. Also, the staff have been asked to come up with ideas on how they feel the club can be improved and some interesting results will be rolled out over the next few months.
One thing which has come out of discussions with the staff, and as a result of the recent membership drive, is the lack of local members. There appear to be several reasons for this, starting with the cost of membership. It is often said that AYC membership fees are low compared with other international yacht clubs and this is, in part, true. However, this is not the point. We value and are extremely grateful to all our Overseas Members, who number well over double our local annual members, but we need to appeal more to the local population and to do that our membership fees need to be more in line with the local economy, not what other yacht clubs charge.
Also, there are a whole variety of different memberships and the staff feel these should be simplified plus, as has been mentioned previously, Overseas Members do not have a vote whereas it is felt they should be allowed to have their say, particularly as we now have Proxy Voting. Also, under the present arrangement, only Gold members have the right to use dinghies whereas the staff and the Board feel that, as a sailing club, all members should have that right.
As a result, subject to feedback, the Board will be proposing a much simplified Membership structure together with substantial reductions in the annual membership fees for Ordinary Full Members. It is being suggested that there should no longer be a distinction between Overseas Members and Ordinary Full Members, both having equal rights. The consequence of this will be a reduction in the Ordinary Full membership fees, no increase in the cost to Gold Overseas Members, which are the majority, but an increase to non-Gold Overseas Members to bring them into line with other forms of membership. They will be gaining the benefit of full rights to the club and the use of all the facilities. The staff believe there will not be a cost to the club as it is hoped that the increased numbers induced by the reduction together with some other promotional ideas will cover the cost. However, if there is a cost to the Club it will be met using funds from other sources as the Board believes increased membership to be to the overall benefit of the Club.
The office staff are to be congratulated on the efforts they have put into this and other plans and schemes they have originated.
Finally, we have not stood still on other projects. Club Sushi asked and obtained permission to further extend the upper deck to the west and, jointly with the club, replaced the back stairs with wider and stronger ones. When the old ones were removed, it was to everyones surprise that they had held up, the wood was so rotten. On the same theme, the concrete beams have been examined by an independent surveyor and costs are being obtained to replace them with steel I beams. Whilst it is not seen to be urgent, if it is at all possible, the Board would like to get it done before the new restaurant opens in October.
With careful management of the Club's funds, we do have a little more in the kitty than our original budget so we may be able to carry out one or two more improvements before next season.