The Queen Charlotte Yacht Club had declined so significantly that about 15 years ago a meeting was held to decide whether to close or somehow find a way to arrest the decline.
Today it’s about to embark on a total rebuild and is being approached to host a raft of national regattas.
The club is a success story but a few risks were taken on the journey. The biggest one was the decision by that group of parents who met to determine the club’s fate that they had to be proactive and appoint a fulltime coach even though they didn’t have the money to fund the position.
It was a chicken-and-egg scenario that paid off and saw an immediate boost in membership. A commitment was also made to travel to regattas to not only improve the abilities of the young sailors they had but also encourage other clubs to come to their own events.
It’s part of the reason why the Interislander is now one of the country’s biggest junior regattas – it’s attracted more than 200 boats over the last two years – and last weekend they hosted the Toyota Optimist national championships.
“It’s important to us but also important to the South Island [to be hosting events like the Interislander],” Queen Charlotte commodore Richard Gifford said. “It’s important for sailors in the South Island to experience what it’s like at a big regatta without having to travel to Auckland.
“It’s also good for the community because they can see over 200 boats out on the water over three days and it helps keep the profile of the yacht club high.”
But their regattas aren’t just about the sailing.
The club started running Taste Marlborough alongside the Interislander from the regatta’s inception, knowing they needed to make it appealing for parents as well. It’s a popular feature and parents and visitors can indulge in local wine and cuisine, all the while knowing their accommodation is within easy walking distance.
An arrangement was also made with the Interislander ferry allowing young sailors to wheel their boats onto the ferry on beach trolleys and they can simply walk to the club once in Picton.
Queen Charlotte continues to evolve.
Work on the new boat shed is expected to start in May, when as many as 180 piles will be driven into the ground. Consent to start work on the clubhouse is presently with the council but club officials hope the new boat shed and the clubhouse shell will be ready when the club reopens after the winter.
It will be a community facility, with the rowing club and waka ama group also utilising the club as well as weddings.
The existing clubhouse, which was made from old army huts, is quickly deteriorating. It’s been there since 1938, two years after the club was created, but has suffered with three water incursions over the past two years.
It will soon become public land, which has helped foster good relations with the community, port and local council.
“We think we will have some of the best facilities in New Zealand to hold top regattas,” Gifford said. “We’re looking to attract a few more regattas, like the Starling nationals and 2023 Laser nationals, and it’s all about getting kids on the water and having fun.
“It will also be a community facility that lots of different groups can use.”
Queen Charlotte’s membership now sits at about 50-60. They lose a handful each year as youngsters leave the region to study or work, which puts pressure on regeneration.
The club put about 50 children through learn to sail courses annually with about 10-15 returning the next season as members. They have active Optimist, Starling and Laser fleets and an illustration of the club’s success was the fact 12 youngsters were part of teams at overseas events last year. Alastair Gifford, Richard’s son, also won the OKI 24-hour race with Matthew Kempkers.
“For a small club of 50 or 60 members, that’s a big achievement,” Gifford said. “It’s a little more challenging coming from the Picton region but we think we have got some good young sailors coming through. We think we punch above our weight.”
It’s a place the Queen Charlotte Yacht Club want to stay and they’re doing the right things to remain there. It’s certainly a much better position than 15 years ago.