(A more complete version of this article will appear in the September 2022 issue of Cheshire Life)
Aboard the fine ship Budworth Sailing Club there is a crew of more than 500. Members aged eight to 90 pull together to learn, teach, compete and keep this 76 year success story going. They also wipe the decks, balance the books, organize events, staff the galley and numerous other duties that ensure the Royal Yachting Association/Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year 2022 is at its best.
At the head of the Cheshire institution, which “provides training, boats and all kinds of support for people starting out in sailing”, is Commodore Bill Kenyon. Bill is the man who inspires and empowers shipmates both on the water and in the clubhouse.
And while there’s no doubt he’s the master of this tight ship, he insists he’s just part of the 24-strong committee and members of hundreds working together to make the club a winner. “We’re a members’ club, run by members,” he says.
One of the reasons BSC is thriving is its stable finances – £110,000 from the treasury will shortly be spent on a bespoke deal for the lifeboats that protect each racer – and its ability to attract and retain members. There is more to joining Budworth than just paying the surprisingly low membership fee: “The club is run by volunteer members for the benefit of all members, and each year there are a number of duties to be undertaken on a rotating basis,” prospective sailors are told on the inquiry form.
Anyone with a useful job is called in to help, whether it’s an electrician or an accountant, a plumber or a security inspector. “I would say 99.9 percent of our members have no sailing background,” says Bill. “If we know a member has an ability, we use it to our advantage. That positive spirit and commitment means we have a very successful club and we don’t have to borrow anything.’
The social calendar includes visits to other clubs to compete, BBQs, a Pirate Day and Anniversary Picnic earlier this summer, and Friendship Fridays at the clubhouse. Schools and scout groups are welcome. Open houses offer visitors the opportunity to get out on the water.
It is this sense of community that encourages membership
and makes BSC a place where people of all ages can easily mingle. There are those who come to learn, those who live to compete, the members who enjoy playing around with their boat and many who build the skills and confidence
from others via the Better Sailing WhatsApp group. After the dinghies are stowed away, there is time for chat, a meal and a drink in the bar.
This is a place for all types of people, and while Commodore Kenyon, a member for 38 years, admits he owns that cliche blue blazer with brass buttons, he’s keen to point out that he only comes out of the closet on awards nights. A far cry from the stuffy, elitist clubs of his childhood, Budworth defies the outdated image of sailing as a pastime reserved for the wealthy.
The commodore recalls the day nearly six decades ago when his father was disqualified from a race by the dignitaries of the club he was a member of after they observed a bored four-year-old Bill, known as the Kenyon father, with his hands in the Water dabbed and son sailed past.
They decided that young Bill’s actions were tantamount to paddling – and therefore against regulations. “There’s no such staid nonsense here,” says Bill.
The young seaman-turned-commodore is proud of his 21st Century Club, which hosts more than 1,000 races from March to December, and communicates with members via WhatsApp and social media.
The last departure of each season is on Boxing Day, and then there are still a few months to paint, clean, plan and rest before the new season. BSC is one of around 1,000 sailing clubs in England and is classified as medium to small. Its unique selling proposition are fleet races, in which sailors in the same boats compete against each other to be the first to cross the finish line.
The self-funding business has an enviable reputation and there is constant investment in the site which encompasses the 100 acre Budworth Mere where the club has sole sailing rights, a large clubhouse with changing rooms, bar and galley. The entire sea is navigable, but sailors avoid the area bounded by a nature reserve where wildfowl nest and breed throughout the season. The water level is stable, never rising or falling significantly, and the surroundings are stunning.
The Warrington and Northwich Anglers’ Unions fish there and Warrington’s dolphins swim, but it’s the sight of the club’s dinghy fleets (six adult classes, four junior classes) or a racing board gliding across the sparkling sea that adds to the already glorious image of this gem enhances Cheshire countryside.
There are summer races on Sunday and Saturday afternoons and Wednesday evenings, with race boards on Tuesday evenings, and each fleet sails separately so there is no overcrowding or confusion about the winner.
The club has come a long way since 1946, when there was a single portable toilet and two canvas tents, one each for male and female members to change into, on the site leased from Arley Estates.
Then, in 1957, an event changed the course of the Budworth Sailing Club – a crude oil pipe that ran under the water ruptured, spraying black “marmite” across the sea and evoking the wrath of environmentalists. The site was taken over by the Department of Fuel and Energy, cleaned up, stocked with fish and reintroduced birds and reeds. The following year the club bought part of the land and half of it for £900.
In 2022, membership is at its highest level in 14 years. “We think Budworth is the best and friendliest sailing club in the North West,” says Bill.
First-year membership costs £86 for adults, £125 for couples, £147 for a family of parents and children and £30.50 for children under 17. Full season membership is £172 for adults, £251 for couples, £294 for families and £61 for juniors. Dinghies cost between £1,000 and around £8,000 and members pay mooring and winter mooring fees.
“We have members from all walks of life,” says Bill. The club is moving from the Great Budworth area and to Chester, The Wirral, Greater Manchester and north of Warrington. What other sport do people ages eight to 90 participate in and actively compete in? We have girls, boys, families, singles…”
Voted by the public, the RYA Y&Y award was presented for Budworth’s social media campaign to promote the benefits of membership and to provide active outdoor sports for all.
While junior sailing is thriving, a new emphasis on adult education has encouraged new arrivals and revenue, as has ironically Covid, with the club remaining open as an open-air haven for the many visitors for most of the pandemic. “We locked the clubhouse, left only the disabled toilet open, did all the risk assessments and the members kept coming back – it was a bit like having our own Center Parcs,” says Bill.
“The breeze on your face, the sun on the water, the view, the camaraderie… I probably spend too much time sailing, but that’s it
a phenomenal place.’