Renewed perspective revives sailing club

Published on March 11th, 2015

When Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle (WA) was on the cusp of closure, Brian Watkins took on the task of reviving the club on Shilshole Bay. Here is his exit letter from his position as Commodores at CYC Seattle, where he congratulated the membership for the club’s successful recovery…

Thank you for being a member of Corinthian, supporting your fellow members, and helping to grow the sailing community through our club. This fall we passed a membership milestone: we added over one-hundred new memberships for the year.

The milestone is meaningful given our recent history. Though some years were stronger than others, the club had lost about 20 to 30 members a year for a few decades and it was becoming unsustainable. In the fall of 2011 we began a “restart” process with the following supposition:

From letter to members September 2011:
“An accumulating drop in membership over the last few years has put the club at risk. However, if we consider the following scenario we might see things as a bit brighter: if you were starting a yacht club with a few hundred outstanding members already signed up, workable hand-me-down racing assets, a clubhouse, and some money in the bank, you’d be pretty far along and pretty excited about your prospects. It might even be fun! Are we a group of people who want to make something happen in the world that wouldn’t be there if not for us?”

The answer turned out to be “Yes!” Members took the call to restart seriously and we began with a series of well-attended business strategy meetings. Since then we’ve made structural and operations changes to the club, while by and large sticking with our main sailing activities. The most important change has been rediscovering why we have a club and what we’re all about, as outlined in the “Sharing the Sailing Community” memo in February 2014. This is impacting everything we do.

As a result of our renewed perspective, we are well on our way to repopulating our club, to repopulating our small town in a big city. We currently have 552 memberships, comprised of 901 adults and 220 kids for a total community size of 1,121. And, crucial to our finances, we’ve more than doubled our adult/family memberships from 195 to 409.

Over 56% of our dues are now coming from members who have joined since the start of 2012. The influx has covered our $35/month dues consolidation, stabilized our short-term finances, and funds the much-needed additional staff position.

While the revenue is helpful, it’s really just a sign of our progress and not an end in itself. The addition of people has been the most welcome change. With new members comes energy, purpose, and a feeling of relief for our long-standing members who have weathered a long watch. Thanks to everyone – those who have stayed for life or joined or rejoined recently – the restart is successfully completed.

Now that we’re still here, continued growth is necessary to secure our longer-term financial future and pursue new ambitions that come with our growing community. At the same time we need to shift gears. Our emphasis has been on membership. Now that we’re having success attracting people we need to help our people and families connect with each other. Interaction will become our focus. You can always help by showing up to any event and just seeing and making friends – our people are pretty awesome, and others may even see you in that way.

To lay the groundwork we have been setting the expectation for the club to be a platform for members to do things for each other. Staff and key volunteers will seek to facilitate and members will need to seize the club as their own in service to each other. This approach has engaged the imagination of new members and will be an attraction for all members as we see the club as our chosen community, like an extended family, and we make it our home.

Welcome home!


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