A Brief History of HOEOCA Rallies

Posted by Mary Coles on 2 May 2020

It’s amazing to think that, since Peter Smerdon’s excellent account of the first ever HOEOCA rally, there have been another 72! Our records of the early days are a bit limited (remember, few computers in 1993) but, at a conservative estimate, well over 2,500 berths have been filled on these trips. Some as a one off experience (us or them?), others have earned a long service medal having taken part over 60 times. 

Of those 73 official rallies, 27 were in the autumn, and 25 in the spring. We have been on 19 Mediterranean “Hot Hot Hot” trips and we’ve fitted in extra jaunts to Holland and the Caribbean. Numbers have fluctuated with the highest attendance being recorded on the 2 rallies of 2007; for the spring Rally, 74, although not all got across the channel that year, and in the autumn, 64. 

The format of our autumn rallies has, by and large, remained unchanged, being a 4 day event to mark the end of the season with a dinner on either the Friday or Saturday night. We have visited most of the yacht clubs in the Solent and surrounds and, on special occasions, eaten on HMS Warrior, at the RNLI HQ in Poole, at the top of Spinnaker Tower and the Royal Yacht Squadron. A fancy theme dress was introduced in 1995 (Vikings) and continues a tradition to this day. On some occasions we have had wonderful weather and enjoyed splendid sailing in empty waters, on others we have been storm bound with members coming for diner by taxi and senior bus passes getting a good airing.

What has changed is the boats we have chartered on these occasions. The club originally shared members with the Allied Domecq Sailing Club and we were able to use their Sadler 34s based in Lymington. As this club was disbanded, we used Lymington Yacht Charters and then for a long while, dealt with the charming Doug and Wendy Hamilton at Hamble Point. Sadly, when they sold the company, we didn’t get on so well with the new owners and a somewhat unsettled period followed during which a number of companies were used. Since 2012, we have used the fleet of Oceanis 37s from Fairview Yachting and have built a good relationship with them. By modern day standards, these are quite small but equipped to a level that we couldn’t have imagined in 1993. Electronic chart plotters, AIS, self furling genoas, heating and TVs, although still no autohelm!

Sadly, due to our increasingly litigious world, we have had to change the original payment model under which owners boats attended and for “a consideration” took on board club members for the duration. At the peak, up to 10 owners and their boats came on our rallies, increasing the range of boats in which we sailed as well as having a beneficial effect on the cost.

Our skill level has also increased and we now boast several RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Skippers amongst our membership. More importantly, as well as being better qualified in theory, a lot of valuable experience has been gained and we aspire to pass this knowledge on to newer sailors and those wanting to step up to skippering.

Our increased ability and confidence has meant that we have been able to venture further and further afield on our spring rallies. Originally these were 4 days long, the same as for autumn, increasing to 5 days in 2008 and, after a mad dash to Honfleur for some, 7 days from 2016. The cost of a 4 day rally in 2004 was £130 inclusive of dinner, in 2019 it was £295. A daily rate increase of just 30% over 15 years.

We have held 7 spring rallies in the UK (5 in the West Country and 2 to Weymouth) and I don’t recall ever having had very kind weather! On every other occasion, we have ventured across the Channel, and whilst this has not always been achieved by everyone, the majority have made it and, more importantly, we have all got safely back. We have rallied in the Channel Islands 7 times – 4 in St Peter Port and 3 in Braye. The Cherbourg Peninsula of France has been much visited and, more recently. we have explored more of the Baie de la Seine. For the rally dinner, our favourite venue has been the lovely Hotel Des Fuchsias in St Vaast where we have made 5 visits. We have also dined together in Carteret 3 times, Dielette, Cherbourg and Honfleur.

It was in 2001 that the idea of taking our cruising format to warmer climates was proposed and our Hot Hot Hot rallies were born. These take place in September when the schools have gone back and the sea is at its warmest and have varied from 7 to 10 days in length. Our first was to Croatia, shortly after it reopened for business after the war, and we have returned to this beautiful country twice. We have sailed the Greek Islands five times, the Carian & Lycian coasts of Turkey four times as well as making trips to Corsica, Elba, Majorca, Malta, Montenegro, Sicily, and Sardinia.

From an initial 12 people, who didn’t even sail together much, numbers have grown over the years with a record 36 travelling to Malta and we now sail as our own flotilla Mostly we have enjoyed the, scenery and great sailing but have also coped with the aftermath of 9/11, an airline going bust, a midnight sail round to the leeward side of Elba and the presence of Roland the Rat on board. These trips have also encouraged more females to take part such that the gender split last year was 50/50. Let’s hope the planned trip to Turkey this year, with an optional extra week, is able to take place.

It’s wonderful to reflect back over the past 27 years and think about how a good foundation plus a willingness to adapt to a changing world and make changes to meet member needs have meant that our members keep on supporting and enjoying these events. What has remained constant is our purpose; getting on the sea that we love, practising and learning new skills, making new friends, eating and drinking well and, above all, having fun.


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