Guy Venables discovers the sanctuary of the sailing club involves more than low bar prices
I have just joined a very nice little sailing club. There are many reasons to join one, the camaraderie, the exclusivity, the banter, the bar. Some people even sail. But in this column it is the sailing club bar to which I divert my attention. Someone once said to me that the thing they liked about drinking in their sailing club was that they knew that “not just anyone was allowed in”. It is a private escape that can be far more secluded than any pub. If I was on the run I’d probably hole up in my sailing club (especially as mine is on an army base and requires all sorts of barriers, armed guards and checkpoints). The process of elimination starts in the informal interview. Here the club secretary is not finding out about whether you can sail or not, he’s having a little informal chat to make sure you’re not a crashing bore. So if you’re in, you’re not one, but if you’ve ever been told that there were too many applications this year and they’re running it purely on the first come first served basis, then you are.
It being a private club means that it can navigate around some of the more insidious tax laws about alcohol sales. These savings translate straight to the bar, so much so that when once enquiring how much a SINGLE house scotch was, the surprised response was, “I don’t know, sir. Nobody has ever ordered a single before.” It is an unwritten law of the sailing club that one should make it a personal mission each year to drink enough at the bar to offset the savings against the price of membership.
The sailing club bar can also be a sort of time warp. Where else will you find a Harp beer pump? A JPS bar mat? The Big D peanut sheet with the slowly revealing saucy lady? If I was a film producer and I wanted to shoot a bar scene in the late 80s I’d go no further than a sailing club. This is all part of the escapism though, a way of immersing yourself in another world for a while, surrounded by familiar objects. An idiot-proof place where you can talk about a halyard without first having to explain what one is. Where you’ll never hear those annoying questions like “How can you sail against the wind?” or “Isn’t it rather cold and uncomfortable?” That, in itself is a form of blessed sanctuary.