Leisure boating is a welcoming, fun community to be a part of, but did you know you can also join renowned sailor and author Tom Cunliffe’s online seagoing community, The Sea Chest?
Towards the end of every month I settle in by my webcam with a glass of rum for an hour of seamanlike Zoom-powered interaction with the members of my Sea Chest Club. We know well that boats and their little ways can present all sorts of challenges. The forum is there to help resolve some of these, and the variety of questions never ends.
Off-season I am in my study, but in summer I will be on the boat, anchored up in the far Northlands. These get-togethers are a high spot of my working life, but three years ago in the cold winter of Covid the idea had yet to register.
So, what is The Sea Chest, how did it begin and what can it do for us sailors?
In a nutshell, Sea Chest is a virtual club for all who love the sea. As well as the monthly forum, members gain free access to a huge canon of my work. Accessed through my website, articles in the ‘chest’ range from technical instruction to cruising accounts and on through to scholarly historical papers. You might like to download a piece about painless gybing, an explanation of the mysteries of traditional lines plans, some classic Cunliffe cruising stories or a treatise on Thames sailing barges.
It is all there, and much more. We have a priceless video series on ropework, another on tides, a free audiobook and a private Facebook page, as well as a Q&A service dealing with subjects as far apart as the Yachtmaster exam and rigging a peak halyard purchase.
How it started…
It all began when I found myself at a loose end during lockdown. Usually, I am out and about when not at sea, travelling around the country and northern Europe delivering lectures and speeches about sailing, seamanship and maritime history. I enjoy this and, not to put too fine a point on it, it also helps my income. The whole itinerant speaking operation fell apart during Covid and I started to wonder how to fill the gap.
I have a close working relationship with Mike Shepherd of the Marine Advertising Agency, so I decided to ask Mike for some ideas. He came up with the concept of an online club. MAA would run the software, help by promoting it and generally let people know it is there. The question soon arose as to how much we ought to be charging. Similar outfits in the US look for serious money, but I felt the best thing was to make the annual membership fee almost nominal. We settled on a figure that might just buy you two pints of bitter in a London pub, so nobody is being greedy and nobody needs to hold back because of the money. Working with MAA we soon put together a lively, modern website. It looked good, so we decided to ‘go live’ and see what happened.
The response was heartwarming. Sailors from all over the world signed up. We have members in Australia, New Zealand, North and South America, Europe and, of course, lots in Britain. There are professional yacht skippers, Merchant Navy men, Royal Naval petty officers, Yachtmaster Instructors and plenty more enthusiastic sailors still working towards their first Day Skipper qualification. That is how I like it.
Some of our members have sailed around the world. Others have yet to venture outside the Solent. We even have one or two who are just dreaming about it and want some direction. They benefit from the diverse catalogue of knowledge within our club, while the old salts are more than willing to share what they know. It is good fun for everyone because there is not a mariner born who does not rise to a good yarn.
One or two of my ex-shipmates are forum regulars. We all know what happens to shipmates. They disappear like ships in the night. You sail the seas together, sharing the danger and the riotous parties. Then one day, life splits you up and you might not bump into them again for 30 years or more until, in some bar in a far-off port, there they are, large as life and twice as ugly. The Sea Chest has short-circuited that arrangement. They suddenly turn up on the Zoom forum and help with questions from people who really do not know much at all, but every one of us started like that so there is no need to be shy. We are there for each other.
Sea Chest benefits
So, what comes your way when you join The Sea Chest? As well as instant access to more Cunliffe articles than you will manage to read in many a long summer’s day, you will receive a newsletter every month. The letter is really an article in itself. It might be a slice of marine philosophy, it could be an account of some outrageous event, but whatever it is the feedback is always positive.
As well as giving out the details of the next Zoom forum, the letter lists the month’s contribution to the ever-growing catalogue of articles. Typically, this will be two new ones, one technical and one that is more whimsical. It is a random choice, unlike the monthly book recommendation arranged by Roz, my wife.
She is a great student of maritime literature and loves sharing her passion, so she presents us with a book every month. Usually they are out of print so you will have to go and scour the internet to find a copy. You will not be sorry though. Classic yachting literature formed the bedrock of my own knowledge base and these books broaden the understanding of our shared passion. She even shares the odd recipe that she knows will work in a North Atlantic storm.
I am pleased we started The Sea Chest. It has introduced me to a whole crew who set out simply as members of the club, but who I now look on as my friends. Maybe you will join us. I hope so. Meanwhile, fair winds to you, wherever you are sailing.
You can sign up for The Sea Chest at www.tomcunliffe.com.