Sailing, dragon boat and canoe clubs back on the water... but the future of sailing for thousands of schoolchildren still in doubt

Dorset sailors returned to the water this month after their club was threatened with closure. The club, which was affiliated to Hengistbury Head Outdoor Education Centre (HHOEC), was saved by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (BCP) after the college that ran the centre closed it down.

The dinghy club attracts sailors of all ages and abilities and reaches out to ‘rusty sailors’ and those who have just learned to sail

The centre provided sailing and outdoor education to thousands of school children across Dorset and Hampshire. During lockdown the centre staff were made redundant, the clubhouse condemned and several community groups, including Sea Scouts, a dragonboat charity and two canoe clubs, asked to move out.

The HHOEC Users Group – a collective of seven clubs, charities and youth groups – appealed to the local council for help.

Just as members were preparing to move their boats and equipment, BCP Council granted them a licence to continue until February 2022.

So relieved

“We’re so relieved to be able to get back on the water after nearly 18 months,” said Bill Howlett, membership secretary of Hengistbury Head Adult Sailors Club (HHASC). “The outdoor centre is such a special place and we are delighted that BCP Council has worked with us and the other clubs to enable water activities to recommence.”

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Whilst the clubs are back on the water, the future of the centre itself remains in doubt, and Bill hopes it will re-open soon as part of the Bournemouth Seafront Strategy.

“We hope that it will not be too long before the council makes a decision so that it can re-open to the local community, providing a much-needed facility,  particularly for the local schoolchildren.”

The outdoor education centre has taught sailing to thousands of school children

Sadly the building can no longer be used, which means the many RYA sailing courses which were due to take place there have been cancelled.

First sail back after lockdown

Some members were a little nervous returning to the water for the first time since the Covid lockdown.

“I had butterflies last night and this morning,” admitted Diana Parkes, “but it was the perfect conditions, great company and a perfect sail.”

Fellow member Jack Scott said, “The boats were in really good condition considering how long they were out of use, and I felt pretty similar to that too. I was surprised with how well I went.”

A unique sailing club

HHASC is a unique sailing club where membership costs just £15 a year and members needn’t own a boat. Everybody is welcome, as long as they’ve got their RYA Level 2 qualification or equivalent.

“We provide the boats. No fancy sailing equipment required,” says the club.

The club is situated at Hengistbury Head, which is nationally and internationally important for its wildlife and archaeology

In particular, the club reaches out to rusty sailors and those who have just learnt to sail and want to get on the water without too much fuss or expense. Members can sail single-handed on Laser Picos or with a more experienced sailor on Quests, Hartley 12s or comfortable, stable Wayfarers.

Sessions cost £10, pay-as-you-go. Find out more at Hengistbury Head Adult Sailors Club and for the latest updates and joining information email

The centre also accommodates Southbourne Canoe Club, 10th Mudeford Sea Scouts, Pilgrim Bandits Injured Servicemen Charity, Pink Champagne Breast Cancer Dragonboat Charity and Bournemouth Outrigger Canoe Club.



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