February 2016 – Barrie Neilson

Mr Flotilla

Barrie, we noted, has good knees. We know as he turned up in khaki shorts on that February evening, in Chipping Norton. The chill didn’t seem to have dampened his enthusiasm, though, which bubbled on through his talk. His wife Heidi and the other members of the team of seven he’d brought along were not in shorts.

Barrie aka ‘Mr Flotilla’ has several books to his name as well as many articles aimed at improving sailing skills. He received the New Zealand Society Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 for his outstanding contribution to the New Zealand Community in the United Kingdom. He is founder and owner of Sailing Holidays Ltd, the largest British owned and operated flotilla sailing holiday company. It has been in operation, one way or another, for some 40 years. Barrie joined precursor Flotilla Sailing Club in 1979 as an engineer and skipper, and met holidaymaker Heidi Seville In 1983. They ended up married and taking over the company, growing it from 11 Jaguar 27s (I remember those!) to the 178 yachts of the current fleet.

Barrie reminded us how things have changed over the years and waved a clunky RDF (radio direction finder) at us. Those of us in the audience old enough to have used these things had nothing positive to say about them. Barrie stressed how they strive to set things up to make things easy – all the boats, for example, have in-mast mainsail reefing. Positing that the marine diesel is the greatest contributor to marine safety of the last 100 years Barrie ensures that they keep a complete spare engine of every type fitted to the fleet and can do a change “in an hour”.

Clearly Barrie has had enough dealings with officialdom and regulations, which abound in the Med., to finesse his way through them – whether they be rules around over-size life rafts, the need for hatches of questionable value, GMDSS, or location of extra batteries.

Holidays are what Barrie told us they are about – the enjoyment of which he believes hinge not only on ease of boat handling, but also on big (and many) heads, and big beds. Many of their customers move on from flotillas and return to do their RYA courses or venture into bareboat charter – for which they are agents for over 1000 boats. Barrie claimed they’d introduced a mind-boggling million people to sailing.

One of Sailing Holiday’s early customers and friends was Tony Stuart. He and his wife Gill were founder members of Chipping Norton Yacht Club. Tony, a frequent attender of Yacht Club events, had died only a few weeks beforehand, on the 7th February, after a long illness. At the start of the evening Commodore Duncan Wheatley made the sad announcement and passed our condolences to Gill, who was in the audience. Barrie had started his talk showing us a few photos of Tony and Gill in happier times, and in sunnier climes. To round the evening off Sailing Holidays then proceeded to auction a flotilla holiday for 2, with a value of £1000, in aid of two charities that had supported Tony: Shipston Home Nursing, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Bidding was lively and the winner, Ralph Wilkin, had an extremely expensive evening.