December 2021

By Rebecca Davies BSc (Hons)

Introduction to Cotswold Water Park and Whitefriars Sailing Club

Whitefriars sailability club

It’s arguable that the Cotswold Water Park ranks as Europe’s largest centre for water sports with its 150 lakes spread over forty-two square miles. It started out almost by accident, in the middle of the 20th century, as a result of much excavations for aggregates in the upper Thames region. As these diggings became exhausted natural flooding occurred, extending below the water table.

A lake – once nothing but a great hole

The river Thames at Ashton Keynes, a Wiltshire village now almost surrounded by water. In my article on the Kennet and Avon Canal I said that Wiltshire was a very dry county. Well, these days the people of Ashton Keynes would disagree with that.

Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire


The activities tend to hinge around wildlife watching and a wide range of water sports and fishing. But in fact there are many more things to do, ranging from golf to horse-riding and cycling.

There’s also a range of places to stay if you need accommodation. From holiday cottages or camping, restaurants and pubs and the Cotswold outdoors shop – there’s something for everyone. You could also use it as a base to explore such nearby places as Cirencester and Lechlade. The opportunities are endless.

Whitefriars sailing club

Whitefriars sailing club is one of the four (yes, four!) sailing clubs in the waterpark, a family club more concentrating on fun rather than racing. Thus you won’t feel menaced by an armada of predatory Optimist users. This club celebrated its first fifty years in 2019, so it has been going for a good few years. It lies this side of the Wiltshire/Gloucestershire border, north of Ashton Keynes.

Whitefriars clubhouse
Whitefriars clubhouse

They have groups for Racers, Ladies, Cruisers, children, SUP/Kayaks and even a radio control yacht section.

For the non-sailor in the family there is club social life, barbeques and camping, plus walks around the lake. Here there are lots of things to join in with.


The Royal Yachting Association are quite committed to inclusivity and diversity including demographics. For instance, those very far from the sea, lacking money, and for all I know, prone to suffering mal-de-mer – all of which your scholar identifies as!

Sailability is the RYA scheme to enable the disabled to enjoy sailing. Not them alone though. But also parent’s partners and carers, and people who from age are not as able bodied as they used to be. Ergo, Sailability members are very different in abilities and experiences.

Now below is the proof that your lubberly scholar has indeed in her life been to sea, nay, experienced the real ocean; North Rona, which is further away than St Kilda. Our skipper is scouting out the landing. Never mind it looks like a cliff. (It is a cliff…) This is the landing. Oh what have I let myself in for?

North Rona
North Rona


The scheme has its own certification that dovetails with the standard RYA qualifications. It runs from Entry to Platinum; Silver is the level equal to the RYAs Level 1. The last part is the Platinum, which has both a standard sailing and a racing section. Dinghy sailing is an area where the disabled can compete on equal terms with the able bodied. They also run a scheme called Powerability, for the power boat enthusiasts. Sadly though they don’t cover that side of seamanship at Whitefriars.

What we do

Our group has an extensive fleet, in the main comprised of Hansa 303s. But also a 203 and a couple of RS Ventures, two Wayfarers and a Drascombe Lugger.

The boats are of very different sizes and are suitable for people of different experiences, expectations and abilities.

They range from a Hansa 203 (7ft 6ins/2.3 metres) to a Drascombe Lugger. The largest vessel on the water (18ft/5.5 metres) it’s easily capable of taking a group of half a dozen schoolchildren.

Drascombe lugger
Drascombe lugger

The Drascombe lugger, a famed traditional style modern class. Also can be fitted with an electric motor for pretending to sail on dead flat calm days. What these boats all have in common is they are very stable, indeed uncapsizable. Many such as the Ventures and the 303s are designed for use with little physical ability.

Volunteering is a vital part of the Sailability system, and the club are always looking for helpers in all capacities. Many learners go on to assist others.

The sailing season

The Sailability at Whitefriars season runs from April to October. So should you be disabled and interested in sailing, or want a fun and friendly place to volunteer, then why not get in contact with them now? You do not need to have had any experience in sailing craft. There will be a place suited to your commitments and experiences. I myself am going to use my extensive heritage experience to help pursue funding avenues.

My experience

Avalon - Previous to Sailability my boating experiences were a little more primitive; Here is me, (centre) my tutor and a fellow student at the then Avalon Wetlands Centre in Somerset.
Previous to Sailability my boating experiences were a little more primitive. Here is me, (centre) my tutor and a fellow student at the then Avalon Wetlands Centre in Somerset.

I joined Whitefriars Sailability group in April of this year, having resolved to get out and do some activity after lockdown ended. (OK guys, did you do that? I do hope you did and followed it up).

I have always had an interest in boats and admired them when I lived in Cornwall – even having my very own sea view. Well if you stood on the drive and craned your neck a bit that is. But I never had the time, the money or the chance to join in. In Wiltshire I am so far away from the sea yet the Cotswold Water Park is a mere ten minute’s drive away.

Now this was an opportunity to do things. Sailability membership is much cheaper than joining the club, something that can be very offputting.

So far I am doing very well. I attended most weeks and have worked my way through the levels, getting my Silver certificate (equivalent to the RYA Level 1).

The Gold level is mostly about putting what you learnt at Silver into practice. So currently I am working on getting to know different boats. I am struggling with the jib, but trust I will get used to it. That else
get a dinghy with just one sail.

I am having great fun.

(All pictures by the author. Or, come to think of it, someone holding her camera).

From the group’s website:

‘Sailing is a fantastic activity for people with almost any disability, or if you’re not quite as mobile as you once were. 

Sailability @ Whitefriars have the facilities, support, and boats that can enable people to not only sail leisurely, but to compete on level terms with everybody else if that’s what “floats your boat”.  Families can get a lot from taking to the water and enjoying the experience and surroundings whilst learning a new skill together.  

We depend on a team of well trained volunteers to provide a fun, safe environment.  There are instructors and buddy sailors to help people to achieve their sailing goals, or simply to get the therapeutic benefits of taking to the water. 

We need more volunteers!! – You don’t need to sail to help.  Visit our volunteering page for more information.’

Find them on social media

Twitter: – @WhitefriarsSg


Cotswold Water Park Cotswold Water Park | Official Website
North Rona North Rona – Wikipedia
Royal Yachting Association Home | RYA – Royal Yachting Association
Sailbility at Whitefriars Sailing for the disabled – Whitefriars (
Whitefriars Sailing Club The Friendly Sailing Club – Whitefriars (

Born Again Swindonian Logo

Sign up to receive awesome Swindon content in your inbox, every week.