OCC, A Club Worth Joining

OCCburgeeOver the years I have been a member of several yacht clubs and I have enjoyed the benefits provided by these organizations and the opportunities to meet new people and make new friends.

On the other hand, I have always been a little uncomfortable with the elitism that most yacht clubs imply by their requirements for membership. Or, as Phyllis, the died-in-the-wool-liberal in the family, has been heard to mumble under her breath, “just a group of smug rich white men”.

Before too many people jump down our throats for that comment, yes, I know that’s changing, and in fact two of the clubs I belong to that are often considered last bastions of said group, have both elected their first woman Commodores. And, I myself, some thirty years ago, was a contributing architect of the move to abolish the “Gentleman” member only policy of one of those clubs. Still, the feeling of exclusivity remains at many yacht clubs and very few have a representative proportion of their members drawn from minorities.

And then there is the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC), which has only one criteria for membership. I quote from the OCC web site:

The sole qualification for full membership, the only ticket to entry, entails stepping aboard your boat, casting off the docklines and making a continuous ocean passage of at least 1000 nautical miles, measured along the rhumb line, in a vessel under 70 feet.

It is open to anyone aboard, either as skipper or certified as competent by the skipper.

Isn’t that wonderfully refreshing? They even have an associate membership for those who are aspiring to make their “Qualifying Passage”, and a method to bypass the requirement for a proposer and seconder if you don’t happen to know any members.

And now I will share a story about me and the OCC that might give you a smile.

Some years ago, when I still lived in Bermuda, I was neighbours with Tony, who was an OCC Port Officer—a wonderful group of volunteers, many of them retired voyagers, in almost every conceivable port that cruising boats venture into, who provide whatever help they can to OCC members. And help they do, starting with free moorings and dockage and going on to the loan of cars and providing the vital local knowledge that can make such a difference to a visitor to a foreign port.

Anyway, Tony was bound and determined that I should become a member of the OCC. But here’s the thing, despite having cruised Greenland and just about worn a furrow in the waters between Bermuda and the US East Coast, I had never quite done a passage of over 1000 nautical miles point to point.

I say “quite” because I had made a passage from Bermuda to Antigua, which is close, but still not the magic number. But Tony insisted on putting me up saying that with my experience, “surely that passage would do”.

Of course, quite properly, the OCC turned me down. And from that day on, this became a running joke between Tony and me.

A few years later, when Phyllis and I crossed the Atlantic from the Canaries to Barbados and on to Bermuda, Tony practically met us on the wharf waving an OCC membership form. But me, being me, and more out of sheer devilment than anything else, refused to sign and instead suggested that Phyllis should become the member, which she did. And the running joke and the ribbing continued between Tony and me.

A few years after that, Phyllis and I were at an OCC gathering and ended up sitting at the head table with the OCC Admiral—yes, we have an Admiral, and an amazing woman she is too—and the then Vice Commodore. (We were only in such august company because two of our close friends, Doug and Dale, were organizing the gathering.)

It was not long before the Admiral, who is very direct, asked me why I was not a member. And of course, I related this story, to not a little laughter.

The next day Dale shoved a completed form under my nose, pre-signed by The Admiral and the Vice Commodore as proposer and seconder. I may be bull-headed, but I know when it’s time to surrender gracefully to a lovely gesture, so I signed.

I have not met with the Admiral since, and she is far too nice to gloat, but I suspect that when I do there will be a gleam in her eye that says “gotcha”.

Anyway, don’t forget to apply for OCC membership as part of your celebration when you complete your first 1000 mile ocean passage, you will be glad you did.

Important Note

If I do not know you personally, please do not write to me and ask me to put you up for membership in the OCC. There is a procedure for applying for OCC membership even if you don’t know any members. See the link above.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

28 comments… add one
  • Bill Balme May 16, 2013, 11:14 am

    I enjoy being one of the OCC’s Associate Members – and am looking forward to completing my qualifying passage in June, when we sail from Boston to the Azores – and participate in an OCC rally in Horta.
    Even from the cheap seats, the OCC has proven to be a very inclusive and helpful organization and I’m really looking forward to becoming a fully fledged member!

  • John May 16, 2013, 1:28 pm

    Awaiting that Adventure 40. 😉

    • John May 17, 2013, 7:48 am

      Hi John,

      I’m working on a A-40 post as I write, but please understand that doing detailed technical posts on the A40 right is a fantastically time and energy consuming process. And then dealing with the resulting comments is not easy either.

  • Scott Kuhner May 16, 2013, 4:55 pm

    Kitty and I have found the OCC to be the warmest and friendliest sailing club we belong to. Whenever we share an anchorage with a boat flying the OCC’s Flying Fish pendant we always go over and invite them to our boat (if they hadn’t come to us first) because we know they have crossed an ocean and we will have a lot in common.

  • Colin Speedie May 16, 2013, 6:12 pm

    Hi John

    Like you I spent so many years sailing notching up ten of thousands of miles without ever breaking the magical 1000 mile barrier which would have enabled me to join the OCC. Yet I’d always aspired to do so, for all of the reasons you so correctly identify.

    So when Louise and I finally crossed that barrier, one of the first things we did was to apply to join, proposed of course by yourselves, for which we have been very grateful. It’s a wonderful Club founded on simple, meritocratic principles, and being international adds an additional enjoyable side.

    So Pelerin now proudly displays the Flying Fish on her transom, and already we’ve met quite a number of OCC members as a result. And we’d recommend that if you have already completed your qualifier, or are one day planning to do so, don’t hold back on signing that form……

    Best wishes


  • Ken May 17, 2013, 9:20 am

    Close, but no cigar! All the ocean trips in boats under 70′ between New England and Antigua via Bermuda are a little shy of qualifying and the two direct trips between New England and Antigua (over a 1000) were in a 72′ wooden Hinckley. Oh Well! Maybe it will be on a new Adventure 40.

    • John May 17, 2013, 9:41 am

      Hi Ken,

      Yikes, and I thought I was robbed! 🙂

  • Sid May 17, 2013, 9:41 am

    Thanks for this post regarding the OCC. Rebecca and I are also not “joiners”. We had done a number of qualifying voyages before we were approached by OCC Roving Rear Commodores, Sidney and Sandy Van Zandt, in 1996. Shortly thereafter, we attended our first OCC event, a gathering in the Chesapeake where the club commodore from the UK was in attendance. We expected a stuffy chap in a blazer but, instead, found a lively guy in a flowered Hawaiian sport shirt.
    We’ve run into boats sporting the club’s flying fish burgee in many ports and have never been disappointed by the folks we’ve met this way, not to mention that it led to our meeting you and Phyllis.


  • Scott Flanders May 17, 2013, 10:03 am

    We too are members and agree with everything everyone has written. We leave Sunday from Ft Lauderdale direct to Nantucket. A friend who is making their first long voyage in a sistership is also taking the same route. He wrote OCC and if the voyage is a rhumb line voyage to Nantucket this too qualifies. Keeping one foot on the beach thru the Carolina curve does not qualify. Also like you said, a direct shot from Ft Lauderdale to Bermuda falls short even though it means an ongoing voyage to somewhere that combined will well exceed the 1000nm criteria.

  • Bob Morris May 17, 2013, 8:30 pm

    Probably around 1974 I spent a memorable afternoon sipping rum (his) on ROSÉ RAMBLER with Humphrey Barton and, the now Admiral, Mary when they passed through Woods Hole, Cape Cod. I do recall lifting the floor boards and remarking about the ample stores. I had no idea with whom I was socializing. He had an extension ladder on deck for going aloft and I made him a sketch chart for the newly altered harbor in Provincetown where he intended to stop before transiting to St Johns enroute to UK. I believe he claimed to have the most trans Atlantics at that time. Like others we considered ourselves pretty salty- 15 Bermuda passages (even got married there once) and a trip to Greenland. But no qualifying 1000nm til our crossing to Ireland in 07. Signed right up for OCC and encourage our crew on subsequent trips. We especially like to fly the OCC burgee when sailing in Europe. Agree that flying the ‘fish’ marks you as a real sailor.

  • Kirsten May 18, 2013, 3:24 am

    I’m curious as to Phyllis’s perception of the OCC as regards to minority representation. On the surface, the criteria for joining seem inclusive; but when one considers economic realities, are they? It sounds as if white females are given a fair shake in this club, but what about people of color?

    • Phyllis May 18, 2013, 7:19 am

      Hi, Kirsten; I would say that economic realities are a limiting factor generally in sailing – only those who are relatively well-off can play. Though there are a few who manage to pull it off with very limited budgets, it’s not easy, as a major mechanical/structural failure could mean the end of cruising, staying in marinas is out, etc.
      However, once that major hurdle is crossed, there are no technical barriers to OCC entry for someone of colour as 1000 miles is 1000 miles and there is even a process to bypass the limitations imposed by having to know at least two members who can vouch for you (historically a very good way to keep people who don’t look like you out of a club!).
      As to any social barriers someone of colour might face, that’s not something I can opine on, partly as we’ve only attended maybe two formal OCC social events as we are not usually where these events happen (our interactions with OCCers are generally boat on boat and they have overall been very positive). I would imagine that it’s inclusive as the very nature of the club is egalitarian.

      • Scott Kuhner May 19, 2013, 6:34 pm

        Phyllis, I don’t agree that economic realities are a limiting factor to go off cruising. On our first circumnavigation, Kitty and I went off on a 30 foot Seawind Ketch we bought for $10,000. We had no electronics, not even a depth sounder (we used a lead line). We navigated with a Plath sextant, that a friend of my fathers had lent us for the trip, and paper charts. We spent on average $3,000 per year and 50% of that was for maintenance of the boat. It can be done, even if one has limited finances. I will admit that that circumnavigation took place from 1971 – 1975.


        • John May 20, 2013, 9:11 am

          Hi Scott,

          All very laudable, but we should not lose sight of the fact that what you spent on your boat in 1970, assuming you spent a bit refitting her before going, equates to around $100,000 in today’s money. And, by the same calculation, you spent about $20,000 a year. That, for a young couple in their thirties, sounds like “relatively well off” to me.

          And having a friend of your Dad’s that could lend you a precision navigation instrument worth over $1000 in today’s money indicates that you had contacts with relatively well off people too.

          I’m not trying to be argumentative here, but we who have been fortunate should not underestimate the financial difficulties involved in going voyaging for people today.

          • Scott Kuhner May 20, 2013, 3:34 pm

            John, actually when you look at the CPI index (which was 39.9 in 1971 vs 230 today) my Seawind would cost $57,500 in today’s dollars; and There is a Seawind II for sale in New London CT for $20,000. Also in today’s dollars my $3,000/year would be $17,500. Yes it would be hard for young kids to amass that kind of money; but if one is very frugal and saves a lot it is doable. In fact, Kitty and I met a really great kid in Newport, RI last year on a 30 ft Allied Seawind Ketch (a sister ship to the one we went on), who is going off cruising. For anyone interested his website is: http://thewinchelsea.blogspot.com/
            My point is that youngsters today tend to spend all the money they make, rather than save, and they believe that one must have a 40+ foot boat and all the bells and whistles on it before they can leave. If one really wants to go it IS doable.

          • John May 20, 2013, 3:55 pm

            Hi Scott,

            Yes, you bought the boat for $10,000, but I have to say that I’m sceptical that that was the total you had in her by the time you left.

            But be that as it may. I agree, it is doable today. In fact we know a couple that do it on $4000 a year. But I have to say that I get really uncomfortable with comments from members of my generation that start with “youngsters today” and go on to castigate them for their feckless ways.

            This is because I feel that we boomers had it way easier when we were in our twenties and thirties than people of the same age do today.

            And it is also members of our generation that were in charge when we ran the prosperity of the 50s through 80s into the ground. It is also our generation that voted ourselves perks, like free health care after 65, that they are going to end up, at least in some part, paying for and that they may never have themselves.

            In addition, most of them will never have the defined benefit pension that many of my generation have—although, sadly, not me—and therefor the consequences of taking time off during their best working years will be much worse for them than it was for us.

            Given all that, I think it behoves us boomers to show a little understanding, and keep the finger wagging in check.

  • Marc Dacey May 18, 2013, 2:18 pm

    John/Phyllis: I would welcome a discussion of all the cruiser/sailing organization or clubs to which you two have found useful or socially relevant as members.

    If it’s just the OCC, that’s a brief discussion!

    The SSCA has been suggested to me as a good outfit to join, although we don’t plan to be much in the Carribbean which seems to be that organization’s focus. Are there any other world cruisers “clubs” you might suggest? The notion of reciprocity, even for a 24-hour stretch of “freebie”, can be a powerful incentive when honoured, particularly if it means tying up to a wall after a three-week passage. Secondly, the ability to convene socially with like-minded fellow cruisers one can spot from a burgee is desirable.

    • John May 18, 2013, 5:00 pm

      Hi Marc,

      We are not really joiners, so not really the right people to ask, although I have been a member of several clubs over the years. Down to the OCC and one other now. I have heard good things about the SSCA, but don’t have any first hand experience.

      All in all, for benefits delivered, I think the OCC is pretty hard to beat. The port officer program is really great and the even better thing about the club is that, as Scott said, when you see a fellow member’s
      burgee you know you have at least one thing in common.

      I think you will find that the days of reciprocal privileges at yacht clubs are long gone.

      • Colin Speedie May 19, 2013, 5:42 pm

        Hi John, Marc,

        The SSCA is a great Club, and as I’ve already mentioned above how impressed I am with the OCC I’m standing by that, although I’d suggest that they may be targeting a different audience.

        In the UK there is also the Cruising Association who have a fine clubhouse in London, with some great resources on site. They do have quite a number of affiliations, and many businesses that offer members a discount. They tend to be rather Europe centred, but CA members are to be found globally, too.

        Other than that I’d agree that the privilege of reciprocal benefits is no longer as widespread as it was – if it ever was that common. And then there’s the expense of some of these clubs which can be horrifying.

        Best wishes


        • Marc Dacey May 20, 2013, 12:10 am

          Thank you, Colin and John, for your thoughts. While I personally am not much of a “joiner”, as I suspect is often the case with cruisers of the actual or aspiring kind, I do have an SSB and I do wish to participate in the wider cruiser culture, and affiliations of this sort are useful. Also, let’s face it, if you are the only visitor to an isolated atoll aside from the Spam ship in a given season, maybe it can be helpful to disseminate that information to a wider audience. Belonging to a cruising club can help in that regard.

          Colin, although I suspect I may have perhaps already guessed at the answer, I would ask what you mean by a “different audience” between the SSCA and the OCC and the Cruising Association and how you personally, as a wider-ranging cruiser than most, have found such affiliations to be of use to you and your boat’s voyaging.

          As for reciprocity, let’s say it’s still in effect on the Great Lakes, and it never hurts to ask and to trade burgees with the commodore of some far-flung YC.

          • Colin Speedie May 20, 2013, 4:06 pm

            Hi Marc

            My view is simply that the SSCA and the CA are more national and regionally based, although I may be wrong with the SSCA as I’m not a member. For the last couple of years we have been members of the CA and think it is a good Club, although it has been of limited use to us so far.

            But as I mentioned earlier, we did make contact with with the two Brazil based port officers of the OCC, who both proved very helpful indeed.

            Incidentally, in the UK we have a ‘standard’ reciprocal arrangement between RYA registered yacht clubs that allows the use of facilities by visiting members, although some clubs are more welcoming than others in my experience.

            Best wishes


  • Paul Mills May 19, 2013, 12:29 pm

    Hi all,

    I am an OCC fan, and have always found their port reps supportive and helpful. for example last year I needed a skipper to take my boat and crew to Lagos from N. Spain. A phone call later I had two names of which one was with us less than 24 hours later. I am not yet a member, like others the ‘jut short of 1000 miles’ thing has got in the way, however I will be and even find myself contemplating simply doing an offshore longer passage just to get there…. . In am currently on the NW coast of Spain heading back to Scotland, the distance is far enough… shame about the attractions of stopping in Ireland on the way 🙂

    • Colin Speedie May 19, 2013, 5:45 pm

      Hi Paul

      I’d second your comment about the helpful nature of OCC Port Officers – the two guys in Brazil both offered us much help in recent weeks, and through them we received kind offers of help from other OCC members.

      And you never know – if you get strong easterlies on the way North, perhaps you’ll break the 1000 mile barrier – whether you like it or not!

      Best wishes


  • Dick Stevenson May 20, 2013, 12:42 pm

    Agree with all that has been said about the OCC. In addition, I generally gravitate, as a “rule”, toward clubs that do not own property: tennis courts, clubhouses etc., as the fees are then the best deal in town. and OCC fits that picture. They also tend to rely on volunteer labor which adds to the appealing ambiance. John, this is a great stream as too many people, committed to cruising, have not heard of the OCC and have their eyes glaze over a bit when the word “club” gets mentioned.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Klaipeda, Lithuania
    PS. I occasionally include my location as I have had other AAC readers leave a note and we are then able to get together.

    • Colin Speedie May 20, 2013, 4:11 pm

      Hi Dick

      I agree entirely with your point about property – the fees rocket when you join such clubs, and unless you’re one of those people whose lives revolve around their club, I can’t see the point of paying for facilities you never use.

      Besides, the give away here surely is in the name – Ocean Cruising Club – you’re joining a club without limits – and isn’t that great?

      Best wishes


  • Dick Stevenson May 20, 2013, 12:52 pm

    Hi all, Just wish to say I agree with Scott’s comments on going cruising regardless of finances. We know a number of couples on limited budgets, the lowest where I actually know the figure is $10,000 / year and they have been out 8+ years now. For sure, you have less options if things go pear shaped if you have less money, but that is the same on land based life as well, so you might as well be sailing. There are also 2 things which open doors in many of the places we have visited, genuine need for help and children. When we were starting out we had both. Our friends now who are on a restricted budget often get connected where they go in ways that are more elusive to those who do not have the need to search around for opportunities.
    My best to all, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Brian Engle May 21, 2013, 1:25 pm

    White men, smug or not, are just as entitle to form clubs as anyone. You go down this road at the risk of becoming racist yourself.

    • John May 21, 2013, 1:48 pm

      Hi Brian,

      You are of course right that anyone can form any club they like. However, Phyllis and I prefer to be members of clubs that are as inclusive as possible, like the OCC. That is our choice and our right. There is also a fine line between a group forming a club with people that look like them and a club structuring itself so that people that don’t look like the majority of the members, no matter how well qualified, are obstructed from joining in subtle ways. We don’t much like the latter. That’s our right too.

      And please be very careful with the use of the word “racist” and the tone of any future comments. I’m sure you weren’t calling us racist, but it could have been construed that way.

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