New Membership System ROCKS

On May 5th we went live with our new membership system and I’m happy. Truth be told, I’m like a little boy with a new train set—OK, smartphone these days—so I’m going to tell you all about it. And I expect you to make appropriate ooh and ahh noises just like a doting parent would, even if you are bored witless with the whole project…as is likely.

What It Means To Us

Seriously, this whole membership system upgrade was a horrible experience, dragging out over nearly two years. It got to the point that I was starting to mumble about retirement and learning to play golf—yeah, that bad.

And the actual conversion was brutal, particularly on top of the total fail of the first system we tried. Transferring thousands of members from a creaky legacy system, with existing recurring memberships spread across two payment processors, to a new modern system, was a process rife with chances to screw up in truly spectacular ways…and I did, several times.

But, in the end, Phyllis and I got it all sorted out without many of you having to even change your passwords (that’s a tricky-trick), or any of you having to mess with your accounts at PayPal, an even trickier-trick since the PayPal merchant system is…let me see if I can put this kindly…total crap and their merchant support is virtually non-existent.

Now that we have worked with the new system for over a week, both Phyllis and I are ecstatic. This upgrade cuts our administration time by at least 20% and makes the day-to-day running of this site a pleasure instead of a huge chore.

Memberpress, the new system, is extremely well-designed and coded. The developers can be truly proud. Stable and bug free, but still powerful and flexible, the trickiest-trick in all of this.

And the support people at Memberpress are amazing. Special thanks to Paul who came up with some code to work around one of PayPal’s more egregious bugs…err, operations limitations.

Enough about us, now you talk about us. No, wait, that’s not what I meant to write.

What It Means To You

Rather, let’s talk about how this improves things for you members. The changes are subtle, but added together will make a real difference.


First off, the site is a lot faster without the load of the old and creaky system. According to our speed monitoring service, page load time (time after a click and before you can read) is half what it was. Way cool.

Account Management

But maybe the best thing is that you can now manage every part of your account from a single page, including what membership you have and your payments to us. (The latter is only for the last 12 months because trying to upload all PayPal history since 2013 would have been seriously hazardous to my mental health.)

Other Good Stuff

  • Signing up for a membership or renewing is streamlined—vital for membership growth and retention.
  • The forgotten password process is a huge improvement on the old. (Requests for help with a password reset have fallen from an average of a couple a day to near zero.)
  • You can now update your credit card right on the admin page. Don’t worry, we are not storing, or even seeing, your card, it’s just a secure window to Stripe. Sorry, there is no way to provide this for credit cards at PayPal…no surprise, that’s PayPal for you, but we do have good instructions to help deal with their…OK, I’m going to say it…shitty system.

Way Better Mailing

And it gets better: Our old email system was bolted on to the old membership system, and a complete kluge/mess that often sent out emails that should not have been sent as well as missing ones that should. It was also common for members to have one email address in the member system, another in the mailing system, and even a third at PayPal…yuk!

Now the mailing system synchronizes elegantly with the member system and, as part of the conversion, we created a new clean mailing list just for members.

And, best of all, you can change your email address and manage the emails you get from us right on the account page.

Once again, a caveat. Guess what? We can’t change your PayPal email address for you…surprise, surprise. So if you get emails from them at an old address, there’s nothing for it but to go through their email change routine. (By this time I’m sure you are sensing the overwhelming love I have for PayPal.)

Help Please

All that said, we need you to do five things to improve your experience still more:

  1. Check that your email address is correct, and change it if not. (In the conversion we used the one in our member system that you entered when you joined, so it may not be your current and/or preferred address.)
  2. Check that your email notification preferences are set the way you want them.
  3. Tell us if you are still getting emails from us (probably duplicates) at a different address from the one in Step One. This is possible since you may also be in the prospective members’ list under a different address.
  4. Tell us if you find anything at all that does not work, or is even the tiniest bit confusing. Memberpress is a great system, but it has hundreds of set-up options, so I’m near certain we can further improve things with your help.
  5. If you have used the password reset and noticed anything difficult, please tell us.

The best way to report problems is (unless there is a privacy issue) as a comment to this post.

Thank you.

And thank you for putting up with the whole conversion process and all my related ranting and raving.

Coming Next

Now let’s get back to what matters: Going voyaging. To that end, we have two exciting new sets of articles ready to go:

  • From Colin, a four part series on making challenging coastal passages in a safe and seamanlike way.
  • And from me, several (I’m up to four already) articles on buying older boats.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

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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.

26 comments… add one
  • Craig Harding May 15, 2019, 9:29 am

    If it were easy anyone could do it. (Checkout noonsite to see how badly an upgrade can go.)

    Well done!


    PS Ooh…Ahh…

  • Rob Thompson May 15, 2019, 11:46 am

    One possible suggestion. I recently sent in a photo and some text re the JSD chainplates on our cat build to moc.duolcsnagrom@ofni and I’m not sure if they were received from my gmail. They may have gone into the ether, but it would be good to get back an automated reply saying something like “OK, got it, but it may takes us awhile to respond “etc etc.

    Glad to hear in your writing, that sense of satisfaction that something actually works as it should. With software, it’s sometimes not a given.


    • John May 15, 2019, 12:53 pm

      Hi Rob,

      Not sure what happened. We are very careful about responding to all emails from members. And those responses are personal, as I think they should be. We also check our spam folders daily, to make sure an email from a member has not got misclassified. Of course, we could have made a mistake, always a possibility, although neither of us remember said email. Anyway, please resend.

      We have thought about autoresponders, but given that members have given us money, we feel that a personal touch is better.


  • Ernest E Vogelsinger May 15, 2019, 1:14 pm

    Ooh – Ahh 🙂
    Very well done John, congratulations – time for another scottish drink?

  • Norris Eaton May 16, 2019, 7:22 am

    From the customer perspective, I can relate to your comments about PayPal. From your merchant perspective, and based on your overall experience upgrading the various elements of your website, did you hear about other payment systems (other than PayPal and credit card) which were highly regarded by merchants and developers? Payment systems which might not yet be popular enough to include on websites, but if they were, would be an excellent way to avoid the PayPal route?

    • John May 16, 2019, 7:42 am

      Hi Norris,

      Absolutely. Stripe processes our credit card transactions and they totally amazing. Everything that PayPal is not. Easier for the customer, and way better for the merchant. If I thought we could get away with it, I would drop PayPal and go with Stripe exclusively. However, PayPal has a large base of accounts so that would cost us an unacceptable number of members.

      • Norris Eaton May 16, 2019, 8:03 am

        Thanks for the quick response.

      • Flemming Torp Petersen May 16, 2019, 10:58 am

        Bravo! I do Hope you now will get the time for a nice summer in Morgans Cloud😍

        • John May 17, 2019, 7:42 am

          Thanks very much.

    • John May 16, 2019, 8:11 am

      Hi Again Norris,

      Sorry, just realized that you were interested in systems other than credit card. I guess my thinking on that is that credit cards are the standard, and, after all, most people who use PayPal use a credit card to fund their account. That said, I think the future will belong to one-click pay systems like Apple, Google and Amazon Pay. Of course they too are funded by a credit card.

      (Next winter we will look at providing Apple any Google pay.)

      So, putting that together, my guess is that PayPal is a legacy business that won’t be here in 10 years. And given that, I can’t see anyone trying a new PayPal like system.

      • Stein Varjord May 16, 2019, 8:29 pm

        Hi John and Norris,
        Congrats with the new better system! And oooh, aaah, of course. 🙂
        I use PayPal because I’m living in the Netherlands while being Norwegian, which means my Norwegian credit card mostly isn’t useful since I make my money here, and I can’t get a Dutch one without also getting a passport from here. With PayPal I can use my debit card.

        Here all dealing with payments offer a solution called iDeal. The vast majority of payments are done this way, since it’s easier, faster, safer and cheaper than all alternatives. I don’t think it’s possible to use this exact system internationally, but I’m pretty sure this is how the future will be:

        PayPal probably deserves criticism, but credit card systems suck too.

        • John May 17, 2019, 7:23 am

          Hi Stein,

          I agree, payment systems in Europe are way ahead of us here in North America. Would you believe that when we want to transfer money to a bank account in Europe (say as a payment) or back the other way, we still must do a wire transfer and physically go to the bank to do it? And it cost ~$100! Shades of 1975.

          • michael feiertag May 17, 2019, 7:12 pm

            To transfer money internationally, look at Last week I needed to transfer from my USA account to an RYA school in UK. It was a simple and efficient process to set up and verify my account and then make the transfer. Good currency conversion rates and low fees.

          • John May 18, 2019, 7:51 am

            Hi Michael,

            Yes, I took a look after Charles suggested it. Looks like a great service. Sadly they don’t yet offer credit cards to Canadians, but when they do we will look at moving AAC’s account to their business service.

  • Jim Bartlett May 16, 2019, 9:47 am

    I’ve done a lot of Payment Method testing, albeit in an ecommerce retail business, but results I’ve seen suggest: PayPal is used by 10-15% of my customers, and declining each year. When we ran a test without offering PayPal at all, user behavior was a shift to credit card (no decline in conversion rate or revenue). My conclusion – PayPal is a nice payment method to offer (and we do), but not offering it did not reduce revenue.

    Regarding alternate methods like Apple Pay and Google Pay, we offer both and nobody – zero – use it on our site. I think those methods are potentially awesome at retail point of sale, but I see no adoption happening with online shopping. We have NOT implemented Amazon Pay, because I’m not interested in sharing transaction data with Amazon. For a member site, that is likely not a concern.

    Of course, as with most things….your results may vary.

    My advice – if you can enable Apple/Google/Amazon pay with little to no effort, why not. But if it requires time and money to implement, hold off for now. Few use them in this use case.

    • John May 17, 2019, 7:14 am

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks very much for sharing that. Always useful to learn from those who have already done it. I agree on Amazon Pay, and have no plans to use it, particularly since their merchant agreement is one of the most predatory legal documents I have seen in a long time.

      As to Apple and Google Pay, I wonder if we might be different. 60% of our readers are on mobile but only 1% join on mobile, so we wonder if one touch buy might not help that number.

      As to PayPal, that’s good to know, and worth thinking about since their recurring payment system is so bad.

    • charles starke May 18, 2019, 9:11 am

      Hi John
      So far, I believe TransferWise only has debit cards. That’s what I obtained. But if you have money coming in in various countries, the account lets you hold and use the money in its native account without fees. There is no need to transfer it to Canadian or dollars right away. They can give you a bank account number for deposits in over 40 currencies.

      Best wishes,
      Charles L Starke MD FACP
      s/v Dawnpiper

      • John May 18, 2019, 10:34 am

        Hi Charles,

        Yes, I understand that. But for the business we need a card to pay our many recurring bills (debit is fine). Without a card it’s not that useful and probably not worth the accounting issues of adding yet another account to the things we need to manage and report taxes on.

  • Ralph Rogers May 16, 2019, 12:51 pm

    Not to take away from your hard work and great accomplishment, but I would read this site if it were still on 2400 baud and I had to send you a check in the mail!
    I don’t notice things like slow speed and quirks in pay and passwords (ok, I hate having to change passwords like I have national security information and having to make up passwords containing 35 random prime numbers) if the content is worth it. And this is.

    • charles starke May 17, 2019, 12:06 am

      Oooh! aaaah!
      I might mention “Transfer Wise”. I set up an account and debit card but haven’t used it yet.
      “It’s a multi-currency account that lets you keep money in 40+ currencies, and convert between them at the real exchange rate whenever you need. It’s free to sign up and there aren’t any subscription fees.”
      On a separate note again “Oooh! Aaaah!
      This site and your work are WORTH IT!
      Best wishes,
      Charles Starke MD
      s/v Dawnpiper

      • John May 17, 2019, 7:27 am

        Hi Charles,

        I don’t think that’s a merchant payment system that would work for AAC. That said, it looks like a great idea for transferring money, particularly since our Canadian banks are both in the stone age and an absolute rip off for exchange charges.

    • John May 17, 2019, 7:15 am

      Hi Ralph,

      What a nice thing to write, thanks so much.

  • Tristan Mortimer May 21, 2019, 6:30 pm

    Hi John and Phyllis,

    Password reset worked just fine.

    Thanks for all the great content.

    Kind regards


    • John May 22, 2019, 8:03 am

      Hi Tristan,

      Good to hear, thank you.

  • Dan Perrott May 23, 2019, 7:55 pm

    Glad the change worked out well for you this time.
    Small non urgent problem. In the account section there is a sub menu with Home, Subscription’s, payments….etc
    This disappears when you click on email preferences. Looks like it sends to an older page.

    • John May 26, 2019, 6:27 pm

      Hi Dan,

      Yes, good point. That is actually an add on to the core plugin, so not easy to integrate into the account page. On the bright side when you submit your changes it takes you back to the account page.

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