History of Rockley | Rockley


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1976 - Rockley Watersports established

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Rockley Watersports was founded in 1976 as a family run business by Jim and Barbara Gordon and their children. Established at Rockley Point in Poole Harbour with one caravan and 10 boats on the beach Rockley Point Sailing School as it was then known offered sailing courses to people of all ages. Three years later we bought Emsworth Sailing School offering sailing courses, again in a lovely location.

The beginning of Rockley
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1980 - Opened second activity centre in Poole

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We opened our second activity centre in Poole Harbour ‘Treasure Island’. This was where we held children’s camping holiday on one of the lovely islands in Poole harbour with Watersports and land-based activities. This offered a real ‘Swallows and Amazons’ experience, no running water and no electricity. A bit of a shock for those who didn’t understand that no electricity also meant NO TELEVISION!

Rockley Point was also now offering residential trips for school groups, an area of our business that has continued to grow over the years and is now integral to Rockley Watersports today. 

We also ‘sailed’ further afield opening Bahamas Flotilla Cruising offering some of the first flotilla holidays in the world. Based out of Nassau we had a flotilla of 8 yachts and a large motorboat as lead boat. An idea ahead of its time Bahamas Flotilla Cruising struggled as the pound collapsed against the dollar!

However, in 1982 we bought Island Sailing and changed the name to Sunsail. Jim and Barbara’s son Chris took ownership of this, along with Emsworth Sailing School, in 1984 and for Sunsail, the rest as they say is history!

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1989 - Opened first French activity centre & Cruising School

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With the number of school groups coming to Rockley Point and following suggestions from some teachers that they liked what we offered in the UK but somewhere warmer would be a great option. They didn’t want what other school operators were already offering in France, they wanted ‘Rockley in the sun’ which led to us opening our first activity centre in south west France at La Reserve in 1989. La Reserve was situated on the edge of Lac Biscarrosse in the Landes region. Originally known as Sail France the centre quickly expanded to also accommodate families who didn’t want a ‘package holiday’ during the summer holidays.

This year also saw us open Cruising School in Poole Harbour with three Sadler 34 yachts.

Introducing La Reserve
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1990 - Opened new activity centre at La Rive

La Reserve was in such great demand after one season that we quickly had to find another centre to accommodate the growing number of schools wanting the ‘Rockley’ experience abroad so 1990 saw the opening of our second French centre, La Rive on the edge of Lac Cazaux again in the Landes region.

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1997 - Founded Harbour Challenge charity together with PC Chad Edwards

Founded Harbour Challenge charity together with PC Chad Edwards to provide sailing experiences and opportunities to local children. Although we are not now directly involved, this charity is still operating in Poole Harbour.

Sold the Cruising School – it seems that big boats just aren’t our thing! Peter and Lis Gordon take on the day to day running of the business.

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2000 - Moved into new sailing school building at Rockley Point

At long last we moved into a new sailing school building at Rockley Point and new residential accommodation, Rockley Lodge to replace the ‘quaint’ old buildings we had been in for 20 years. This gave us more office and classroom space as well as a purpose built lodge for our residential students.

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2002 - New changing rooms at Rockley Point

Built new changing rooms and drying rooms at Rockley Point a great improvement to our facilities.

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2003 - Rockley Point is appointed pilot centre for the RYA’s OnBoard scheme & 3rd french centre is opened

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The ever increasing demand from schools for trips to France led to our third French centre AzuRivage on Lac Soustons also in the Landes region opening in 2003.

With our strong links to the RYA our centre at Rockley Point was appointed as a pilot centre for the RYA’s OnBoard scheme the aim of which was to get half a million youngsters on the water over a period of 5 years. Pip Woods, our current Managing Director joined Rockley Watersports to coordinate this scheme.

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2006 - Rockley celebrate 30 years

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This year saw us celebrate 30 years of operation! We held a regatta and party for 400 invited guests, current staff, ex staff, suppliers and customers who had been with us and helped us grow over many years.

Our fourth activity centre in France opened, Aravis, in the French Alps. This centre was to offer a more land based activity trip for school groups as an alternative to our three other Watersports centres.

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2007 - Opened new activity centres Poole and France

We opened two new centres this year, another one in France at Mayotte, also on Lac Cazaux and at Poole Park on the UK’s largest  inland saltwater lagoon, local to our Rockley Point centre. Our Poole Park centre offers a wonderful opportunity for both groups and individuals to experience a variety of watersports on the shallow, sheltered waters of the lake as well as the opportunity for hire of boats, pedalos and boards for more than just a ‘walk in the park’!

Poole Park Lake
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2008 - Head Office moves

To give us more training space at Rockley Point our head office staff moved to an office in the centre of Poole from where we have continued to grow.

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2010 - Rockley Point is host centre for ISAF’s Training Scholarship

Rockley Point is chosen as the host centre for ISAF’s Training Scholarship, an 8 week course with the first candidate from South Africa.  Subsequent courses see Rockley welcome candidates from countries around the world from Cook Islands to Peru and from Iceland to Mozambique.

International recognition
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2011 - Launched Rockley Academy and BTEC Course

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We launched Rockley Academy, based at Rockley Point, specialising in advanced Watersports and instructor qualifications. Rockley is the preferred trainer for Watersports professionals, training nearly 30% of all RYA Dinghy Instructors annually in the UK.

Within Rockley Academy and in conjunction with LeAF we also introduced the BTEC Level 3 Sport (Outdoor Adventure) course to our wide range of courses. A unique, post-16 course providing training equivalent to 3 A-Levels, the ultimate vocational course combining theory units, practical activities and employer valued, professional National Governing Body (NGB) qualifications. 

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2012 - Beach Club at Rockley Park

Following the success of hire and taster sessions at Poole Park we opened a Beach Club at Rockley Park – a pay and play centre opening up the world of Watersports to a wide range of people.

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2013 - Saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new!

After 23 years and 24 seasons at La Reserve, it was time to go our separate ways. With an ever increasing number of pupils visiting our centres and changing expectations, we realsied that it was time to move on and find another centre which would best meet the needs of our pupils, teachers, parents and families. So it was a fond farewell to La Reserve and an exciting hello to Le lac Mimizan.

Le Lac Mimizan
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2014 - Opened new activity centre at Le Lac Mimizan

Our sixth new activity centre opened in France, Le Lac Mimizan, a resounding success with our school groups many of whom rebooked for next year on their return.

Pip Woods becomes Managing Director with Peter Gordon owner/Finance Director.

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2015 - The Future for Rockley

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We have had a fantastic 2014 and are all very much looking forward to 2015 and beyond. The quality of our training and giving both children and adults positive learning experiences has always been at the very core of what we do. With new Managing Director - Pip Woods at the helm, and Owners Peter and Lis still very much a part of the Company, we continue to look forward to welcoming back old friends and introducing many more individuals to sailing and water-based activities.

2016 sees Rockley move forward in to its fourth decade and we plan to have a great big party to celebrate. As for the future, it's looking very exciting....watch this space! 

Rockley Celebrates 40 years
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2016 - Rockley Celebrates 40 years

2016 is obviously a very big year for us! We started off as a family run business teaching sailing off the beach in Poole Harbour with a very simple business philosophy of getting people on the water and having fun whilst learning and improving. Fast-forward 40 years and the business has grown and developed to include professional and career watersports qualifications, training, family activity holidays to south west France as well as residential and non-residential school and group activity trips. We now manage 5 watersports activity centres between the UK and France and continually develop our programmes on the water to deliver the highest possible quality training, holiday and school adventure experiences.

We're making waves!




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