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Keeping Sailing & Boating Safe in Days of Social Distancing

21st March 2020
Splendid isolation: A harbour full of boats and an empty Dublin Bay. Dun Laoghaire Harbour is Ireland's biggest boating centre. Lift in of keelboats for the summer season begins on April 1 Splendid isolation: A harbour full of boats and an empty Dublin Bay. Dun Laoghaire Harbour is Ireland's biggest boating centre. Lift in of keelboats for the summer season begins on April 1 Photo: Peter Barrow/Simon Coate

It's nice to be out there with the wind and the waves and as one letter writer to the Irish Times mentioned when he spotted boats sailing on Dublin Bay this week - 'what a way to isolate!' 

We think the same here at Afloat but even sailing isn't free of social distancing guidelines and as we have seen, unfortunately, largely because of shoreside issues, the bulk of sailing events around the world have now been cancelled. It is important to recognise the significant impact that the current Coronavirus / COVID-19 crisis is having on sailing clubs across Ireland.

Right now there are other priorities of the most serious nature but it's worth mentioning - for sailing's sake - that this Coronavirus is wrecking the 2020 sailing fixture list and much more besides.

It's important for the club network that we salvage as much as we can.

Other sports, such as golf, are finding ways of keeping play going.

We have plenty of unpopulated open water (for example look at this live webcam of Dublin Bay). We have plenty of boats and with today's Spring Equinox (the earliest in 124 years) hundreds of boaters itching to go afloat.

While areas within clubhouses may not be available due to the need for social distancing, the sport remains open and accessible. The lift in of the country's biggest fleet of yachts on Dublin Bay is on track for April. Marinas are open.

Club membership plus supporting the cluster of Irish marine services around the coast has never been more important. 

Yacht Club members and sailors and boaters, in general, can still go afloat and enjoy their sailing while staying within the guidelines issued by the Health Service Executive in the Republic of Ireland and Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland. A link to the HSE guidelines is here.

Irish Sailing stated for good reason last week 'For double handers and/or keelboats requiring two or more crew, it is not possible [to sail]. Even for organised activities involving single-handers requiring safety cover (with two people in the safety boat), it is not achievable". We know this and we also know it is not possible to observe social distancing on crewed racing yachts but can anything afloat be achieved safely while also maintaining social distancing?

Nobody knows when our ‘VBF’ from China will go away but on the basis that Hong Kong is back sailing again as Cork sailmaker Barry Hayes of UK Sailmakers Ireland told Afloat so positively here, it does seem reasonable to conclude we could be back in business at some stage this summer after a delayed start? 

So, as organisers prepare to launch the season, is there a way to support them in order to go afloat safely without abandoning the ship, as it were? 

Can there be any activity that rigorously upholds the social distancing guidelines, keeps everyone safe and avoids groups of people in prolonged contact?

If there's no appetite in the cruiser classes for multiple trapeze wires in order to keep crew the required distance apart on the rail, as one reader jokingly told us this week, what else can we do? There has to be more to our fantastic sport than an eSailing National Championships?

Already, North Sails sailmaker Prof O'Connell is reporting a number of clients are changing the way they plan to go sailing: "there's some interest from yacht owners in re-tasking their race boats into family day-sailers to get the family out on the water, conversion of bolt rope race mainsails into luff slid cruising sails, the addition of furler/furling headsails for family cruising.

A quick brainstorm also came up with the following ideas: 

  • Solo keelboat races with white sails/reduced sail?
  • Solo dinghy races with white sails?
  • Family/household crewed races (eg can people living in the same household sail on the same boat?)
  • Family/household day cruising?
  • Virtual marks/starts to avoid contact among race officials?
  • Can yacht clubs offer RIB rentals to families/households to get them out for a blast - with full disinfectant wash-down afterwards?
  • Swap changing rooms for open-air dinghy park changing?

Wishful thinking? It may well be but getting out on the water is good for both our physical and mental health. We only need two boats to start an informal race or one boat for a day sail. So at Afloat, we're keen to hear any ideas as to how sailing can keep going. But above all else, any suggestion first needs to ensure it is well within social and physical distancing guidelines. Email our editor here.

UPDATE: Government measures introduced at midnight on Friday, March 27 2020 prohibited the personal use of vessels for leisure purposes

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