It was just a little more than a week ago that Irish Sailing issued its first statement over the coronavirus outbreak to the effect that ‘all events were going ahead as scheduled’.
Then last Thursday (12 March) it cancelled its own national conference for this Saturday, and on Sunday night (15 March) the national governing body issued the edict that ‘all organised sailing activity was to cease with immediate effect’.
All this in the space of little over a week. These are strange times indeed.
Countries around the world are closing borders and putting citizens under lockdown in a bid to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Let’s hope that if everyone adheres to these rules, that goal will be achieved sooner rather than later. This is a remarkably challenging time for the world and the outcome is already tragic.
In a sailing context, with virtually all activity around the world now cancelled or postponed and with yacht clubs across the country closed for the foreseeable future, the question for Irish sailing is what will happen to the 2020 fixture list even though, for now, that might seem very far down the national priority list.
As we have seen this past fortnight, with the cancellation of international regattas such as Spi Ouest in France and Olympic qualification meetings, early-season events beyond the mandated 29 March date are also a casualty. This morning the Clipper Round the World Race was cancelled.
The home page of Afloat.ie is littered with postponements and cancellation decisions. Significantly, some major events have been affected, such as Howth Yacht Club’s big sailing festival, the Wave Regatta scheduled for late May, which has already been postponed until September.
How long the crisis will last is anyone’s guess but the UK Government’s plans for self-quarantine over the over-70s for four months gives some idea of what we are confronting.
Most of Ireland’s popular and celebrated regattas afloat are also major parties ashore, too, so it is easy to see why they fall foul of the current mass gatherings rules of more than 100 people indoors and more than 500 people outdoors.
Major planning and hard work have gone into the staging of these events in June and July as major club activities so what is going to happen to sailing events and maritime festivals around our coast?
One look at Cheltenham and it is obvious that the UK is taking a different approach to tackling the crisis. Does this mean Scotland’s biggest sailing event, May’s Scottish Series — scheduled for a week before HYC’s Wave Regatta — will proceed? Even if the UK Government permits it, should the Irish boats who compete so successfully at Loch Fyne travel there?
The Round Ireland Race on 20 June is still some time away, and hopefully, as it does not involve mass gatherings, it will not be affected. Its latest press release, issued after the postponement of last week’s race launch party, was at pains to emphasise the race from Wicklow was going ahead as scheduled.
The Bangor Town Regatta on Belfast Lough is scheduled for the week after the Round Ireland Race. Again, as it is in UK waters, that may mean it will survive even though it, too, is a party regatta.
Organisers will be keen for southern boats to travel to make the numbers, but will boats from Dublin voyage north?
The Royal Cork Yacht Club has already had a spectacular start to its 300th year but the Crosshaven club has planned a summer of celebrations with 12 major dinghy events along with July’s Cork Week regatta, feeder races, the ICRA Championships and the IRC European Championships all still to come.
Cork Week is scheduled for July, six weeks after the Wave Regatta, so the hope must be that this will be enough time to keep Cork’s special plans intact.
These planned events are not only big deals for organising clubs but important nationally as they showcase Irish sailing and are icons of our summer sport.