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Does Government's 'Distance Sports' Rule Mean Reduced Crew for Sailing?

2nd April 2021
A 30-foot Half Tonner racing on Dublin Bay in pre-COVID times
A 30-foot Half Tonner racing on Dublin Bay pre-COVID Credit: Afloat

The Government's phased easing of some Covid-19 restrictions during the month of April was welcome news but there was also some disappointment expressed in boating circles over a lack of clarity contained in the announcement that makes it difficult to plan the season, especially the staging of major summer regattas.

The Government aims to continue its cautious approach, gradually easing restrictions, while a substantial level of the population is vaccinated during April, May and June, after which, it should be safe to reopen society more widely.

In his address, the Taoiseach used the phrase ‘distance sports' to describe a sporting activity that was permitted but what does this mean for sailing, a low risk, outdoor, no-contact sport?

In a response to a query from Afloat, a Sport Ireland spokesman said 'At present, these are activities that can take place on a socially distanced basis and take place between a maximum of two households'.

SB20 Sportsboat racing on Dublin Bay pre-COVID Photo: AfloatSB20 Sportsboat one-design racing on Dublin Bay pre-COVID Photo: Afloat

Single-handers

An interpretation of this means that single-handers, double handers and crews from two households can go sailing if they can 'distance' themselves.

But 'distance' does not extend to competition at this point, it refers only to private social sailing and it would exclude yachts with large crews from different households. So, Like golf or tennis, two parties can have a social game. Likewise, two individuals can have a recreational sail.

The spokesman said Sport Ireland has been in touch with the various National Governing Bodies, including Irish Sailing, on this matter.

Overall then, what we know is: 

From 12th April

  • travel within your own county or within 20km of your home if crossing county boundaries

From 26th April:

  • Outdoor sports facilities can reopen and sailing clubs may remain open.
  • ‘Distance’ Sailing activities may take place between a maximum of two households
  • School-aged children may resume training using the pod system (pods of 15)
  • No matches or events may take place (other than exempted events)

By any interpretation, this does not appear to allow for cruiser-racer sailing, except for small crew numbers on board. Clearly, this could have a major impact on the most popular aspect of the sport, for early summer at least.

Even though we know that there is little difference between sailing in training and racing modes, the sport is reliant on the not so small matter of lockdown measures easing from Level Five to Level Two (when racing is permitted) but, as widely anticipated, this did not materialise in this week's announcement.

Still, on Dublin Bay, DBSC and ISORA, race organisers are both aiming for May starts in 'some form', subject to guidelines. In June, the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race and the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale are due to get underway.

Reduced Crews?

It raises the question, that if this situation is to be considered the norm for the next two to three months, then sailing should be looking at reduced crews for racing in the future, as they are doing in the UK? Such a move was previously explored on Afloat here

This weekend, for example, one design keelboats are sailing in the Solent for the first time this year and boats that normally allow five are only taking four crew. Likewise, cruisers crew numbers in the UK are limited. 

The first race starts this weekend, the JOG Race, and below is one of the sailing instructions:

  • 17.1 Crew numbers for this race are limited to a maximum of 6, irrespective of a family group or other considerations. This is a maximum and skippers may limit their own crew in line with social distancing and other requirements.

Coincidentally, the first RORC event also starts this weekend; long coastal day races over three weekends, with a maximum of 80% of normal crew numbers.

By reducing crew numbers it could help to comply with the 'distance sport' ruling and give sailing room to negotiate a return to competition because there is no way nine people sitting out on a 35-foot cruiser will meet these criteria.

Afloat.ie Team

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Irish Sailing & Boating

Since restrictions began in March 2020, the Government is preparing for a 'controlled and gradual return to sport' and the 2020 sailing fixtures are being tentatively redrafted by yacht clubs, rowing clubs angling and diving clubs across Ireland as the country enters a new phase in dealing with the Coronavirus. The hope is that a COVID-19 restrictions might be eased by May 5th as Sport Ireland has asked national governing bodies for information on the challenges they face. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) information

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus.

To help stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) everyone has been asked to stay at home. But some people may need to do more than this.

You may need to either:

You do these things to stop other people from getting coronavirus.

Read advice for people in at-risk groups

Read advice about cocooning.

Restricted movements

Everybody in Ireland has been asked to stay at home. You should only go out for a few reasons, such as shopping for food.

But you need to restrict your movements further if you: 

  • live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus, but you feel well
  • are a close contact of a confirmed case of coronavirus
  • have returned to Ireland from another country

You need to restrict your movements for at least 14 days.

But if the person you live with has had a test and it is negative, you don't need to wait 14 days. You should still follow the advice for everyone - stay at home as much as possible.

Close contact

This is only a guide but close contact can mean:

  • spending more than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within 2 metres of an infected person
  • living in the same house or shared accommodation as an infected person

How to restrict your movements 

Follow the advice for everybody - stay at home.

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