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Strangford Sailing Club Members Return Safely To Boating

7th August 2020
Strangford Sailing Club Members Return Safely To Boating Photo: Strangford Sailing Club

As lockdown eased in Northern Ireland, Strangford Sailing Club’s Commodore Tony McLaughlin was busy working with his committee members on a plan of how to safely reopen in line with UK Government advice.

He explains the measures the club took and how they've been able to ensure safety for their members as they get back on the water.

When did the club close?

On 24 March, a notice was sent out to members letting them know that the Strangford Sailing Club Committee was planning for a Covid-19-driven 2020 season. All our members were encouraged to follow the UK Prime Minister advice and stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel. That also meant staying away from the sailing club.

In line with further Government guidance, we formally closed the club on the 4 April. Members were advised not to access the site or use any of the facilities.

SSC Virtual Regatta Sailing was started on 11 May to keep some of the adults and children occupied during the lockdown period. We ran three sessions per week.

How long was the club closed for?

The club was closed for two months and the SSC Committee agreed that prior to activities restarting SSC must await and comply with guidance issued by the NI Executive, RYANI and National Trust (the club’s landlord).

The National Trust started their restricted opening on 3 June and SSC followed suit with our first Junior Sailing session starting on Tuesday 9 June.

How did you go about reopening?

A Covid-19 subcommittee reviewed how we could safely operate and reopen based on Government recommendations. Email, phone calls and audio conferencing proved invaluable in keeping everyone informed.

What precautions did you take?

To ensure that we could adhere to distancing and hygiene rules SSC adopted a ‘Sail and Go Home’ philosophy. Essentially sailors arrive and go home in their sailing gear thus avoiding the clubhouse. The clubhouse is closed except for the use of the toilets.

Precautions also included reducing the size of sailing groups. For example, the junior section was split into fleets with the parents being responsible for the coordination and training of each group.

For our multi-hander fleets such as the Flying Fifteen and the safety boats, we have followed the principle of family pairings. With small group sizes, furlough and no school, our sailors have benefitted greatly from being able to be flexible; choosing appropriate days when the weather is best suited to the ability of the sailor.

We also issued documents to members outlining all of our advice and guidelines. These included a ‘Back to Sailing Activities’ document and a ‘Juniors – Covid-19 Operations’ document. To help the younger members we also made a video which simply illustrated all the distancing and hygiene protocols (credit must go to Leon Coole for his hard work on the video).

How have members reacted to the club being reopened?

I am very proud at how Strangford Sailing Club and its members have responded during the lockdown and the gradual lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions.

Members have volunteered to assist with running sailing sessions. The club has been able to facilitate sailing for small groups of sailors, while maintaining social distancing.

SSC have enough parental support to get our junior sailors out on the water twice a week and we plan to alternate skills training and race training each week throughout the summer.

Members have been very supportive and accept the fact that changing rooms and showers are out of bounds. Everyone has accepted the need to social distance and largely adhere to the issued guidance.

What is now available at the club?

Organised sailing sessions are scheduled for five times per week:

  • Flying Fifteen/RS400 racing is scheduled for Wednesday evening and Saturday afternoons.
  • Laser racing is scheduled for Sundays and they are welcome to join FF fleet.
  • Topper sailing groups are scheduled for Tuesday and Friday evenings.
  • Super Starters in Picos, Toppers and Optimists sail on an ad-hoc basis.

Would you have any advice for other clubs who have not yet reopened?

Embrace the challenge and make positive changes. Now is the time to recruit assistance from members and junior parents. Everyone working together as a team will help to allow sailing to restart. I would suggest that members are asked to help with safety cover, launching, rigging, trolleys, race officer etc.

Some of the other sailing clubs on the lough have followed suit to start their junior sailing using our template.

I am sure social activities will resume in the near future, but currently we will be complying with the current guidelines and restrictions to keep everyone safe.

Afloat.ie Team

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