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Keeping calm and carrying on amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic

by David Schmidt 17 Mar 09:00 PDT March 18, 2020
Puget Sound on a rare sunny winter morning, as seen from Sunset Hill Park © Coreen Schmidt

A friend once told me that anytime she feels unsettled, she looks up at the trees. While I love trees, especially the magnificent ones that grow in and around my Pacific Northwest home, I personally find that sweeping views of mountains, oceans and other bodies of water are a better salve. Needless to say, I spent some time this weekend taking in the glorious views of the gorgeous Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound, reminding myself that the sky isn't falling and that gravity isn't failing.

To be fair, things are rough right now, and they will likely get worse before they turn around, but just like every storm far offshore, this too shall pass. And while no one likes the prospects of a reduced sailing schedule - let alone getting sick or watching loved ones struggle with illness - event organizers the world over are making the safe and responsible decision to postpone or cancel many events.

After all, the kinds of social distancing required to tamp out the novel coronavirus will require more than just room at turning marks, at least until scientists and medical professionals can work out effective treatments and, in time, a vaccine.

To date, many high-level events have either raised their postponement flags or have cancelled racing altogether for 2020. Here's a quick run-down of some of these regattas:

America's Cup World Series, April 23-26; Cagliari, Italy.
Antigua Bermuda Race, May 6, 2020; Antigua.
Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, April 1-7; Antigua.
Bermuda Gold Cup, May 11-16, 2020; Bermuda.
Les Voiles de Saint Barth, April 12-18; St. Barth.
2020 52 Super Series season; all events and venues.
SailGP San Francisco, May 2-3; San Francisco.
St. Barth Bucket Regatta, March 19-22; St. Barth.
2020 BVI Spring Regatta, March 30-April 5, Virgin Gorda, BVIs.
St. Thomas International Regatta, March 27-29; St. Thomas.
2020 Optimist Team Trials, April 18-26; Seabrook, Texas.
2020 Congressional Cup, April 28-May 3; Long Beach, California.
2020 Melges 24 Worlds, May 1-9, Charleston, South Carolina.
2020 GC32 Racing Tour, March 25-29; Muscat, Oman.
2020 Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar, March 25-April 4; Palma de Majorca, Spain.

Still, other events are pressing on, and while we cheer on the spirit of keeping racing going and providing on-the-water fun to sailors, we truly hope that all precautions will be taken to ensure everyone's safety.

All that said, let's metaphorically spend a minute or three looking up at the trees - or, in my case, looking out across Puget Sound - and remember that the sky isn't falling and that one's sea boots still remain firmly on the deck. Yes, Covid-19 sounds like a terrible disease, especially for older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions, but the simple truth is that it's not Ebola. These words have been said before, of course, but the reality is that life will go on, babies will be born, new and new-to-you boats will be purchased, and people will still have opportunities to socialize (just don't be afraid to call for room, irrespective of overlaps) and to enjoy the things that make life worth living.

But, as with any challenge, a big part of this will hinge on learning to live with some new realities, and to manage these (metaphorical) headers and lifts as they come down the racecourse.

Sound familiar?

As the British used to say in preparation for the soon-to-unfurl horrors of World War II, "Keep Calm and Carry On".

While my business is that of a mere sailing scribe, not a public health official or any sort of government authority (thank goodness, for all involved), I strongly suggest that all sailors (and citizens) try their best to embrace this mantra. Yes, there will be some heavy weather ahead, but there will also be future regattas, Olympics and America's Cups to look forward to, once this pandemic is safety astern.

As for some positive, go-forward steps, aside from fervently washing one's hands, avoiding crowds, and deleting Tinder, I'd suggest that 2020 could be a darn good year to explore the "dark side" of cruising, day sailing and other non-racing forms of sailing. Sure, it won't be the same, but just like trees (and, to some extent, mountain ranges) look the same the world over, so too does a properly trimmed mainsail.

And if you want take some concrete steps to help combat the novel coronavirus, make a donation to Doctors Without Borders (MSF). This heroic people are often some of the first responders to parachute into otherwise dismal public-health and war-torn environments, and they focus the bulk of their resources on helping populations who are far more concerned with basic survival than winning (another) pickle dish. After all, with a pandemic such as the novel coronavirus, the best way to ensure everyone's safety is to ensure everyone's health as we move through these challenging days.

In the meantime, deep breaths, perhaps a WWII-era mantra or two, and remember: sailing and racing will resume afresh (and possibly even invigorated) once these dark clouds pass.

Be safe, own your social distancing, and, when times get tough, remember that there are always trees, oceans, mountains and other pieces of grounding, natural beauty in this sometimes-rocky world.

May the four winds blow you safely home,
David Schmidt

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