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Mike Kenny on the 2020 Lake Michigan Doublehanded Championship

by David Schmidt 9 Jun 08:00 PDT June 11, 2020
Mike Bush on the helm. A rough day on the water beats any day at the office © Image courtesy of Phil Bush

Given the torrent of press in the sailing world detailing the widespread cancelation of regattas and sailing events due to the global scourge known as the novel coronavirus, it’s highly encouraging when an event moves forward with racing in a safe and properly socially distanced manner. One great example of this is the 2020 Lake Michigan Doublehanded Championship, which is set unfurl on Thursday, June 11.

In Great Lakes racing circles, this annual event is known as the “Double” or the “Doublehander”, and it gives participating sailors, racing aboard boats that measure 26 to 45 feet, LOA, with an opportunity for adventure and great shorthanded racing.

While there’s plenty of interesting details surrounding the Doublehander, one of the regatta’s unique attributes is its use of two starting lines. Sailors who are racing in the East-Shore Division will start on a line off of Muskegon, Michigan, and they will sail a 65-plus nautical-mile course of their choosing to a shared finishing line, which will be located off of Port Washington, Wisconsin. Sailors competing in the West-Shore Division will start at a line that will be situated off of Winthrop Harbor, Illinois and they will sail a 54-plus nautical-mile route of their choosing to Port Washington.

Granted, doublehanded racing represents an easier format for sailing in the dark shadow of COVID-19, as there’s far more opportunity for sailors to safely socially distance themselves from their teammate than aboard fully crewed racing yachts, but the event organizers’ precautions and commitment to keeping sailors safe amidst this pandemic didn’t stop with simple headcounts.

I checked in with Mike Kenny, chairman of the 2020 Lake Michigan Doublehanded Championship, via email, to learn more about this exciting event.

What’s been the hardest challenge about organizing a great-sounding regatta series during a major pandemic lockdown?

In a word, uncertainty. Almost every day the landscape is changing and timelines get extended. Also, since our event has starts in Michigan and Illinois, with both finishing in Wisconsin, we must abide by the requirements and recommendations of three different states.

Have you and the other organizers had to change any aspects of this year’s Doublehander due to COVID-19?

Yes, we have made significant changes. This includes eliminating all group gatherings. We are distributing race materials electronically and providing curd-side pickup. We are holding conference-call-based skippers meetings, and [we] will use VHF broadcasts for last-minute updates. We are foregoing our luncheon and awards banquet.

This year’s race is going to come together at the start line.

Where do you expect that most of the 35 registered boat will hail from?

Word is getting out, [and] registered boats are now approaching fifty. We have a good distribution of entries from Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri.

What kinds of onshore social-distancing practices will the event employ? Also, how do you plan to enforce these policies?

This is the unfortunate aspect of the changes we have had to make this year. All of our onshore activities have been canceled or modified to eliminate bringing our entrants together.

Even so, we have received nothing but thanks for going forward. Everyone is clamoring to participate in a safe event on the water.

What kinds of safe-play tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Are we talking about standard-issue things like face masks and hand sanitizer, or are you also expecting that sailors employ more distanced/cordial tactics at mark roundings so as not to create crowded or temporarily densely crowded on-the-water situations? Also, do you expect that sailors will arrive with their usual levels of competitiveness, or is the spirit of this year’s race more about getting out on the water for some friendly racing than about winning?

Our shorthanded doubles port-to-port format is very conducive to safe-play. We have two separate starts that are over 100 nautical miles apart, and the course is about 65 nautical miles. Plenty of room for "social distance".

This event has always been very friendly and many teams are family members. But don't be fooled by the pleasantries, this is a competitive bunch.

Will the RC physically be on the water in a boat together, or will they be running things from ashore? If not, how will they practice social distancing?

[The] RC will be on the water for the starts and finish. They will be small teams of folks that are familiar with each other and have been safely intermingling.

How will any potential protests be handled? Will all competitors be “in the room”, or will any red flags be handled via video conference?

Protests are extremely rare for our events. The customary damage must be a hole large enough to kick a cat through from 25 yards and must be submitted on the proper 4”x4” bar napkin.

Regardless, protest time limits are extended. We will accept protests via email and will handle via video conference.

In your mind, what are the best aspects and challenges of this race?

The best aspects are without a doubt our participants. [It’s] a phenomenal group of accomplished sailors. Normally our biggest challenge is scheduling. This year it's clearly the logistics of organizing this event with our different, diverse and incredible host marinas and yacht clubs, [namely] Port Washington Marina, Port Washington Yacht Club, North Point Marina, Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club, Muskegon Yacht Club and Racine Yacht Club.

Any advice for other organizers who are interested in trying successfully and safely administer sailboat races in the COVID-19 era?

While socializing is a huge aspect of our sport, I believe most prefer to be actively racing. Keep participants separate by eliminating all gatherings. Host a video post-race if you must party. Offer shorthanded race versions. Use electronic communications. Stay within—and reinforce—Covid-19 guidelines.

[The] utmost priority is to ensure your participants stay safe.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

If you are in or planning to be in the Illinios, Michigan, Wisconsin area, please join us.

Details and Entry available at lmssonline.com

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