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Wishing that life imitated sailing

by David Schmidt 30 Jun 08:00 PDT June 30, 2020
Racecourse action at the 2020 Quaranteam Regatta © Francis George/Oackcliff Sailing

Summer may have officially started in the USA, but an ill wind - known as the coronavirus - continues to blow across the country, with alarmingly high new-case counts emerging daily from many states. Most recently Florida, Texas and Arizona have been hardest hit, but plenty of other states, including my home state of Washington, are on the uptick.

As someone who has lived in the American West for a large percentage of my adult life, I'm no stranger to wildfires and the fact that a strong wind can quickly shift battle lines as burning embers rise and fall. Sadly, the same is true for the coronavirus, as even states such as New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, which are seeing their daily new-case counts dropping, are at the mercy of neighboring states as life and commerce slowly come back to (still-restricted) life following this spring's recent lockdowns.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that sailors and the sailing community are proving that racing can still safely take place amidst this scary backdrop, albeit in sometimes reimagined and likely more localized forms.

Starting with the shortest waterlines and working upwards, Laser and RS Aero sailors, as well as kiters and windsurfers, have little to fear when they head out alone for an afternoon or evening sail. Provided there's breeze and that the rest of the fleet takes basic precautions such as wearing facemasks and practicing social distancing ashore, there's also little worry about hosting local races. Plenty of single-handers across the USA are already doing just that, even as bars and other businesses are being ordered to close as transmission rates spike.

The same is true for two-person classes. Take, for example, the 2020 Lake Max Vanguard 15 Series, which unfurled on the waters of Ohio's Lake Maxinkuckee in late May and early June. The event wisely required social distancing onshore, and it employed MarkSetBots and virtual skipper's meetings, rather than mark boats and tightly packed pre-race meetings.

Given that sailing is a sport that's closely governed by rules and protocols, some of the most heartening and confidence-inspiring work that I've recently seen towards ensuring a 2020 sailing season comes from the good folks at Oakcliff Sailing, in Oyster Bay, New York. Not only did Oakcliff successfully host their Quaranteam Regatta in early June, but Oakcliff's leadership also published a comprehensive protocol (available here: www.oakcliffsailing.org/about-oakcliff/where-to-stay) that other events can adopt to enable sailing while keeping sailors safe.

The Salish 200 unfurled this past weekend on the Salish Sea (read: the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound) and involved shorthanded crews racing aboard keelboats. Unlike most more formal, yacht club-based regattas, this one was organized by Jason Andrews and Shawn Dougherty, co-skippers of the well-sailed Seattle-based J/125 Hamachi, and relied heavily on the honor system. Teams could sail with up to five crewmembers (total), and they had their choice of three courses, ranging from 100 to 200 nautical mile outings. Here, the emphasis was on adventure sailing rather than cut-throat competition, and it gave participants a chance to sail at night and around some of the region's prettiest islands and bodies of water.

I'd be straight-up lying if I said that I didn't spend my weekend jealous of the sailors who got to participate in the Salish 200.

Likewise, the 2020 Lake Michigan Doublehanded Championship (June 11), is another great example of sailors getting out on the water in a responsible and socially distanced way that also delivered a great shorthanded adventure for all participants.

While there are undoubtedly many other great examples of sailors responsibly and safely finding ways to engage the sport that we all love best, the simple fact remains that the entire USA would be in far better shape if all citizens engaged in the kind of responsible approach towards reopening society that I've seen exemplified by the sailing community. Yes, masks suck, but if they dramatically reduce transmission rates, then they need to be worn. Likewise, social distancing also sucks, but if it's a key to resuming life as we know and love it, then it should be mandatory. End of story.

Sadly, I've had a few land-based experiences as of late that offer a glimpse into why the coronavirus' transmission rates are re-spiking in the USA. These range from dodging mask-less patrons in the grocery store to scrambling a dozen feet off-trail in the mountains to avoid mask-less hikers who somehow think that they are immune to this nasty virus. And that's to say nothing of house parties, packed beaches and over-crowded establishments, all of which I've been carefully avoiding like, well, the plague.

While I doubt we'll be seeing mask-less grocery-store patrons performing penalty turns in the aisles with their grocery carriages anytime soon, I do fear that, unless corrective actions are taken quickly and embraced widely, we could be looking at a return to the latchkey days of April, when the only surfing to be done involved Netflix. Moreover, I also fear that the significant sacrifice and economic pain we all endured this spring - not to mention the (ballpark) 125,000 lost American lives (and counting, rather quickly) - will be for naught unless corrective actions are widely embraced.

It's tempting to wish that life imitated sailing, but during the last six months I find myself wishing that everyone understood and embraced the connection between responsible behavior and the rewards of getting to participate in favorite activities as much as sailors clearly do. But rather than chide the less responsible amongst our ranks, it's far better to celebrate the successes - however small-scale they may be - and to hold these up as examples for others to embrace.

Get this right and we can all have a good time; blow it, and the ill winds that we are all feeling will become a truly tragic Category 5 hurricane.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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