Back to boating at Frensham Pond Sailability

30 Aug 20

Sailing Captain Kate Whyatt reports:

We're following in the footsteps Frensham Pond Sailing Club, and their return to casual sailing followed by racing.

It has been a tough road, but we are now able to offer casual sailing as well as coaching and racing. So far, we have held five session, including two ‘Test Days’ and our first coaching and racing session for more advanced sailors.

Our ‘journey’ started at the end of June. Protocols and procedures were devised, and lengthy documents written, to ensure that we were able to operate in a COVID safe environment, and to abide by the Government guidelines of the time. The main challenge was to ensure that we could keep to the two metres social distancing rules, and that sanitising hands and boats was done on a regular basis to keep everyone safe.

Once we had Trustee and Management approval, volunteers and sailors were approached to gauge their interest in taking part in a Sailing Test Day. Many of our members are vulnerable so we were careful to give the message that this is all voluntary and no one is being pressurised, either to return to sailing or volunteering. Two successful test days were held with nine boats, followed by a couple of sessions with twelve boats and then a racing session with fifteen boats.

The dinghies we are using are Hansa 2.3s, 303s and a couple of Libertys. Most sailors sail independently with a few sailing with members of their household, and we are able to cater for those who need hoisting.

Volunteers are organised into teams of two, each team being responsible for three boats and their associated sailors. This includes rigging, launching, sanitising, and recovering etc. Those sailors that need assistance, for example with walking along the jetty, getting into the boat, and hoisting are required to bring a household member/carer with them to ensure that a two metres social distance is maintained as much as possible. Masks are compulsory for anyone on the jetties; volunteers, sailor, and carers, as it is not always possible to keep a safe distance.

We had 15 boats out on the water for our first coaching and racing session. Two groups; a development group and the racing group, with six sailors in the former and nine boats in the more advanced group. We are alternating racing with casual sailing on a weekly basis so that everyone gets a chance to sail, whatever their interest/experience.

Boats are launched in a pre-planned order at five to ten-minute intervals to maintain social distancing on the jetties at any one time, and to ensure that the dedicated volunteer team is available to assist. It is a bit like choreographing a complicated dance as boats are leaving and then returning to the jetties at the appropriate time, and in order. It is all working well, and the volunteers and sailors are all amazing in the way that they are adapting to these new working practices. Sometimes it feels a bit like a military operation, but by following our guidelines we are maintaining a safe working environment for all our volunteers and sailors.

There is lots of organising but it’s worth it when I see and speak to the sailors once they are off the water. The mental health of our members, both volunteers and sailors, is important and lockdown has been extremely hard for some of us. We have about two months remaining of the 2020 season and although it has been short, hopefully for some members the three months of being able to sail has been worthwhile and reparative. We have learnt a lot along the way to the extent that some of our working practices will change with the onset of the season starting in April 2021. Let’s hope we can return with more normality next year.

Frensham Pond Sailability is an RYA Recognised Training Centre.

Photos credit Tony Machen