Pandemic doesn't stop Falmouth Sailing Week

Sailors enjoy a successful covid-safe regatta
24 Aug 20

The Port of Falmouth Sailing Association (PoFSA) startsplanning its annual August regatta at the end of January, so its first meeting wasnothing out of the ordinary. But when the pandemic hit in mid-March, ChairNigel Sharp was expecting a negative mood from the representatives of the sixFalmouth clubs that form the association. He couldn’t have been more wrong – theirZoom meeting was unanimously positive, and from then onwards, they worked tofind a way to make the event happen safely.

Alongside the Falmouth Council-organised daytime and eveningshoreside events that normally accompany the Falmouth Week regatta, the sixclubs usually take it in turn to host daily prizegivings, each including teas, barsand party atmosphere. As Nigel explains, one of the first decisions they had tomake was to cancel all shore-based events and prizegivings: “It was a nobrainer that it couldn’t happen – these events would be heaving with people.”

The organisation of the regatta itself was, however, verymuch an achievable project. There are always two fleets – one in the shelteredCarrick Roads estuary, and one for more seaworthy vessels in Falmouth Bay. Theorganisers didn’t have the problem of a single launch point because the competitorslaunch from many different points around the Fal estuary to get out to theirboats. In the past, this has been a disadvantage in terms of communication (thoughnot so much recently with mobile phones) but it was a positive advantage thisyear, making social distancing easier to manage.

Credit: Bex Chamberlain Photography

Nigel describes how the event was redesigned:  “In the estuary, we normally have a team ofseven or eight on the committee boat, which obviously wasn’t possible, so wedecided to start races from the shore at Pendennis Point, in a northerlydirection into the Carrick Roads. That worked very well, but it was pure chancewhether or not we would get windward starts. Meanwhile in the bay, the Race Officerused his own boat as a committee boat with his wife and daughter-in-law.

“We knew we’d have fewer RIBs because we could only usegroups of two people from the same household or bubble, so we didn’t use themin the bay. This meant that we had no Firebird catamarans this year, becausethey’re the ones who sometimes need rescuing!”

Unfortunately , there were some boats that just couldn’t beincluded in the revised plan: “In the Roads, we sadly couldn’t accommodatedinghies because Restronguet Sailing Club hadn’t found a safe way to resumedinghy racing themselves, and if they couldn’t find a way round it, nor couldwe. And on the Falmouth Working Boats, usually the most spectacular class atthe regatta, social distancing is impossible, so we couldn’t have those thisyear either.”

Up until a fortnight before the event, the PoFSA committee wereinsisting that each boat entering would need to be crewed by members of the samehousehold or bubble, but then the RYA released its guidance for racing with mixedhouseholds. This opened up the entry possibilities and made the event a littleeasier to regulate. In fact, there were 115 entries (compared with 170 – 180 ina normal year) - much better than Nigel had expected: “When we first startedplanning this, I’d have probably been happy with 50!”

The regatta went ahead over four days, rather than the usualseven. The wind was extremely light and variable, but they managed to get allthe races in and, given the circumstances, it was an enormous success. Theorganising team has received lots of messages of thanks and congratulations.


Credit: 3deep aerial

Nigel is sure that the experience has prepared them for nextyear, whatever happens: “We reduced the entry fee to just £20 (it’s usuallyabout £100) so PoFSA will lose some money, but it was a gesture of goodwill andwe’re tremendously pleased with how it turned out -  it’s been a real morale-booster. Who knowswhat will happen next year? We have our fingers crossed that it will be back tonormal, but if not, we’ve got the experience now and can do it again.”

The PoFSA clubs are St Mawes SC, Royal Cornwall YC, HelfordRiver SC, Restronguet SC, Flushing SC and Mylor YC – you can read a seriesabout how some of them got back on the water safely over the next week.