Part of the tight-knit integrated community that makes up Whitefriars Sailing Club, Sailability at Whitefriars (S@W), is back on the water with a cautious approach to enable its clients to get sailing again. S@W welcomed sailors back to the lake on Wednesday 31 March after two days of intensive volunteer training and boat preparation. New well-rehearsed safety procedures have been put in place, while social distancing and some extra sessions ensure that everyone feels comfortable.  Although sailing was available for a few independent sailors towards the end of last season, this season the team feel confident that their services can be safely expanded.

As someone who has had to shield, S@W Chairman David Durston is delighted to have been sailing again for the first time since October 2019: “While Christmas feels like years ago, getting back in my boat after 18 months felt like I’d been sailing just yesterday! On Easter Sunday I was out on the water for four races in lovely weather. I was the only disabled person sailing and I came second in the Whitefriars club racing, which is pretty good after so long! I felt really comfortable with sanitisers and people wearing masks – the only thing is that we have to stay outside and people can get cold, but it won’t be long now till the weather gets warmer.  

 “I am feeling optimistic that 2021 will enable more of us to get back onto the water; enjoying the independence, exhilaration, tranquility, and natural beauty that Sailability@Whitefriars provides.”  

Photo credit: Tony Wootley

 The club kept in touch with all its sailors and volunteers during the long months of lockdown, making sure they stayed involved with online quizzes and activities, and, says David, most seem to have returned, though some are waiting till they’ve had both vaccines and world opens up a bit more. “We have also welcomed a lot of new volunteers and sailors, and our sessions are already getting quite full, getting up to about half of our pre-covid numbers within just a few weeks, in spite of our limiting numbers on-site to 24 people at a time to manage distancing. This is very encouraging.”  

Last season the group invested time looking for new volunteers through online recruitment sites, and the pandemic seems to have made people re-evaluate what is important.  Over the year they have welcomed 20 new volunteers. The story is similar for new clients, already 7 new sailors have arranged visits or have already joined. This has mainly been driven through word of mouth, but also from people returning after trying the experience as a school activity.  

Plans for the summer are understandably cautious, of course, but include the welcoming of school groups from 22 April. There will be two club racing days where S@W members can race in Hansa 303s with Whitefriars members to explore the possibilities of sailing with the main club. They’re looking at a hire scheme for the club Hansas to help people further with that transition, and to spread the net even wider, they are organising some Hansa training for partners/carers/parents to help get others involved.  

The club is adhering to the government’s roadmap, but also learning from its experience to ensure that sailing is safe and comfortable for everyone.