St Edmundsbury Sailing and Canoeing Association is based on Lackford Lakes near Bury St Edmunds. During the Summer months the Club is usually a hive of activity with dinghy sailing and paddlesports, including canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. When the current COVID-19 situation arose and lockdown was announced, the Club’s immediate response was to perform a financial impact assessment to determine the viability of the club across 3 scenarios. These were:
- The Club would be closed for the remainder of 2020
- The Club could re-open in June/July with no new members in 2020
- The Club could re-open in June/July with a reduced number of budgeted new members for 2020
Given the change in circumstances, as the club would normally have members on site every day and evening, the Club also took steps to increase security arrangements at the site with local police, as part of a broader risk assessment.
The Club quickly recognised that communication with members would be essential, and initially informed members about the cancellation of the start of the season originally scheduled for the weekend after lockdown started. They then kept members up to date with the interpretation of the Government’s and RYA's guidance as the opportunity to resume sailing approached, whilst at the same time used the Club’s Facebook page to reach out to members with news of events such as e-sailing and RYA training sessions.
As Government advice allowed, the Club has taken gradual steps out of lockdown and recommenced on-water activities on 13 May with appropriate procedures for social distancing, use of the toilet facilities and cleaning of shared resources. There has been activity at the lake nearly every day since 13 May with increasing numbers of members returning to sailing, especially now those who had been shielding. The key message to members has been to sail within one’s competence to reduce the risk of needing assistance on the water.
The current activities that have been resumed at the club are single-handed sailing or family crews in dinghies, and kayak activities with similar arrangements for 2-seat boats. SESCA has an established buddy system that mitigates the need for a safety boat and this has worked well to facilitate getting members on the water. Members have not yet resumed their voluntary OOD and Safety Boat duties, but the Club has introduced a new WhatsApp group for Buddy Sailing so members can easily communicate with each other about the times when adults will be at the lake. New members have been made especially welcome since 13 May with support for them to launch their own boats or become familiar with the club’s hire fleet. This included ensuring they were safe on the water. Many have joined with paddlesport experience, who are keen to migrate to sailing with courses later in the year.
Norman Savigar, from the Club explains how SESCA has facilitated the gradual return to sailing:
“Last Saturday a new member sailed a Topper for the first time. She had been out with her partner a couple of times on a club fleet Wanderer by way of re-introducing herself to sailing after a lengthy break. On their first trip with the Wanderer I made sure that they were confident with how they had rigged the boat before they took to the water. I then observed their sailing from the shore, whilst I also had a Safety Boat ready just in case they got into difficulties. I then observed them on a second outing the following weekend where it was clear they were very comfortable sailing the Wanderer.
She then wanted to sail for herself on a club fleet Topper so I initially supervised her rigging the boat, which she had rehearsed with YouTube videos for both the rigging and also guidance from the RYA on how best to sail the boat. I then supported her on the water from a kayak with informal advice whilst she was gaining in confidence with the boat.
We were able to do all this whilst fully observing the restrictions for social distancing and the safe use of shared resources.
I hope this illustrates how we have gone the 'extra mile’, especially for our new members in the last 4 weeks, to help them get onto the water even if we haven’t be able to arrange formal training sessions.”
The Club is now reviewing procedures to restart racing, probably with Pursuit race format, and are also examining how to introduce on-water supervision for members with limited sailing experience, especially if they completed their courses towards the end of last season.
Other than losing 2 months of sailing from the season, and the impact of the current restrictions on sailing and racing, members are actively back on the water and making the most of what can be achieved within the restrictions at the moment. The Club is working out how best to plan ahead for events and races in anticipation of further reductions in the restrictions. Despite losing the Club’s main recruitment event ‘RYA Discover Sailing’ they are on target for new members, which is most encouraging.