A Winter's Tale
Sailing Today|December 2020
After a summer cruelly curtailed by the global pandemic, racing sailors eager to extend their season are looking to winter series to fill the gap. So, whether you are organising or competing, Y&Y has a round-up of advice and opinion from experts, including Ian Walker
Ian Walker

The summer season has been blighted by cancellations, making it fair to assume that, despite the onset of the chilly British winter, this year more sailors than ever before would want to delay hanging up their sailing kit in favour of maximising time on the water. But is there evidence for this? Y&Y put the question to the RYA’s director of racing, Ian Walker, who has been leading the sport through these unprecedented times. Together with his team, Ian has been working hard to lobby government, interpret legislation, and create guidelines for safe sailing.

While generalisations are difficult due to regional variations in the impact that Covid-19 is now having, Ian is optimistic that a high level of racing activity will be able to continue this winter. “I think that where activity has been allowed there has been a real appetite to get on the water,” he says. “The events that have managed to take place have generally been very well attended despite all the challenges.

“I think people realise that the risk of transmission of Covid-19 out on the water is very low and people want to get out and enjoy themselves. We have seen plenty of pent-up demand. Home working and the reduction of international travel have both meant that some people have a lot more time than they used to.”

Since the initial lockdown was lifted, the RYA’s priority has been to encourage people back onto the water, while urging caution and emphasising the importance of following government guidance. It’s been a fine line to tread, as Ian explains: “Whilst it is important to protect the NHS and people’s health, we also cannot afford reputational damage to our sport, especially with government who have the power to make us reduce our activity.

“As far as this winter goes obviously things are getting very tricky with the second wave emerging in most parts of the country now. We do not think this should curtail sailing activity, especially for the youth and junior sailors who are lower risk, far more exposed at school and university and who have been greatly impacted by Covid-19 so far.

“We must also bear in mind that as the weather deteriorates it is going to become harder to host events and training without opening indoor facilities (note, changing rooms can be open if deemed essential). Training will become especially hard without the ability to brief or debrief indoors. Many of us also miss the normal social activity that is so important alongside the sailing activity.”

Ian’s achievements as a pro sailor are of course well known, but these days, alongside his work at the RYA, he also enjoys club racing regularly with his family. Asked for his personal view looking at the months that lie ahead, he replies: “I think winter club racing should be achievable as long as venues are comfortable with their Covid security. Some venues have many more challenges than others. I can see the likelihood of increasing travel bans which might make the bigger handicap events very challenging to put on.

“Throughout this crisis my concern has very much been about arrangements on the shore as opposed to afloat. I am yet to hear of a case of Covid-19 transmission between people as a result of them sailing together. Clubs have done an excellent job from what I have seen to provide activity and yet protect their members.”

Positive impacts have included increased turnouts at club racing, the introduction of innovative race formats, different tally systems, online briefings and protests, and local clubs working together to interpret and implement guidance. Looking ahead, the RYA is set continue support for the duration of the crisis, both for event organisers, and those hoping to compete. Ian says: “First and foremost we are here to help, and any RYA members or representatives of affiliated clubs are welcome to contact either the racing department (racing@rya.org.uk) or the legal team at the RYA.

“In order to give the best advice we actively raise questions with government stakeholders and work with our legal team to work out exactly what the guidance/legislation means for sailing clubs/events.”

For the most up to date guidance and advice, Ian suggests checking:

gov.uk/guidance/local-covid-alert-levels-what-you-need-toknow

rya.org.uk/programmes/Pages/ return-to-boating.aspx

There’s also further advice and links at yachtsandyachting.co.uk

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