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Simple + Fun = Participation

Published on June 9th, 2020

As the competition calendar crumbled due to COVID-19, the options for organized sailing were either to develop modified formats or wait for a vaccine. While larger clubs have lacked nimbleness, it has been inspiring to hear stories like this one from Chad Coberly about how his Laser fleet has reacted:

This story begins the first week of March 2020 when an uncharacteristically warm winter saw the ice melt on Reeds Lake, a small inland sailing venue in the middle of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I eager to get a few days of extra practice in before heading to Australia for the Laser Masters Worlds later in the month (which was soon cancelled), so a few of us hearty sailors donned our drysuits and went Laser sailing.

But by week two of March our state shut down due to COVID-19, and the local Grand Rapids Yacht Club on Reeds Lake padlocked the gates (with a new lock)! While Michigan banned some forms of boating (all powerboating), fortunately they did not ban sailing and luckily a few of us live on the lake.

With easy access to the lake from our backyards, the call went out for anyone looking to sail to bring their boat to my house and a couple others living on the lake also extended a similar invitation. With that, Coberly Yacht Club was born as I quickly had seven boats on the lawn and we had another eight at other homes on the lake.

Now for reference, our fleet has a good number of boats, 35+, but in recent years an average turn out during the best of summer days has been 5-8 boats. But when we started calling for sailing anytime the temps were above 40°F and the wind was blowing, soon we were having turn outs of 10-15 boats on the line!

With COVID in place, everyone was working from home and had nothing else to do (other than take walks around the lake looking at us out sailing!). Soon we had college kids climbing under the fences at the YC to sail their boats and rock star guests driving in to launch at my house.

We sailed a minimum of 2-3 days a week all through April and May and as the daylight grew longer we started 2 evenings a week plus audibles on the weekend. It has been phenomenal sailing – great spring breezes, low traffic on the lake, and super competitive fun (all while social distancing on our Lasers!).

We do a simple format with a 2 minute start sequence, self-started (by my whistle), W/L course with 3 small marks I set from my Laser, 2 laps with a downwind finish, and only minutes between races. Our target time on the water is 2 hours, with a goal to do as many races as possible in this time. We average 6+ races a session!

This format is great for practice – lots of starts, lots of tight roundings. We don’t keep score…maybe some bragging rights…but no official scores. We keep it simple and we have fun!

As the COVID restrictions are finally lifting, and the fleet now moved back to the GRYC, we are finding our numbers still strong at 10+ per session. This may be due to other fleets on the lake being slow to get organized, or that the big boat scene on nearby Lake Michigan is having a harder time amid health guidelines.

However, I hope our numbers remain strong because folks are remembering how much fun short course racing with lots of races can be. We have several new boats in the fleet with others looking to get in.

While we can’t say much for the COVID experience this spring, I can say it has fueled a resurgence in our Laser fleet and let us all focus on something positive. Let’s hope we can keep it up!

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