Managing sailing risks amid pandemic

Published on July 9th, 2020

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
The variance in how each nation, region, and city seek to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and how these regulations are in constant flux, has contributed to the challenge of following these rules. Add in how not everybody likes to follow rules, and we see how eliminating this coronavirus is no simple exercise.

In May, David Miller used the example of Russian roulette while describing the risk / reward calculation. Every time we exit our house and come into contact with another person during a pandemic, you’re spinning the cylinder, pointing the gun at your head, and pulling the trigger. That’s bad enough, but you are also forcing every person you come into contact with to spin the cylinder, put the gun at their own heads, and pull the trigger as well.

Pretty dramatic, and our ability to accept his illustration likely depends on how close the virus has gotten to us. With less than 10% of the COVID-19 tests being positive, not many of us have, but if you know someone that got sick, you are more likely to better grasp the situation.

For each of us, we manage the risks, as does race organizers who seek to offer the recreation many of us desperately crave. But again, the variance is a head shaker.

In England, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) has confirmed that any overnight race would not adhere to the UK Government guidance currently in place. “The crux of the decision was based around the guidance that overnight stays away from home are permitted, but only with others from the same or one other household,” explains RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone. “So whilst a group of up to six people from different households can meet outside, and therefore race a boat (subject to social distancing), they cannot stay together overnight. Our medical expert also pointed out that it would be impossible to honor the 1m+ social distancing guidance when down below in all but the largest race boats.”

But in the USA, Bayview Yacht Club (Detroit, MI) will be hosting their 204nm Bayview Mackinac Race on July 11, taking the fleet up Lake Huron to Mackinac Island. Their commitment to focus on the positive and provide racing when very few others are this season has carried the club through revision after revision for how to minimize the risks for crews and race committee. They encourage everyone to be tested in advance and while racing to wear face coverings (“especially when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain”, e.g. below deck, on the rail, etc.), have frequent hand washing, routinely clean frequently touched items, not to share cups, dishes, utensils and wash items using gloves.

“Aside from staying home, there is no way to eliminate the risk of exposure and transmission while participating in any team activity during this pandemic,” notes BYC Fleet Surgeon Thomas Kopp, MD. “However, these precautions provide a pragmatic approach to reducing risk for all who enjoy racing in the Great Lakes.”

That’s a lot of variance…

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