Kingston Yacht Club navigates unusual sailing season

“When you took sailing away from the kids, they realized how much they really wanted to go sailing, which was a surprise to us, them, and the parents,” Harris said. “[The situation] renewed a lot of people's love of sailing and of our sport, which was an unintended silver lining.”

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Photo by Rachel Harris

The Kingston Yacht Club (KYC) is navigating an anomalous transition from summer to fall.

This time of year, KYC would normally be turning over its fleet of twenty 420 sailboats to the Queen’s Sailing Team. This year, however, Queen’s has suspended the sport under its COVID-19 measures.

YGK News reached out to Rachel Harris, program manager and head instructor, and Daniel Sheedy, 420 race coach, about the impact of COVID-19 on KYC’s junior sailing activities.

Managing the Yacht Club amidst pandemic

When initial COVID-19 restrictions were imposed last spring, Harris was in the middle of the hiring process. Junior sailing activities were postponed until mid-July.

“We paused hiring so we didn’t have to fire anybody in the end,” Harris said. “When we did start to run programs, I [consulted] Sail Canada, Ontario Sailing, and KFL&A to make sure we put together a COVID protocol that checked all the boxes.”

According to Harris, staff are expecting a similar summer next year and plan to reduce hiring and member capacity at registration.

“I think we’ve been really lucky because we’re a sailing camp and an outdoor sport, so we were able to restart,” she said. “What I’m personally planning for is another spike or complete shutdown in [the spring], so we might start programming a little later. We ended up starting midway through July [this year] and we might be looking at something like that again.”

Harris told YGK News that operating KYC under COVID-19 pressures has been stressful and demands “a lot of thinking outside the box and thinking on your toes.”

“It’s about managing expectations as well,” she said. “I’ve had to be the ‘fun police’ a little bit, telling people to stand back, put on your mask, go inside.”

Photo by Rachel Harris

Harris commented that COVID-19 adversities had unexpectedly sparked new passions for the sport.

“When you took sailing away from the kids, they realized how much they really wanted to go sailing, which was a surprise to us, them, and the parents,” Harris said. “[The situation] renewed a lot of people’s love of sailing, which was an unintended silver lining.”

420 race coach speaks on new challenges

Sheedy, who trains junior athletes on KYC’s 420 race team, was temporarily laid off last spring and rehired mid-July.

“The first big step was to transition to online learning,” he said. “We delivered sailing lessons through Zoom and did virtual sailing through a video game called Virtual Regatta [ … ] until July, at which point the Yacht Club was confident enough to put together an actual on-water program.”

Sheedy called the program “stringent” in enforcing social distancing and self-assessment protocols, with a strict mask policy on land.

“My program had four crews of two athletes per crew,” Sheedy said. “If you wanted to sail, you had to join the program with a partner and your partner had to be in your social bubble [ … ] so each of those [four] crews was within their bubble.”

“We tried to minimize the time we spent at the actual facility,” he added. “Our plan was to get on water, train, get off water, and go home. Normally we’d spend a lot of time briefing and debriefing, [but everything] we could do online, we did online. [We] basically spent as little time in physical contact with each other as possible.”

Sheedy and his athletes. Photo by Rachel Harris

For Sheedy and his athletes, a full day of training usually consists of six hours on water. Over the summer, however, on-water time was reduced to three to four hours per day.

“The other thing is that we’re [typically] training for regattas,” Sheedy said. “Our race team goes to competitions around Ontario, [but] we did not get to do any of those at all [ … ] there were no regattas this season, which was difficult for me as a coach.”

COVID-19 measures interfere with standard safety protocols

Under normal circumstances, the closest Sheedy comes to his athletes is when he needs to effect a rescue.

“If a boat capsized, which is something that is routine and happens normally [ … ] and an athlete is injured or too exhausted to get the boat up by themselves, I would have to get in close, removing them from the water or [getting] in the boat with them,” Sheedy said. “[This year] our biggest concern was avoiding a situation where I would have to do that.”

To avoid such close-proximity situations, KYC lowered its threshold for acceptable sailing conditions, imposing wind limits and aborting training sessions if the wind was over a certain speed.

“Fortunately, I didn’t have to effect a rescue of that kind this year,” Sheedy said.

A look into the Yacht Club’s fall and winter plans

“Members are still sailing and students are still doing fall training, so we’re doing that for another few weeks,” Sheedy said. “Towards the end of October, the Yacht Club will have all of the member boats pulled out of the water and stored away for the winter [ … ] the Yacht Club will go into its annual winter hibernation.”

At that point, KYC will become “less of a sailing club” and more so a restaurant and social space, operating in compliance with Ontario and Canada’s COVID-19 regulations.

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