The boating season in Atlantic Canada will be charting a course through COVID-19 waters this summer.
“While I think organized sailing is going to take a bit of a hit this season, I think family-centred sailing and general recreational sailing is going to be off the charts this year,” said Ryan Kelly, outgoing president of Sail Newfoundland and Labrador in an interview. “I say that because it’s a socially distanced-friendly sport and an opportunity to get outside.”
With the four Atlantic provinces basically shutting down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a happy day in mid-May for boaters and sailors in Nova Scotia when the province gave the go-ahead that recreational boating and sailing could resume.
“That was very encouraging,” said Frank Denis, executive director of Sail Nova Scotia.
“In their messaging they did say only recreational boating for now. We can’t have competitions or do any training programs, particularly at the youth level, so right now we’re in the process of putting together a return to competition plan with modifications so that clubs that can hold competitions and regattas in a safe manner while respecting the public health measures put in place by the province and then the next task is to put together something similar for youth learn to sail programs that respect the public health measures.”
Boat owners in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick were also readying their vessels for the water from mid to late May.
“A few boats have begun to launch in a controlled fashion in P.E.I.,” said Ellen MacPhail, executive director of Sail PEI. “Strict rules are in place to ensure health directives are kept intact.”
MacPhail said Sail PEI’s clubs are taking measures to prepare for the summer through establishing guidelines to open clubs given current directives. “Sail PEI and member clubs are in line with the guidelines from Sail Canada. In addition, each club is developing an Operational Plan as required by our provincial government to re-open for the safety of our boating community. It is still too soon to forecast on water activities given the current situation.”
Sharon Mills, executive director of Sail New Brunswick, said most boat owners in that province were planning to launch at the end of May, with the exception of Shediac, where it was going to be later because of ongoing repair/replacement work to docks that were wrecked last September when Hurricane Dorian blew through. “They had a lot of damage,” she said. “They had to order a new docking system” and were still waiting for delivery in late May.
In Newfoundland, boats at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club were the first off the yard, mostly because of the damage sustained there in a severe winter storm in January, said Kelly. “They needed to get the boats out of the way to fix the property,” he said.
All four sailing associations in Atlantic Canada have been working with Sail Canada on a multiphase return-to-play plan. Mills said the sailing associations are in constant communication with “a lot of Zoom meetings and conference calls” and weekly updates from Sail Canada.
Both Mills and Kelly said it was doubtful sailing schools will resume before August, and even then, “it’s not looking great,” said Mills. “We might have some sort of informal sailing school with limited numbers of course. The clubs are trying to decide if it’s even feasible to try and run a school with small numbers…everything is kind of up in the air.”
Kelly said as far as programming for July goes, “I think it’s going to be mostly family bubble-centred which is fine. You can get siblings and spouses out on the water. As far as sailing schools, I don’t think we’re going to see that until August maybe.”
Denis said in other jurisdictions who are ahead of Atlantic Canada as far as weather goes, yachting clubs have been running modified regattas with great success. “Lots of family regattas, double handed, single handed, they’re seeing a huge increase in participation because of it. It will be interesting to see how it goes from here. A number of clubs are already making those plans for family events and regattas. It won’t be as serious. It’s just go sailing and race, and have some fun with it.”
Mills said clubs in New Brunswick are also hoping to do a few little regattas. “If it happens, it will be kind of last minute and organized by a few people,” she said.
Kelly said the Newfoundland provincial regatta has been tentatively rescheduled for Labour Day weekend but other than that, everything is on hold. “I don’t see why the racing season can’t go ahead but we haven’t had that conversation yet.”
Denis said in Nova Scotia, “We’re hopeful that by early June we’ll be racing and training kids again. We’re hopeful we’ll have a good season, a fun season, it will certainly be different but I think people are going to make the best of it and understand the seriousness” of the COVID-19 situation.