USA-26 One Life J/99

Restarting racing during The Pandemic

I’m going to depart from the normal fun of writing about One Life to address how to go about restarting sailboat racing in the middle of The Pandemic. Those of you who also read Scuttlebutt Sailing News know my general view on the subject: Racing is not an essential activity as we’ve come to understand the term in the context of The Pandemic.

There is informal “household” racing going on in the Puget Sound area currently, but we (Kris, my crew, and I) have decided we’ll wait for the go-ahead from local authorities before we start racing. I’m excited to discuss it appears we may have the go-ahead shortly.

Here is some context for friends reading this from outside our area… In Washington State, the early surge of COVID-19 cases has primarily been confined to the three most populous counties in western Washington, plus Yakima county in eastern Washington (likely due to high infection rates amongst the farmworkers working hard to put food in our grocery stores and a high number of infections in long-term care facilities). We were among the first areas in the USA to see COVID-19 and among the first to shut down, which saved our area from the kinds of hospital and morgue scenes seen overseas and on the east coast.

As with most areas, we have a “staging” system to reopen. A few weeks back, our Governor allowed counties to apply to move to new stages. All of the counties across the water from Seattle have moved to a later stage. Yesterday, Martin Luther King County (where Seattle is located) applied for a “modified” stage 2 reopen — which is why this blog post exists.

Before I get to parsing the new rules for MLK County, I want to set out what I think are necessary baselines for any organized racing during The Pandemic. As a note to those who do not know me, while I am neither an MD nor a PhD, I have 20 years of experience as an analyst in the biotechnology and healthcare industries. I’ve authored and secured passage of multiple pieces of legislation at the state and city level. This subject matter, therefore, is one I am very familiar with.

NORs & Sailing Instructions Must Be Modified

The first duty of a captain is to keep his or her crew safe. There can be no arguing this. Race sponsors have a duty to safety as well, and I believe must do everything reasonably in their power to assist captains in their duty to crew safety. I hope nobody finds either of these two concepts controversial.

In this Pandemic era, NORs and Sailing Instructions need to be modified to require captains keep a record of crew and their contact information for each race. This also should not be controversial, as most of us do this anyway.

NORs and Sailing Instructions need to be modified to require three things:

  • Captains must certify to the race organizer they have set up a system whereby a crewmember on their boat is required to notify the captain if the crewmember suspects or has been confirmed to have COVID-19, or has been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case.
  • Captains must certify to the race organizer they have a system to notify their entire crew with the date(s) of any race this crew member was aboard, reaching back for at least 14 days prior to the COVID-19 diagnosis. It is 100% the crew member’s option whether they want to be identified to the rest of the crew. The captain must relay the notification to the crew within 48 hours.
  • Captains must then notify the race organizer if there is a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case among their crew, with the date(s) of any race the crew member was aboard reaching back for 14 days prior to the COVID-19 diagnosis. Again, it is 100% the crew member’s option whether they want to be identified to the race organizers. The captain must relay the notification to the crew within 48 hours.

Upon receiving a notification from a captain of a COVID-19 case, the race organizer must promptly notify all captains who registered for the affected race(s), communicating the boat’s name, marina, and slip number along with the relevant date(s) of the race(s). If the crew member consents, the crew member’s name can also be included in the notice from the race organizers — but this is not required.

Sailors are very used to the idea of pulling together to ensure the safety of each member of our sailing community. It is one of the things that made me fall in love with sailing. If we can all set politics aside for a moment, the rules suggested above are not all that different than the rules mandating safety equipment, safety training, and safety certifications part of all NOR/SIs for every organized race we participate in.

I understand the notification bits may raise privacy concerns for the individual diagnosed with COVID-19, which I why I believe it is important the individual controls whether their name is released to the rest of the crew or the race committee. The identification of the individual is not necessary for other crewmembers and crews of other boats to take whatever health precautions they individually feel are necessary.

These rules should help local sailing communities to remain healthy and not becomse “super spreader” cells like we’ve seen with other organized activities.

Back to Racing in Seattle

On June 3, MLK County applied to Washington State to have a “modified” move to the next phase, largely focused on relaxing rules on outdoor activities. The key components to this application, at least for purposes of this discussion, are to allow outdoor activites as if MLK County was in Phase 2. The plan also includes low-occupancy reopening of bars and restaurants (25% capacity indoor and outdoor seating, only 30 minutes indoors).

The key parts of what this means for crewed racing can be found in two Washington State documents, Outdoor Recreation COVID-19 Phase 1 Clarifications and Phase 2 Requirements and especially Outdoor Recreation Phase 1 Clarifications and Phase 2 – Update No. 2 COVID-19 Requirements. These two documents are the key to re-opening organized, crewed sailboat racing in the Seattle area.

First off, this would be racing without the organized after-race events unless the rules for 25% occupancy could be followed. In-person skipper’s meetings are likely allowed, as long as 6-foot clearance and masks are required.

For the crewed racing portion, we need to look at the “Update No. 2” document’s section on “Guided Fishing and Charter Boat Excursions”, starting on page 5.

During Phase 2, which is what MLK County is applying for in terms of outdoor activities, the following becomes relevant for sailboat racing:

  • In Phase 2, charter boats are permitted to host up to twelve customers from up to eight households. Boats with 8 or more customers are limited to one customer per nine feet of rail space. Social distancing must be maintained.
  • Require passengers to bring and wear masks or facial coverings on the boats. Crew members are also required to wear masks or facial coverings on boats.
  • Consider the space provided for each customer when determining the maximum number of people allowed onboard. Ensure there is 6 feet of rail space between each person, or 9 feet of rail space if there are 8 or more customers onboard. Limit the number of passengers permitted in the cabin at any one time to provide adequate spacing unless there are safety issues such as weather or sea conditions.

For nearly all boats in the local fleet, with the possible exception of the local ORC class boats who need more than 12 crew to operate safely, these rules appear to allow us to have crewed racing with crews from multiple households.

What we need to figure out is the spacing.

Irish professional sailor and coach Mark Mansfield provided some really good thoughts on this in a May 12th post on Afloat.ie, a leading Irish sailing site.

The difference between a charter fishing boat and a racing boat is, of course, racers have to move around. However, this is also true when it is “Fish On!” with a charter. This is another reason why I believe the rules for charters are applicable to racing sailboats.

Mark’s guidelines for crewed sailboat racing focuses on total crew aboard and where people are closest together, on the rail upwind.

  • Up to 26 footers 3 max crew per boat – Only 2 allowed to sit over the side
  • Over 26 foot and up to 31 foot – Max of 4 crew – only 2 allowed to sit over the side
  • Over 31 foot and up to 36 foot – Max 5 crew – only 2 allowed to sit over the side
  • Over 36 foot and up to 41 foot – Max 6 crew – only 3 allowed to sit over the side
  • Over 41 foot and up to 46 foot – Max 7 crew and only 4 allowed to sit over the side
  • And so on in 5-foot sized increases.

Mark also suggests these rules be added to the NOR/SIs to make sure all is fair for everyone. Mark puts his thoughts into context very well in one of his closing paragraphs.

I appreciate there may be occasions during racing that crew get closer than planned for short periods. This is to be expected, but that will be the situation in virtually all sports that will likely be competing over the next few months. It is incumbent in our sport to come up with a plan to compete as safely as possible. This is just one option, and there will likely be others.

— Mark Mansfield, Irish professional sailor and coach on afloat.ie

The rules proposed by MLK County, if accepted by Washington State officials, give us the window to get back to organized racing in the Seattle area. It will take some adaptation, and crews may be smaller to start. I strongly believe the difficultites are navigable and adding a notification system to the NOR/SIs will help keep our fleets adherent to the first principle in sailing — safety for all aboard.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to use the commenting feature of the blog. All comments are moderated to keep spam out (so there is a delay from when you submit to when they are posted, sorry), but I won’t otherwise delete comments except if they cross the line into politics or denial COVID-19 exists and is a serious health issue.

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