Masked and Rusty: COVID-compliant Snipe Sailing

I didn’t need to drive to Annapolis to understand how much the world had changed since our last Snipe regatta, way back in February. But I did need to retrieve my boat and trailer, stuck in Miami since the regatta calendar went dark. So when the Colonial Cup was rescheduled, and a member of the Miami fleet offered to tow the Frankentrailer as far north as Annapolis, Kim and I decided it was a chance worth taking.

Sailboat racing is always a luxury, even for those of us who usually regard it as a psychological necessity. Public and private responses to scratching the competitive sailing itch now vary widely; by country, state—even from one yacht club to the next. Around the world, many friends haven’t (yet) had the opportunity to go racing this year, so I’m really grateful to Severn Sailing Association and Snipe Fleet 532 for pulling together a regatta in such challenging times. And since it may be my only regatta this summer, here are a few thoughts about racing Snipes in a COVID-compliant way.

I swear we’re smiling! Thanks to Will Keyworth/SpinSheet for capturing the new look.

1. Health matters more than results.

Before I drove down to Annapolis, Kim and I talked through our priorities and decided to take it a day at a time; if we felt comfortable after a short afternoon practice on Friday, we’d race on Saturday. If that went okay, we’d race again on Sunday. There was always the fallback option of packing up the boat and driving home a day (or two) early, satisfied that my primary mission (getting Snipe and trailer back to Rhode Island) would still be accomplished. Fortunately, thanks to plenty of distance between boats ashore and revised team priorities on the water, we sailed all three days. (I admit, I didn’t ask Kim if she was up for sailing the next day until after she’d had at least one glass of wine.)

2. Masks/buffs only work when dry

Since we live 400 miles apart and neither of us had been tested for the virus, we agreed that keeping our faces covered in the boat was a higher priority than feeling the wind on our faces (a subtle but quite important racing sense). That worked fine until Kim got splashed by a wave and found she could no longer breathe through wet fabric; this safety measure will not work in heavy air.

3. Psychological necessity: a distracting sense of normal

Besides writing, Snipe racing is what I do. So three days of thinking about wind shifts and stretching hiking muscles were all a great distraction from the stressful what-ifs of our current world; a lovely taste of joyous normal. I’m really, really glad we made this weekend of racing happen; it’s so important to take our pleasures when and where we can.

Our results? Well, they were mediocre—and that was, surprisingly, absolutely fine. Since the Worlds last October, we’d had only two days in the boat together (and that was back in February); we were definitely shaking off the rust all weekend. When I first stepped into the boat Friday afternoon, it felt quite unstable. As my muscle memory gradually returned, Snipe-motion became predictable again and I stopped thinking about my body movements. Saturday was breezy and shifty, so the entire day seemed unsettled—but by Sunday, we were more relaxed about both racing and sharing a small space. There but for one missed tacking opportunity, we might have even won the first race of the day. (Instead we finished fifth, an indication of how tight the racing was.)

Bottom line? I’m really glad we made this past weekend happen, and I would absolutely do it again with the same priorities: safety first, sailing second. But that is a very long way from “normal” racing, which places performance at the tippy top of the priority pyramid. Unfortunately, even for those of us who consider the pursuit of excellence as a defining part of our personality, a singleminded focus on anything other than health and safety seems like even more of a luxury than ever right now. So if you’re considering whether to host (or sail) a regatta this year, don’t be surprised if such a radical reprioritization of wellness over winning proves contagious.

Read more about how to run a COVID-compliant regatta (even if you don’t have a regatta chair who happens to be an epidemiologist) on SnipeToday.

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