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From the ILCA President

Open With Care
By Hugh Hutchison
Posted: 2020-08-05T13:25:00Z

No matter what the source, be it Sailing World, Scuttlebutt, US Sailing’s Starboard Portal or similar publications, every outlet providing current information about sailing will contain articles addressed to the subject of re-opening…or not. This has obviously been a difficult season with reports of one cancelled regatta after another. We all bemoan the limitations placed on us and our sport by the pandemic and are anxious to resume where we left off. The Lightning Class is no different.

Our Summer issue of Flashes contains reports from a cross-section of fleets describing their level of activity and the approach they are using to re-emerge from lock-down and address the challenges presented by COVID-19. Each fleet has adopted variations on the theme of how to keep fleet activity alive while minimizing the risk to the health of their members. The response of each fleet is the product of individual features of the host club, the sailing venue and the personal comfort level of the fleet members.

I sail with Fleet 228 at the Riverton Yacht Club in Riverton, NJ. We sail on the Delaware River opposite the northern neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Riverton presents some unique challenges. The Club premises is limited to an historic steamboat landing pier, so space is at an absolute premium. Despite the limited space, the Club hosts competitive fleets of Lightnings, J-22s, Flying Scots, Mariners and Lasers. In the past, all fleets race on Wednesday evenings. The one design fleets, combined with PERF A and B fleets, result in fifty-plus boats on the river each week. When racing is complete, the kegs are tapped and the social gathering of all participants on the pier is a hallmark of the Club. When the pandemic struck, everything obviously came to a halt.


The Club leadership carefully debated the manner, method and timing of reopening. Given the close quarters that are a product of the physical reality of the Club premises, restarting with business as usual was out of the question as social distancing would be virtually impossible. The solution adopted by the Club was to schedule fleet racing by each fleet on different days of the week. Single-handed sailors compete on Monday evenings. The J-22s sail on Tuesday. PERF and Flying Scots compete on Wednesday evenings. Lightnings sail on Thursday evening and Mariners sail on Sunday afternoons. By limiting the number of sailors on the pier at any one time, this solution addressed the social distancing issue but raised other concerns.

Traditionally, fleet racing starts take place right off the pier with the flagpole on the Club representing one end of the line and a mark set in the river as the other end. This allows us to set as square a line as possible, which, in general, is in fact reasonably square. The starting sequence is signaled from the upper deck of the Club. Over the years, we have been fortunate to have a paid PRO to oversee the details of racing and scoring. A schedule that now includes racing each evening of the week has made this arrangement impractical. Each fleet has therefore made their own arrangement for race management with RC duties taken on informally by volunteers in one fashion or another.

Given the more informal setting, the Lightning fleet approached sailing from a conservative perspective and readily agreed that racing could include both two-up and three-up crews. Moreover, the fleet agreed that this year we would not maintain a running score to determine a fleet champion. Rather, the “winner” of each week is awarded a club burgee to display on their backstay the following week to mark their success. We still sail with spinnakers which means that boats sailing two-up can take on a remarkable semblance to a “Chinese fire drill” in the sometimes shifty and gusty conditions of an enclosed venue like the river. The more informal approach to racing this year, with no pressure to pursue a fleet championship, is also intended to encourage efforts to get new sailors on the water to experience Lightning sailing. Hopefully, this will result in a stronger and growing fleet in the future.

We all recognize that this year is different, and we are disappointed to be deprived of some of the positive elements that make fleet racing at Riverton such a great experience. We certainly miss the social aspect provided by tapping the post-race keg. Nevertheless, we all agree that we have reached a solution that meets our needs to be as safe as possible while getting us back on the water. For that, we are grateful.

I know that each fleet has unique challenges and is attempting to address them in the most responsible way possible. First and foremost, however, is to adopt as safe an approach as conditions permit when getting back on the water. I hope that each fleet finds a solution that works for them so that sailing, and specifically racing, can be continued in some format.

Stay safe and healthy.


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