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A shameful story and a warning to the sailing world

by David Schmidt 14 Sep 16:00 BST September 14, 2021
A view of Bellingham Bay from Clark Point © David Schmidt

When I was a kid growing up in East Coast yacht-club circles, it was expected that one would maintain a certain level of behavior and decorum around the YC. Often this meant wearing ties and blazers to prize-giving events, not running inside the clubhouse or on the docks, and generally exhibiting the kind of good behavior that would make one's mom smile if they received an unsolicited third-party report. Mind you, this good behavior was mixed with a certain amount of a catch-me-if-you can attitude that often-involved shenanigans such as water-balloon wars on no-wind junior-sailing days, perhaps a few too many sodas from the snack bar (read: sugar highs), or maybe an old-fashioned game of steal your friends' stern plugs.

And of course, there were occasional instances of adults letting their behavior slide a bit south, usually when an overly generous bar tender was on the scene.

But none of this rises even close to the level of the behavior displayed by an adult member of a Washington State yacht club at a recent event.

In fairness to the individual, to the YC, and to the regatta, I am obscuring all identifiable facts. (That said, this incident is all over the internet, so if you're a Curious George, Google away).

Here's the story, as I understand it.

Sometime in the recent past, the club hosted a small-but-well-attended regional regatta. As per usual, a skipper's meeting took place on Friday evening, ahead of racing, followed by several days of on-the-water competition. The club in question had relatively sturdy Covid-19 protocols in place, but the individual in question, who I understand to be consciously unvaccinated, declined to wear his mask at the meeting or around his crew on Saturday.

It was only after racing all day Saturday that this individual revealed that his wife was at home sick with a confirmed case of Covid-19.

His crew purportedly (and wisely) staged a coup, thus ending this individual's regatta, but this was just the beginning of the collateral damage.

Afterall, he had exposed many people to Covid-19. And he himself would also go on to test positive.

To cut a long and awful story short, many regatta participants—including some of my friends—got stuck in quarantine, the YC had to cancel events and close its doors, and the individual has had their YC membership and privileges suspended until a formal meeting with the YC board of trustees can take place (as I understand the situation, the individual is now quite sick with Covid, so provided he survives, he can look forward to a stern reckoning on the other side).

While I applaud this YC for taking this swift action, the only fate that suits this behavior is lifetime expulsion, both from the YC and from organized sailing.

Say what you will about vaccines and "freedom", but as a libertarian friend of mine likes to say, "my right to swing my arms stops the second my hand glances your nose".

It's fair to say that this individual more than glanced some noses. It's also fair to say that his behavior falls into the gross-negligence category.

I truly hope that this is a one-off situation in the sailing world—the tale of one ignorant and socially tone-deaf sailor, not a greater situation of adult YC members playing out culture wars by attending YC events unmasked and consciously unvaccinated, thinking that this is somehow the 2021 equivalent of hurling water balloons at one's friends on a hot August day (and yes, I understand that spent water balloons are not good for the environment, but that's a different story) or stealing the rival club's burgee.

Sailing is, and always has been, a great privilege. But this is probably never truer than during a pandemic that has seen many organized sports and activities forced to halt activities and socially distance. We are incredibly lucky that ours is an outdoor sport that can be safely enjoyed against a backdrop of a pandemic that has now claimed some 4,550,000 lives, globally. But it goes without saying that selfish, childish, and truly ignorant behavior such as that of this regatta attendee could potentially ruin a great thing for the rest of us.

This sure isn't to say that YCs and regattas need to be stuffy affairs that involve perfectly straight-backed behavior at all times. But they do need to be safe and welcoming environments that give people the chance to relax, to engage in on-the-water competition, and to simply hang with friends new and old, sans the fear of an impending quarantine or sickness.

After all, this is sailing, a sport that has long embraced science and technology, giving us physics-defying boats like AC75s, F50s and the newly announced AC40s, and-long ago- helping prove that the world isn't flat.

Don't we, as a community of sailors, owe it to ourselves to exhibit better behavior?

And more pointedly, if YC bylaws aren't enough to stop ignorant and utterly selfish behavior, when does the Golden Rule kick in?

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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