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Should We Be Sailing? How Sailors Are Trimming Their Sails

How are sailors managing the current pause in sailing? Some are going sailing, some are still sorting it out, and others are getting together virtually.

Bella Luna
Jim and Meredith Tull slipped out for a peaceful sail on their Beneteau 321 Bella Luna. They live together so why not sail together?
© 2020 Jim Tull

At the end of last week, we received the following question from a local sailor, “I was just trying to find out if it’s OK to go sailing on the Bay during our shelter-in-place order when I saw the Summer Sailstice email. I couldn’t find any info, so I hope you don’t mind me asking for your advice.

“We live in Berkeley and our boat is in Richmond. I feel that it’s wrong to drive to Richmond to go sailing under the shelter-in-place order. My husband says it’s OK. What do you think? Couldn’t we be fined ’cause it’s not an essential activity? My husband says it’s exercise and we need to check on our property.”

We replied, “We’d hate to get between you and your husband on this or between your husband and your sailboat! However, everything we read says outdoor activities are OK.”

But that was three whole days ago. We heard there was an article in the paper last week with suggestions on where to go to “get outdoors and away from it all.” The result was that the beaches and parks in Marin County were so crowded that on Sunday the county issued an order closing all parks.

In our view, we’re all in a ‘pay me now or pay me later’ situation. The more we take this seriously now and do what we can up-front, the more lives will be saved and the less pain later. We’re not just trying to keep ourselves healthy. We’re trying to keep family, friends, neighbors and the nation healthy.

Hoisting the QFlag
We hoisted the Q flag both on the boat and at home.

That said, we do think people who own their own boats can find safe ways to sail them just as they can find safe ways to go to the grocery store. If you sleep together you can probably sail together. You can’t load a boat up with friends and just go sailing but, as long as you’re being as careful as you’re being in all of your other interactions with the world, it should be OK. We did see some boats on the Bay this weekend, but, sadly, like all activities, we think this is not something we can share beyond our own, very restricted participation.

If you’re not getting out on a boat, there are some alternatives to maintaining a connection to sailing. Like many restaurants, yacht clubs are inviting members to do curbside pick-up of takeout meals. The Long Beach Yacht Club organized a virtual cocktail party. Sail Newport held a virtual regatta. These are all great efforts to keep the community together and help us all get through this trying time, though we all know “there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.”

Long Beach Yacht Club
LBYC had to postpone the Congressional Cup, but, thanks to the now exceptionally popular app Zoom, the club got members together for a virtual cocktail party.

Brandon Mercer, the new owner of the J/24 Evil Octopus with his son James, wrote in to say, “I gotta say, re-reading old copies of the printed Latitude 38 has been my evening escapism. Thank you for what you do.” (You can read issues online back to 2005 right here.) If you want the April issue delivered, you can subscribe now and we’ll make sure it’s in the mail to you.

Corinthian Yacht Club
Members Jon Kahn and Jack Mavis pick up meals to go from Corinthian YC manager John Nicolai.

Naturally, it’s also a good time to get down to work on your boat. While you may not be able to assemble the whole crew to work together, you can take care of projects large and small that you meant to get done over the winter. Just like taxes, the deadline to be Bay-ready has been extended.

Ben Shaw
We came across Ben Shaw of Out The Gate Sailing. He was working on his new-to-him Hallberg-Rassy 35, which had just arrived from the East Coast.

So what should you do? Can you go sailing? First, despite the fact that spring is here, the Bay looks beautiful, and we can’t wait to go sailing, it’s not the top priority now. Yesterday it was OK to go for a walk in the parks of Marin; today it’s not. We’re not going to dispute the difficult decisions that the WHO, the CDC and local authorities have to make. In fact, we’re incredibly happy we don’t have to make those decisions or issue those proclamations. We all need to read the latest information available and do what we think is best, not just for ourselves, but for everyone.

That gets us right back to where we started. In any particular household, there might be a difference of opinion. Things are evolving so quickly that a noontime opinion might change by four in the afternoon. In the big picture we should remember that however long this lasts there will be great sailing ahead, and we need to all do our best to help out our community for the long run.

We simply can’t wait until we can start writing more about your sailing adventures. If you did go sailing let us know. You can write a comment below or send an email and photo to [email protected].


  1. Kim Paternoster 4 years ago

    A few of us went sailing in the estuary on Saturday – Ryan Nelson and his 2 kids on their Columbia 5.5, David and I on our new-to-us Columbia 5.5, and Krysia Pohl and her family on their Pearson 36. We were waiting for Dominic Marchal to join us. The plan had been an impromptu “Covid Race”, starting at the OYC start line, rounding the Jack London buoy, and back to the finish line. The only added rule was all crew had to live together. The race didn’t happen, but we had an incredible day anyway (despite the rain and hail). It feel almost normal, at least for a short time.

  2. john frazier 4 years ago

    Since i’m a long-term liveaboard in San Leandro,practicing “social distancing” is just a normal way of life!

  3. Chris Peterson 4 years ago

    I took our boat out on Friday by myself, which seemed like the ultimate in social distancing (I live near the boat). It’s been the best way to clear my head of all the news – at least for a short period. At the same time, it’s uncomfortable going sailing knowing so many people are losing their work. Everyone is affected, but some far more than others. I have no idea if this is apprpriate or a good idea, but could there be a fundraising sail to help those related to maritime business who have been the most adversely affected? Single hand and household double hand only? We need some creative brainstorming here. I know people want to help if they can.

  4. Chuck Cunningham 4 years ago

    We all must stay the course until the coast is clear, so to speak. If you and your significant other could walk to your boat and be confident doublehanding I suppose that could work. If we all hang in together, we all will have many opportunities to enjoy the sport and environment. No one knows who is carrying the virus. As a person well up in the age bracket, thank you for your patience and cooperation.

  5. Dennis Bailey 4 years ago

    My wife, who posts under Scaredy Cat Sailor on Facebook and Instagram, and I sailed on Saturday. Almost zero traffic in the harbor and one other sailboat outside with us. Seas 2-3 ft with a long period and winds 8-10 knots. We had the big tanbark Genoa, the white staysail and the tanbark main and mizzen. We averaged 4 knots! We sailed up to Cayucos and back. Beautiful skies but an unusual lack of sea life. It was one of my wife’s best outings.

  6. Ronald Goedendorp 4 years ago

    We are so used to others joining us that to sail without friends is unusual. So it feels odd that my wife and I went for a sail, just us two, last Friday. It soothed our anxious souls. We plan to do it again.

  7. Dale Land 4 years ago

    I went out (singlehanded once again) last Thursday, 3/19, I found only a few other boats & light wind and a “close encounter” (maybe 50 yds. away) with a suddenly breaching whale about 1 mile east of the southern end of Angel Island; it continued to surface for 15-20 mins then was gone! BTW, my drive from east of Sacramento, (again by myself with zero stops in between BYC Marina & home) is way easier and relaxing as the traffic is greatly diminished!

  8. Wayne 4 years ago

    Sailors are solitary often anyway so this should not be to great a change for them.

  9. Art Ewart 4 years ago

    Single handed sailing or sailing with the family members you live with is certainly as safe from the virus as walking one’s neighborhood. However, during this time of shelter in place orders it violates the spirit of the request (demand?). While is is far from true that yachties and their sport are engaged in an elitist sport, it is still seen that way by many. People on shore don’t know who’s in the boat. It’s not a good image for us.

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