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Getting going again: you have to start somewhere

by Guy Nowell, Asia Editor 19 Sep 2020 02:13 PDT
Good to be back on the water? Oh yes! RHKYC Autumn Regatta 2020 © RHKYC / Guy Nowell

Sailing in Hong Kong has been substantially hampered over the last few months as a result of Government restrictions and prohibitions in the name of social distancing. It’s been somewhat the same everywhere, we know that. Restrictions on numbers (of crew/passengers) on boats, restrictions on numbers on pontoons even. There was a ban on all “organised sporting activity” at one point. What some of us could never quite grasp was how a fully stuffed double decker bus (147 people + driver) or a rush-hour MTR train (250 pax per carriage, up to 10 carriages) was acceptable under prescribed social distancing measures, but a dozen people on a 50ft yacht racing in Victoria Harbour was not.

Even more odd, it was ok to go cruising, but not racing. Usage of even small boats was banned. You might think that a one-person dinghy offered the ultimate in socially distanced sporting activity, but (apparently) there was always the fear that he or she might meet someone else on the pontoon and stop for a chat. Anyone who has seen a bus queue in Causeway Bay will wonder why sailors on a yacht club pontoon were required to congregate in groups of 4-max, and with 1.5m between groups. The whole thing became so arcane that it was almost impossible comprehend. If you thought that “because I say so” is something reserved for five-year olds, think again. Around here, all you really had to understand was: NO.

There were some who got around the regulations with a little imagination. There was an event, not exactly ‘organised’, which involved starting (anywhere), sailing as far and as fast as possible (anywhere), and recording the miles. Or something like that. A raft-up at the end, at a pre-arranged anchorage, seems to have been an integral part of the racing, although the friend who revealed this to me couldn’t remember who had won – and couldn’t remember why he couldn’t remember. Suffice to say, a good time was had by all.

Another imaginative solution to “no racing” involved a gate start for a small fleet that just happened to be milling around a spot marked X, followed by everyone cruising around the same course and taking their own times at the end. Not an “organised sporting activity”. Certainly not. This was made even more ‘compliant’ by the fact that there were no more than two crew on any boat.

There is light at the end of the tunnel: last weekend the RHKYC was allowed to hold its annual Autumn Regatta, the event that marks the opening of the sailing season. This weekend 19-20 September, the Aberdeen Boat Club follows suit. Both Hebe Haven Yacht Club and RHKYC have resumed Sail Training activities, albeit on a restricted basis.

However, it’s a light that can be snuffed out all too easily – and that doesn’t apply only in Hong Kong. We can guess that when C-19 started at the beginning of the year, governments everywhere imagined that it would hang around for a couple of months (like SARS in 2003) and then disappear. Everyone was wrong on that count; however, it is worth remembering there are many equally infectious and dangerous diseases at large in the world that do not engender the same reactions as Covid-19. The real question is whether the ‘cure’ – lockdowns, damaged economies, bankruptcies, suicides, emotional trauma and more - is worse than the illness and death rate caused by the disease itself. Remember, 40 years ago we were being warned that AIDS would kill 30% of the population of the world. It hasn’t, and there is still no vaccine for it, either.

In the meantime, go sailing! Get out in the fresh air away from close-packed buses and crowded shopping malls. Do a bit of social distancing on a cruising yacht – sail or motor, you choose – and if you go racing please make sure that you keep boats 1.5m apart, especially at the turning marks!

Guy Nowell, Asia Editor,

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