HARWICH – After spending much of the spring isolated and indoors, folks are itching to get outside. Ted Baylis, president of Pleasant Bay Community Boating, suggests giving sailing a try, especially now that PBCB is officially open for the summer.
“It’s been an ongoing process all spring,” Baylis said of plans for reopening. “Ever since the pandemic hit in March, we’ve been back and forth. Our board usually meets in March and again in August, but we’ve had board meetings all spring trying to figure this out.”
Baylis said initially, there was much concern as to whether PBCB would be allowed to reopen, especially as area camps, such as Cape Cod Sea Camps, announced that they would not.
“But each individual camp has their own unique circumstances, requirements, and priorities,” Baylis said.
Then, when the state’s phase reopening plan came out, PBCB folks were cautiously optimistic to note that general boating was included in phase 1. Baylis realized that the guidelines would allow adult and family sailing because family groups could utilize a single boat, and PBCB has boats that can be sailed single-handedly, by one operator.
What PBCB wasn’t sure about was its youth sailing courses and the Discovery Science and Sailing camp, an all-day program that teaches kids the STEM aspects of sailing, since the classes and camps fell under phase 2 and the guidelines hadn’t been released yet. Once those guidelines were announced, Baylis said that while it would take some strategizing, reopening was more and more possible.
Armed with questions on how best to keep kids separate from each other and from adults in the adults sailing programs as well as how to ensure campers wear masks throughout the day, among a host of other potential issues, PBCB staffers went to work formulating a plan with specifics for keeping people safe.
“We spent a lot of time trying to figure these things out,” Baylis said. “The biggest thing we’re doing is single-handed sailing, putting the kids in small, single-handed boats, and instructors will be in coach boats next to them, either a motorboat or another sailboat.”
Traditionally, roughly a half dozen kids would be in a boat with an instructor, or captain. The new system, with smaller boats and instructors in separate vessels, is necessary to maintain social distancing. There will also be a good deal of onshore instruction using a stationary boat with full rigging to give kids the basics before they hit the water.
While sailing lessons are limited to a few hours several days per week, the science and sailing camp is an all-day affair that came with its own set of requirements pertaining to parent drop-off, camper check-in, social distancing in the PBCB classroom, and what sailing instruction would look like. As the PBCB folks ticked off the boxes on a thorough checklist, it became clear that reopening could happen. But first, permission was needed.
At that point, it was up to the Harwich Board of Health on whether to approve of the plans for reopening, which it did after the submission of a finely detailed 15-page plan offering guidance on everything from camper check-in, traffic patterns in the parking lot, on the grounds, and even the dock, social distancing, the installation of hand sanitizer dispensers, and more.
June 29 was the camp’s first day and unfortunately for campers, thunderstorms with lightning risks canceled youth sailing, but the sail and science camp continued. Numbers for the camp are limited for the moment as PBCB determines how the current plan is working.
“Whether you put three kids in a boat with one instructor or three kids each in their own little boats with an instructor alongside, that would enable us to potentially keep the same number of kids,” said Baylis. “But we are finding that we have to increase our student-to-instructor ratio. You start putting three or four kids in their own boats, maybe one instructor isn’t going to be able to safely supervise them, as opposed to three or four kids in one boat with a captain.”
Baylis said that creates a cost concern. PBCB is a non-profit covering roughly half of its costs through donations, but the organization is hopeful it’ll be able to continue to expand capacity as the season progresses.
For those interested in sailing instruction, PBCB’s youth sailing courses include several different levels, with the ultimate goal being to get kids comfortable on the water. There are courses for beginners on up to competitive sailors, and another course called Kids Messing About in Boats for those not into racing.
“A lot of sailing has taken the path of competition. At a lot of yacht clubs, you learn to sail and then learn to race,” Baylis said. “That has a purpose because you learn the rules of the road and competition is fun. But some kids, they don’t want to race. They just want to mess around, go on a scavenger hunt, see how many times they can capsize and get back up. They just want to have fun.”
There are also sailing classes for adults and families, which include two levels, beginner for learning basic skills, and a more advanced course to help people feel comfortable enough to rent boats and go sailing on their own. There is a catboat program, as well, for those preferring a more relaxing sailing experience, with input from Suzanne Lahey, a local builder and catboat aficionado.
But PBCB isn’t just about sailing. They also want to encourage people through their marine education and environmental stewardship to understand and respect the marine environment beneath the waves. Offerings include a safe boating program and a Friday Speaker Series, which brings in local professionals to speak on topics such as local climate change impacts, kelp aquaculture, green energy, local marine ecosystems, whale protection efforts, and more.
The program Baylis said PBCB isn’t certain about is the organization’s Universal Access Programming, which offers programs for blind and vision-impaired sailing and kayaking, veterans sailing and kayaking, and Special Olympics sailing. The concern, particularly regarding blind and visually impaired sailors, is that they use touch to gain information, which poses concerns regarding the pandemic.
“They get around by touch and need a sighted guide right at their side, two feet, not six,” Baylis said, adding that they’ll likely stick to kayaking. All boats, he noted, will be cleaned and sanitized in between each use.
PBCB also offers Senior Sailing, working with local councils on aging, but the concern is whether students will be comfortable in boats alone with an instructor nearby, or if an instructor would be needed in the same boat, which could mean the program might need to take the year off.
Right now, guidelines state that up to 10 people can be on a boat of a certain size, providing they are all masked, but Baylis said PBCB is all about taking baby steps.
“If Massachusetts is successful at reopening and not having the spikes that some of the other states have seen, I think we’ll all feel a lot more comfortable about keeping our distance and being smart about wearing masks when we can,” he said.
Baylis said there’s nothing quite like the sport of sailing.
“What better thing can there be than to get in a boat and sail around the bay, have a picnic,” he said. “You’re out in the fresh air. You’re not near anybody else. I can’t think of anything that would be more welcome to the community than healthy, outdoor, unplugged, recreation, especially after sitting in front of the Zoom screens all spring.”
For more information on sailing instruction and course offerings at Pleasant Bay Community Boating, visit pbcb.cc.