When the pandemic struck we were like everyone else wondering what it meant for Sailing and our programs. Very quickly we realized that we were looking at a major incident that changes the world in which we live. As we discussed the problem issues presented among our staff, parent families, board members and administrators, we came to the conclusion that we better get this right on the first cut. There would be no room for a “woulda, shoulda, coulda” syndrome that looks back after things have gone terribly wrong. Our responsibility to our community to protect those involved was imperative since lives could be endangered if we failed to protect our students and our staff.
The possibility of not having a summer Sailing /Aquatics program was quite sobering. This would have hurt the sail program in the long run by not having work for our instructors and could also mean losing them for the future. Added to this would have been the loss to the community and to our students. Our Sailing/Aquatics programs have become a mainstay for summer activities in or community at Tahoe. We knew from the start that there was a very real chance that we would not be able to run the sail programs during the Covid 19 pandemic.
From a programing standpoint, we were immediately aware that there were numerous obstacles that we had to identify and address in the process of developing a modified program model if we were going to be able to provide a sail/aquatics program. First of all, program planning had to address a number of identified issues the first being the necessary precautions to best prevent the spread of infection among staff and students. Another area was the requirement to address the California State and local Placer County health departments restrictions and guidelines. Along with state and county we had to address these issues and gain approval from our TCPUD Board of Directors as well. Our approach was to start with a scenario to comply with the CDC guidelines for the prevention of Covid. The next step was to match them up with the state and county health departments’ guidelines and come up with a program the mirrored the guidelines and best practices as the basis for the plan that we had to submit for approval.
One thing became very clear that program operations would be very different in 2020. In order to prevent our program from becoming a “super spreader event” we realized that our number of students would need to be much smaller in order to manage all the new requirements necessary to operate a safe program. Discussions began with 10 students per week for our Tue.-Fri. classes. After some discussion with health authorities, we were approved for 12 students per week. We also realized that our programming would also have to be significantly different from our standard programing that includes a variety of classes, clinics and dry land activities. This variety of classes has included 420/FJ clinics and classes, Laser clinics, adult co-ed evening classes along with novice, intermediate and advanced level classes, Tahoe Adventures (Teen)and Aquanauts ( 6-7 yrs.), our disabled sailing program and Laser and Pico race teams. This has meant that we might have 40(+ or -) students on our beach in one day. Realizing that we had very limited space on our beach and that we had to socially distance our students we came to the conclusion that program size would certainly be a factor in preventing the spread of Covid 19 and that reduced size would probably be a deciding factor in gaining program approval from the government authorities who were in a position to approve or disapprove our plan. Our program review brought up something that we had not considered during our first evaluations and that was the Tourist/Pandemic effect on Tahoe. More specifically, this effect on our beach area and our partner Obexers Boat Co who control access to our beach area was overwhelming. The phenomenon that we experienced was the results of California boaters not being able to live their normal boating lives in their own home areas. Because of the many closures and restrictions, they were forced to come to Tahoe for their boating and “boy did they come in droves” Projections from boating in data sources projected a 40% to 60% increase in demand for boating services that would hit Tahoe in the Summer of 2020. Obexers Marina (our normal home base) were projecting at least a 40% increase in demands for boat services. After extensive discussion about the potential for increased Covid 19 exposure to staff and students from this increase in tourists, it was decided that we would move our programs from Obexers beach to Lake Forest Boat Ramp and camp site which is operated by our program administrator the Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD). As a part of our program planning, we decided that with less students that we would only use Pico sailboats. This provided a significant logistical reduction in the numbers of boats and equipment that had to be managed. This was a good move because we were more limited on our new beach at Lake Forest. The change of venues proved to work effectively in that the TCPUD closed the camp grounds adjacent to our beach and allowed us much more room to spread out our students for our dryland activities. Program design developed by our staff specified that we would limit our students to 12 per week and that we would allow only one student per boat or paddle board. Programming also specified that classes would not be allowed to intermingle in order to reduce chance of cross contamination between groups. This was enhanced by having the entire camping site area to spread out our classes for dryland activities. We also set up instructor schedules that kept the same instructors with the same class for the week. Also, sailors and paddle boarders kept different time schedules for arrival and departure. Masks were required at all times, while on the beach or in camp with exception for eating lunch, Students were not required to wear masks on the water since social distancing of one person per boat kept them at a reasonable distance for one another in most cases. The steps outlined above combined with an emphasis on social distancing met the proscriptions of CDC and State and local health agencies and allowed for the augmentation of best practices for our program. Rigorous, daily cleaning and sanitizing was our capstone. All lifejackets, wet suits, boats and associated equipment along paddleboards and associated equipment was conducted using approved sanitizing products at the end of each day. This included spraying and wiping down of all equipment touch surfaces. We found that garden sprayers worked very well since they were large enough to hold a sufficient amount of cleaner and were effective in covering surfaces quickly. TCPUD purchased four sprayers so we were able to move quickly at the end of each day to get equipment including the camp areas sanitized for the next day. As a result of these procedures and maybe some luck, no cases of COVID-19 19 were reported from our programs during the summer classes. One of the downsides to our programing was the requirement was to have only one student per boat. Because of this we were only to enroll intermediate and advanced students from our previous classes or with proof of intermediate /advanced certification from another certified sailing school program. While we filled all the class slots in the first week of registration, we saw a major gap in our programing in our sail program from not being able to teach novice sail classes. this level and our aquanauts ( 6-7yrs.) are our highest demand from our community.
Our plan is to return to our regular schedule of programming next summer 2021, and to again be on our beach at Obexers marina.
Director of Sailing
Tahoe Community Sailing Foundation