Overcoming COVID-19 Challenges to Offer a successful Youth Sailing Program

Forrest Gay and Abby Featherstone are Youth Sailing Coaches at San Francisco Yacht Club. They are backed up by young temporary coaches who come on board each summer to teach four, two-week sessions at the Sailing Camp. Normally, Camp runs concurrently with San Francisco Yacht Club’s Opti Champ Fleet, Laser and 420 teams practices and training sessions. Additionally, many of the young sailors of these teams are also the youth coaches.

The roster was already full for a June 15 start date before Covid-19 closed everything in March. Multiple meetings were held, thinking the lockdown would be over in plenty of time to follow normal rules. By the end of April, it became apparent that the Camp might not occur at all, or, if it did, life would be very different. When planning for contingencies, Abby insisted she only needed two weeks to plan out the paper logistics. It became a waiting game of reading the new rules everyday and trying to interpret how to implement them effectively. Forrest insisted they would not cut corners or play to the gray areas of the rules. It was too important to risk closure for some infraction that could be prevented.

The timeline played out:

Day 1, May 22: County summer camp rules are released in the afternoon. Sessions must be three weeks and must be a contained unit of the same students and instructor for the entire session, separated in classrooms with walls. This unit must eat, sail and learn together with no crossover.

Day 3: Forrest creates the first plan and sends it to the BOD and GM. The biggest change is lengthening the sessions to three weeks with fewer sessions and the complete separation of coaches from other segments. It can easily create a coach shortage. Next, the first “Rules and Procedures” document is created for review, along with an on-the-ground model to judge the amount of space this will take up in the parking lot, allowing for separate areas for drop offs so the classes remain segregated.

Day 5: Abby confirms instructor availability and outlines the new rules for them.

Day 6: The overall pricing and financial model, with an increase in costs, is presented to the Finance Committee. This model included hiring extra coaches for the racing teams and the classes, the 10X10 tents, chairs, tables, tarp and milk crates to separate the classes, along with the increased PPE.

Day 7: The plan is presented to the BOD and is green-lighted for the Camp. Forrest and Abby begin to rework 250 kids and coaches into the new sessions, while also making plans for the youth race teams.

Over the following two weeks: Abby focuses on the scheduling and registration of the individual kids and instructors, which is a massive undertaking.

Forrest begins scouring Marin and surrounding counties for the equipment to establish eleven different outside classrooms with extra water weights, buoys and thermometers. PPE for the 11 classrooms x 3 sessions proves to be daunting, also. The cost incurred was about $15,000, and set-up was in the four days immediately prior to Camp.

Day 21: The Sailing Camp ended up operating on time for nine weeks with about 115% of past years’ capacity.

Forrest has some very important takeaways about why this was so successful. First, he did not operate in the gray areas, which allowed him to keep the county and parents happy and prevent constant inspections.

He also quickly increased the pricing for the sessions to include the extra coaches, PPE and necessary set-up. Most importantly, Forrest and Abby changed the way youth sailing classes had happened in the past. Instead of putting kids in classes by sailing experience or ability, the emphasis was on fun and activities.

All the kids were thrilled to be doing anything with other kids, their parents were even more thrilled they were out of the house, and a sense of joy surrounded the entire summer. There were no complaints by the parents over pricing, management, or coaching.