Oban Sailing Club has ‘shore’ way of getting back on the water

Out on the water. Photo by Andy Lockwood.

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All hands on deck has tided Oban Sailing Club over during the Covid pandemic.

Members and volunteers at the club’s Dungallan Park base have stayed busy and safe – on and off land

As soon as coronavirus restrictions started to ease, the club was able to start encouraging people of all ages to come back and have fun on the water again, taking advise from RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Scotland and sticking to government guidelines.

‘It’s always been important for us as a club to get this right so we have been  taking it quite gently and softly, being cautious rather than bullish with the guidelines because the Oban community has worked so hard to keep people safe,’ said Club Commodore Finlo Cottier.

When lockdown hit,  the club had just refitted its new kitchen and although it had to shut its clubhouse doors, members – many who had boats stranded in various yards, were still kept engaged with emails and some even took part in an online regatta.

But as tight restrictions eventually began to lighten, dinghies were safest first out on the water, three days were left between sessions to keep the boats virus-free and anyone needing to borrow wetsuits or other equipment from the club were asked to take them home with them.

Mr Cottier said: ‘We’d figured out our dinghies could operate safely. We are so thankful for the hugely supportive volunteers in family groups who came out in the safety boats to make that possible.

‘The fact we couldn’t do much sailing during Covid has allowed us as a club to get on with other jobs, too, so in a way lockdown has had quite a silver lining in that respect and it has also given people the opportunity to sail just for pleasure instead of racing each other for trophies!’

Mindful of the wider community’s plight, the club gave a donation to Hope Kitchen.

‘While we could not sail we could still at least do something for the community,’ said Mr Cottier. The sailing club also offered its own members a refund scheme if they were struggling against hard times. One member pledged to cover the shortfall to the club if it was needed.

Members and volunteers have used time out of the water to help clear up the dingy park that is council-owned.

‘Oban Sailing Club doesn’t own it but we’ve taken it on ourselves to try and keep it tidy. Anyone has been able to leave their equipment there but some of it has been left for more than 10 years. Some owners of the abandoned bits have left the area so we’ve been sifting through it, trying to identify what’s still in use and can still be used, and what is whose. We don’t want it to look an eyesore. We’re in talks now with the council  about how the park could be better organised and managed,’ said Mr Cottier.

There is also talk with Oban Community Sports Hub about taking on one of the boats from the now closed down Kilbowie Outdoor Centre for the community to use.

And partnership work is ongoing with the likes of Oban Bay Community Berthing, which runs the visitor moorings at the pontoons in town, the Wind and Wave Club at the University of the Highland and Islands, and Oban High School, which has dinghies at the sailing club.

‘We are always open to new members,’ said Mr Cottier. The club also has a temporary membership option for visitors.

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The bigger keel boats are also permitted out on the water now and recently there have been Round Kerrera and Round Shuna informal events rather than races for silverware with another of them, Round the Creags off Lismore, set for this Sunday, September 6.