Retired GP Jonty Pearce warns that an escape to leisure yachts runs the risk of COVID-19 disease spread and strain on local hospitals

As I started to prepare Aurial for the 2020 season’s sailing a couple of months ago I would have suspected an April Fool jape if somebody had suggested that we all might lose a whole year’s sailing.

But as COVID-19 spreads and the death toll rises the government has acted quite correctly in establishing an ever-tightening lock-down; all non-essential travel is already discouraged, and those seen on the road are increasingly challenged by the police and penalized if their journeys are cannot be adequately justified.

Going to the boat to check her or to take her out for an evening’s sail does not meet current travel criteria; those in marinas must trust the staff to ensure your yacht is secure, while those whose boats might already be on a mooring will probably just have to bite their nails.

Boatyards and hard standing used for overwintering will remain full of unlaunched boats; no matter if these areas were about to change their function to summer season car parking – there are no cars queuing to use them.

Despite the recent gorgeous spring weather, the waterways remain as deserted as our roads and town centres; sailing is not on the menu.

Nautical activities may not be the first thing on sailor’s minds – an adequate supply of toilet rolls and food (often in that order!) and staying safe and healthy is the priority.

Mercifully, the ban on travelling has put a stop to the flood of infected hordes abandoning foetid crowded London for isolated country cottages; tempting as it must have been for them, the risk of spreading Coronavirus to as yet unaffected areas whose health care facilities might only be adequate to care for the normal indigenous population is unacceptable.

Similarly, an escape to leisure yachts runs the risk of disease spread and strain on local hospitals; and if the choice were made to go offshore to escape the virus, sailors would need to be absolutely sure that they were not taking the infection to sea with them – medical facilities are scarce mid-ocean.

Uncertainty has trashed the charter business world; as cruises are cancelled holidays booked abroad will hopefully be covered by insurance, but in home waters it seems neither providers nor punters have properly realised the probable extent and duration of this crisis; companies seem to be concentrating on postponement rather than outright cancellation.

This can reveal loopholes in charter and insurance contracts; for instance, if a cruise is postponed but the charterer is not able to get time off for the new dates is that effectively a cancellation?

My own club has two UK cruises booked with the same company; while alternatives later in the year are being offered I, for one, have severe reservations that the current restrictions will have been adequately relaxed to allow the reallocated booking to be viable.

With so many chandleries, boatyards, tradesmen, and businesses being forced to close their doors I pray that the financial support systems announced by the chancellor will be adequate.

Many people will find their purses emptier; it will only need supply and demand to push up prices for hardship to develop. Either way, it will take a long time for normal life to re-establish after such a far-reaching crisis.

We should not moan about the suspension of our leisure activities and sport; there are far more important things out there.

On my desk stands a small frame containing an old Arab proverb; “I had no shoes and I murmured, until I met a man who had no feet”. I remember this trite saying in pride of place on my father’s desk (now mine) when I was a nipper; selfishly, I had always had the sneaky thought ‘yes, but I’ve still got no shoes’.

Times such as the current threat firmly keep me on track with the proper sentiment of the message. Families are losing loved ones out there, health workers are stretched to breaking point, and some medics have even lost their lives while helping the afflicted.

All communities must support each other and pull together in these uncertain and troubled times; as a retired GP I am completing mandatory training that I had hoped was a figment of my past life in preparation for being available for the COVID-19 Clinical Assessment Service.

I understand that returning doctors are not currently expected to be involved in face to face consultations; my heart goes out to the brave and dedicated clinicians fulfilling that role.

My yellow streak hopes that we will get the pandemic under control before I might have to join their ranks…

History has always supported our trust that normal life will return after disasters and crises have resolved; we must all believe in the future and joyfully anticipate that first sail.

Halcyon days will return.