Bridge over troubled waters – how Melbourne Sabre sailors are riding the second wave

22 September 2020

In a series of on again, off again COVID-19 restrictions since March, Melbourne Sabre sailors have found themselves stranded high and dry. Undeterred by the storm, the fleet has ‘re-written’ the sailing instructions; rigging up new strategies for community connection. 

The class’ renowned enthusiasm normally reserved for the rigging yards and racecourse, has rapidly switched tack to embrace online sailing development forums designed to share and foster skills growth, Sabrette Soirees creating a sense of connection and community across the female contingent and PR cross-State collaborations. While fortnightly informal Zoom catch ups have replaced after racing bar chats, boat repair checklists and to-do lists pre-empt a no excuse strategy for a return to the sea. 

Although some sailors have hooked into regular informal online social opportunities, others have maintained motivation by hurling heavy and light weight questions into the Facebook Sabre Development Forum. Ranging from how to improve boat speed, plywood boat rule changes, sail designs, centreboard rake, righting lines, mast sections and installing self- bailing systems, questions have been asked and willingly answered by all. 

The sharing Sabre spirit continued as Alan Riley, current go fast guru holding two Sabre National and State Championship titles back to back, invited fellow Sabre sailors to participate in several ‘all you can digest’ one-hour Q&A sessions. He says, “I like to think people have been learning from me, so will improve and enjoy their sailing more” and is keen to see the initiatives continue post lockdown.

Enjoying the information on offer, Randall Garnham from Black Rock Yacht Club, admittedly suffering serious sailing withdrawal symptoms, has become a further force to reckon with after participating in the sessions. “I learnt heaps from these. Alan and Murray O’Brien’s tips were great. Their knowledge on how to sail fast in various conditions and how to address our problem areas was great. I’m itching to put it into practice so watch out!” 

When asked what the most difficult thing about not being able to sail during this period has been, Sabre sailor Pam Webster remarked, “It’s the total physical isolation. I can’t go to the sailing club to check on the Sabre or do maintenance … or evict the water rats that might have taken up residence in my Sabre.” After regularly participating in Sabre Zoom events she comments, “I don’t feel isolated and it’s the positive attitude of the people in the class” that she has found helpful.

Lisa Barrand, familiar with Sabrette succour, sleepovers, and regular host of the Sabrette Soirees is confident the “Regular Zoom has been very supportive for people – beyond sailing.” Luis Mata says, “I miss being physically tired after going for a sail, and the sense of peace and relaxation that comes after sailing.” While Harold Medd, Mata’s fortnightly forum co-host and Sabre veteran shares, “I have always needed the completely absorbing activity of sailing to get me away from all other issues.” Both agree that the sharing of stories and getting to know each other beyond the club and a regatta has deepened their connection to the class and are keen to see the events continue. 

In an environment where most Melbourne sailors don’t have a compass bearing for the next windward mark, it’s been the collective display of will, determination and commitment to community, symbolic of a sailing class made up of people prepared to batten down the hatches and weather a storm together, that has seen Sabre sailors reinvent the rules to continue living out the class’ values. Values readily described by its members as, “Encouraging, supportive, welcoming, inclusive, friendly,” or in the words of Adrian West, “Awesome!  Seriously, it’s one of the best groups I’ve seen.” 

It’s traits like these that will see the continued development of a sustainable class of inclusion and participation. Securing Sabre success for the highs and the lows, the storm and the calm. In a class that can truly claim:

“Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.”

(Simon and Garfunkel)