Coronavirus puts sailors in uncharted waters

Apr 27, 2020

A two week shutdown put Mattapoisett Boatyard behind in getting vessels on the water. 

Mattapoisett Yacht Club already cancelled an event, and anticipates more interruptions. 

Marion’s harbormaster is keeping his workers socially distanced while they are installing seasonal floats. 

Burr Brothers Boatyard isn’t feeling the impacts all that much.

Harbormasters, boating businesses and yacht clubs are all facing a common challenge of preparing themselves for their busiest season, while trying to stay safe during the pandemic. 

Marion Harbormaster Isaac Perry said he has kept his three off-season employees working in shifts to minimize contact between them. 

He’s been able to keep that distance while preparing the seasonal dock-like floats where boat owners can moor their boats by having  one person operate the machine, another push floats into place and a third on the dock. 

He has already installed some of the floats, and plans to install more near the Harbormaster’s Dock at Island Wharf and near Bird Island. 

The harbormaster is taking it week by week and doesn’t want to release too much information and have to change plans. But floats should open on May 5, pending Board of Health approval. 

Perry is not too concerned about social distancing for individual boat owners on the docks, since most just use them as a place to launch and there usually isn’t much congregating. 

He said there are already about two dozen boats out on the moorings, which is, “quite a bit behind where we were last year.”

Still, if there is good weather next week he anticipates many more boat owners may want their vessels on the water.  

Elsewhere in Marion, Tucker Burr of Burr Brothers Boatyard said although his business is not where it’s usually at with the amount of boats in the water and slips leased, leases have been pretty steady.

At this time of year, he usually has already leased around 30 slips, so a couple dozen instead isn’t too bad. 

Burr and his team are still trying to figure out ways to keep people socially distant on their docks and are very conscious of the current situation.

Internally, the boatyard has been taking precautions like sanitizing and social distancing while working. It has ongoing, contracted projects, so it hasn't seen a shortage of work.

Burr said that the boatyard is “looking to get back to normal by mid-June or July.”

Mattapoisett Boatyard closed for two weeks before reopening April 7, which put it behind on getting boats in the water, General Manager David Kaiser said. 

Kaiser found it remarkable “how quickly everyone has adapted to the new normal,” though work at a boatyard means “we all kind of work apart anyways,” so it’s just adding masks for employees.  

He has, however, found his crew a bit limited because of family situations that require them to spend more time away from work. 

He said that none of the customers have cancelled their launch dates, but some have come in to do their own work on their boats, both because “they are home and they can,” and for economic reasons. 

It’s still a bit early for the real launch season, which doesn’t start in Mattapoisett until mid May, but Kaiser still hopes to have everyone in the water by mid June.

The Mattapoisett Yacht Club gets help from the neighboring boatyard to get boats in the water. The club relies on the town’s boat launch, so if that’s closed, he said it’s hard to get boats in the water and to the club.

The group has seen a lull in membership sign-ups so far this season.

“This is going to be a tough year as a yacht club,” said Commodore Kai Srisirkue.

Although their racing season is in jeopardy, Srisirkue isn’t overly worried about memberships because the 100 members that make up the club are tight-knit.

To keep the community together, the club is planning to host online social events like virtual happy hours and guest lectures about racing and sailing. 

The club will allow members on group sailing excursions throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but only immediate family will be allowed on each boat rather than intermingled outings.

One thing that it won’t be able to replace is the sailing season for Old Rochester Regional High School.

Srisirkue and his vice commodore help coach the team, and it’s something he looks forward to every year.

The team, which included two seniors, was upset it couldn’t sail this year, especially with a new head coach in charge.

Without the team, the yacht club can only look forward to hopefully starting the season in full swing on Memorial Day weekend.