2020: The Covid-19 year and the yachting scene

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Michael Mifsud is the general manager of Yachting Malta, president of the Malta Sailing Federation and Sailing secretary of the Malta Laser Class Association

This was an extraordinary year for everyone and every industry, not least for the yachting sector.

Mhe yachting scene is composed of the recreational and the sporting arms. While many sporting events were postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic, recreational boating suffered due to travel restrictions.

However, not all was bleak, boat charter companies registered a decline in tourist booking, but locals, yearning to travel but could not, partook in local staycations, which saw an increase in local charters by Maltese clients. Yachting Malta was the first entity to promote a local promotional campaign in support of local charters. The campaign, which took place mainly on social media and aired during prime time on the national television station, received very positive feedback.

To aid the yacht servicing sector that was suffering due to the travel ban imposed by the health authorities, Yachting Malta and Transport Malta coordinated an exemption from 5 June for transiting yachts with only crew on board for the purpose of refueling, repairs, servicing, flagging, custom procedures and other ancillary necessities. This brought the much-needed work for the local superyacht shipyards that had grinded to a halt.

This year boat importers saw a substantial increase particularly in small boat sales particularly relating to the sale of jet skis and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBS). Orders for new boats continued right into the summer months. The closure of schools, churches, restaurants and bars saw many boating families finding more time to enjoy social distancing on the family boat. The travel restriction also meant that most boaters enjoyed their cruising in local waters. Bays were packed with all forms of seacraft throughout the summer months. On the other hand, marina operators reported a decreased number of foreign visitors to their visitor berths.

With the restrictions on public events, most sporting events ended up being cancelled or postponed. This included the popular Voomquest championship, a number of sailing regattas and the inaugural Yachting Malta Race Week that was planned to take place in May. The closure of clubs between March and June meant that sailing clubs could not offer coaching to their athletes. With the easing of restrictions in July all sailing clubs returned to training with new safety and distancing protocols.

This year saw the largest number of new children taking up sailing, probably due to the fact that sailing is one of the safest sports with regards to Covid-19 transmission since it is an individual sport that allows athletes to stay six to eight feet apart. Even here, Yachting Malta played its part by assisting clubs with coaching expenses. During this period, Yachting Malta also launched its sustainability guidelines and pushed for more sustainability awareness by installing RO plants and distributing reusable bottles to sailors.

The Rolex Middle Sea Race, hosted by the Royal Malta Yacht Club was one of the first events to be held even in the international circuit. The strict protocol that this regatta adopted ensured that this event was a marked success. Once again the local yacht Elusive 2 won 1st overall, jointly skippered by Maya, Christoph and Aaron Podesta. Elusive 2 achieved something no boat had managed since 1980, winning back to back races.

2020 also brought a revival in windsurfing. Yachting Malta is noticing the renewed interest in the sport and supported the Malta Young Sailors Club which hosted the Yachting Malta Windsurfing Festival. The success of this event saw Yachting Malta also pledging to keep on supporting this revival. Malta had garnered international success in the1980s and 1990s in this sport.

In November, Yachting Malta had to reluctantly postpone its first boat show. It is hoped that this show will now take place between 3 and 7 November 2021.

And as the saying goes, “while the pessimist complains about the wind the sailor adjusts his sails” so has the Yachting sector; it has so far weathered the storm, made the most of it and looks forward towards the return to normality as soon as possible.

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