When the weather cooperates, that means getting outside to stretch your legs and soak up the sunshine. Thankfully, Bellingham’s Community Boating Center (CBC) recognizes the benefits of getting out of the house to and being in nature. Instead of cancelling their season, they have taken extra precautions to ensure the community continues to have access to safe and fun education, recreation and marine stewardship on glorious Bellingham Bay.
I recently spoke with the Boating Center’s new Executive Director, Bryan Rust, about how COVID-19 has modified their season. Before the CBC, Rust spent 10 years as the Director of Programs at Sail Sand Point in Seattle. There he pioneered an award-winning therapeutic recreation program, offering people with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities the opportunity to experience the profound benefits of being on the water.
The CBC programs have adapted in response to Washington’s Safe Start guidance, with plans to offer educational and recreational programs for youth and adults through October and hopefully a limited number of classes and activities into the winter months of 2020.
What’s Changed Due to COVID-19
The CBC has implemented a code of conduct that everyone must follow in order to participate. That code includes signing an agreement online before entering the CBC property, practicing social distancing of at least six feet, and filling out a daily health questionnaire whenever coming to the facility. Their code also requires a face mask or covering be worn at all times, except when swimming in the water and while practicing recovery from capsizing.
Formerly, classes, sessions and activities were limited to 12 students. In response to Safe Start guidance, the limit has been reduced to eight households. Siblings or members of the same family count as a single household, regardless of relationship.
Boats and equipment are also sanitized between each use and participants use the many hand sanitizer stations before handling CBC equipment.
Rentals of boats and other equipment are also now offered by reservation only, with a 30-minute gap between reservations to reduce overlap between patrons. All payments, waivers and reservations have been moved to by phone and online only to minimize contact as well.
When Whatcom County moves to Phase 3, the CBC would be allowed to increase its classes from 8 to 12 households per class as well as plan some in-person fundraising events. But otherwise, they’ll continue to focus on encouraging and enabling the community to get out on Bellingham Bay as much as possible.
Youth Programs: Looking Ahead to the Fall
The CBC offered a number of summer camps for students age 9 to 14 in June, July and August that encouraged kids to gain experience in sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. A group of teens age 14 to 18 also explored beginning and intermediate keelboat sailing.
Now that local school districts have announced that public school will begin remotely in the fall, the CBC has scheduled a number of After-School Program sessions to support families and provide opportunities for kids to build confidence through outdoor education, healthy exercise and fun in September and October. Sessions are broken into groups based on school grade: K through 2nd grade, 3rd through 5th grade, 6th through 8th grade and 9th through 12th grade. Each session includes four weekday afternoon meetings with varying start and end times. Elementary and middle schoolers will meet twice a week for two weeks in each session, while high schoolers meet on four successive Fridays.
The After School Program will cover sailing, kayaking and paddle boarding while integrating the themes of marine stewardship, Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and leave-no-trace.
To participate, students in 3rd grade and up must know how to swim and be able to pass a basic skills swim check. “Shorty” wetsuits are provided to keep kids warm as the water gets colder. Parents can feel safe knowing that all CBC staff have CPR/First Aid/AED certifications as well as extensive boating and youth leadership experience.
Don’t let the price tag slow you down. Thanks to grants from the Whatcom Community Foundation, the Corinthian Yacht Club and individual donors, the CBC offers a limited number of partial and full scholarships to help get kids in need on the water.
Ongoing Adult Programs
If sailing is your vice, you can try a 2-hour age 21+ evening sail on Bellingham Bay. This sail includes a tour of the sights, some natural history and even a token for a free beer during a post-sail visit to the lively Stones Throw Brewery in Fairhaven. No prior experience is needed on this trip that will help you get your bearings in the bay.
You can also perfect your skills through beginning and intermediate keelboat and dinghy sailing and even keelboat racing classes. Learn all the basics and everything you need to feel safe on your own, including docking and mooring, the intricacies of sail trim, and person overboard procedures.
Bellingham Bay is also an excellent location for sea kayaking. The basics are covered in an affordable 3-hour beginner class, or build greater confidence and dive deeper in a rescue and recovery class. There is also the Coastal Explorer sea kayak experience, an inclusive 3-hour paddle in the Bellingham Bay area. The tour route varies based on weather but will always include local wildlife and some of the fascinating history of Fairhaven and Bellingham Bay.
My favorite guided tour is the 3-hour evening Bioluminescent Paddle each Friday and Saturday night. This fun nighttime paddle takes you to nearby locations known for their bioluminescent bacteria that glow blue and green when the water is agitated. Patrons are provided with tandem sea kayaks for optimal stability and safety so although friends are not required, you will have a boat partner. Because this popular paddle fills quickly, you should book early to reserve your spot.
If you’re looking for some more Zen in your life, you might like the new Relaxation Float. Scheduled for the calmest times on the water—in the mornings and evenings—you can choose a paddleboard, or tandem or sit-on-top kayaks. Rather than focusing on skills, this paddle starts on land with a sun salutation stretch followed by guided relaxation practice and breathing techniques on the water.
Watch their website for fun special event paddles as well, including upcoming LBGTQ+ paddles and upcoming classes.
Rentals for Those with Experience
The CBC offers season passes and hourly rates for rentals for a variety of keelboat and dinghy sailing, kayaks, paddle boards and rowboats. A discount of 50% is offered to people with disabilities, Veterans, students and active duty military with valid I.D., except on hourly rental and family passes. Family passes include up to four people living in the same household, regardless of relation.
Insider Trip: Sailboat rentals require a 45- to 60-minute skills test for a fee, or successful completion of a dinghy or keelboat sailing class or refresher training. Sea kayak rentals require an acknowledgement that you’ve successfully practiced a wet exit and recovery in the past.
Private Lessons & Custom Youth & Community Enrichment Programming
Private lessons are often the most efficient way to gain the skills you need to safely enjoy the coastal waters of Bellingham Bay and beyond. The CBC offers private lessons in all of their watercraft for all levels of experience. The CBC is also dedicated to offering quality boating education and access to the youth groups of Whatcom County. The CBC looks forward to deepening their community outreach and collaboration with groups like the Vamos Outdoor Project and Veterans on the Water. Custom Youth Enrichment Programs are available by contacting the CBC via the Programs Manager, or by calling 360-714-8891.
How You Can Help
Because the CBC has offered classes at a reduced capacity to accommodate social distancing requirements, the nonprofit anticipates a budget shortfall by the end of the 2020. They welcome tax deductible donations that will help support staff and equipment, as well as scholarships and special outreach programs to catalyze positive change in the lives of veterans, children and the disabled. The CBC also has room for a limited number of volunteers and welcomes business sponsorships.
Perhaps the best way to support the CBC is by participating in their upcoming programs. Whether you take a class or guided tour, enroll your student in an afterschool program, or explore Bellingham Bay on your own using their rental equipment, the CBC encourages everyone to stay healthy. Get out on the water safely with their support and enjoy all the positive physical and mental health benefits that our beautiful Pacific Northwest natural environment has to offer.
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