The variety of sailing boats available is making sailing accessible for more and more people, including those with disabilities. Conditions such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness and paralysis are no barrier to sailing. There are many examples of people with a disability making great sailing achievements. In 2005 Hilary Lister, who can only move her head sailed solo across the English Channel using a 'sip and puff' system to control the sails and steering.
In 2007 Geoff Holt who is quadriplegic (paralysed from the chest down) became the first disabled person to sail alone around Great Britain. Andy Cassell was born without legs and hip joints but competes against able bodied sailors and in Paralympic sailing competitions. He set up the Andy Cassell Foundation to encourage other disabled people to take up the sport and assists disabled sailors to compete in and win competitive yacht races. Its aim is to also promote racing for the disabled and encourage the integration of disabled sailors into the able bodied racing community.
The sixteen foot Challenger trimaran was designed as a singlehander for people with disabilities to use and has been used successfully by all age groups. People with a disability report a feeling of freedom, independence and exhilaration when sailing, an opportunity to forget the wheelchair they use on dry land. There are about two hundred clubs around the UK which are suitable for people with a disability to use. They come with a range of specially adapted facilities including launching ramps, hoists and adapted changing rooms.
Many of the centres are RYA (Royal Yachting Association) training centres where sailing training is offered. The RYA sailability publishes a sailing guide which can help you find a local centre that is able to meet your needs. RYA sailability is designed to encourage and provide support for people with disabilities to take up the sport and develop sailing opportunities. RYA sailability offers grants to encourage clubs to provide facilities, training and programmes to increase participation in sailing.
There is also the flexibility of trying many different types of boat from dinghies through to sturdy keelboats which enable you to engage in competition with able bodied competitors such as the sonar, a popular choice of keelboat which has been used for the Paralympics. Other suitable boats are the Access range of dinghies which are specifically designed for those with disabilities and can be found at about one hundred clubs throughout the UK. The Skud is another new design used in the Paralympics. It is an eighteen foot long skiff style keelboat. The 2.4 mR and Illusion mini are other designs which are ideal for disabled sailors in competition.
Sailing for disabled athletes on an international level began in the 1980's; the first international regatta was held in Switzerland. In 1996 disabled sailing appeared at the Atlanta Games as a demonstration sport and from 2000 was included in the Paralympic Games programme as a medal sport. Paralympic competition generally uses keels as the design provides good stability and open cockpits to provide more room for the sailors. Since 2000, Great Britain has competed in the games and has maintained a respectable position on the top half of the results table.
This article was written by Gowrings Mobility, a leading supplier of wheelchair accessible vehicles.