Thursday, 25 October 2012

A day in the life of Sussex Sailability

Hello and welcome to my blog. It’s lovely to see you again. If you're a first time visitor c’mon in, you’re very welcome.

As I mentioned last week, I’m focusing on disability at the moment so last Saturday I spent the afternoon with Sussex Sailability.

Sussex Sailability was founded by the RYA at Sussex Yacht Club in 2000 with the aim of encouraging disabled people to take up sailing.

Now in its twelfth year, Pat Jackson, one of the original founders said, “We are delighted with how it’s going. We started with eight boats, two of which were loaned to us by Andy Cassell, one of the first Paralympic sailing Gold Medalists.  Now we’ve got twelve boats, forty volunteers and thirty-fifty members.

Some members are in a wheelchair for all their waking hours. We can get them into a hoist and sailing within thirty minutes. After two or three sessions we let them lose on their own and they can say, “I’m in charge now,” and it’s quite humbling. 
It’s also superb for people with mental disabilities.  About 10 years ago we had a lad with depression. He wouldn’t even get up in the morning but he sailed with us and began to come out of himself. He ended up with a job in the fitness industry.”

I joined them on the last day of the 2012 sailing season and some sailors told me what Sussex Sailability meant to them. “It’s my life”, said J, “ I was in a wheelchair and it gave me a reason to get up and go. Now I help to teach other disabled sailors how to sail.” R said, “It’s freeing and it gives us equality with the able-bodied.”

After being kitted out with waterproofs and a lifejacket, I joined Mark and Gabi, his carer, on the Pioneer, a Ro-Ro powerboat designed to accommodate wheelchair users. Mark lives in a residential care home and has been coming to Sussex Sailability every 3 weeks for the last 7 years. Gabi says he loves it and he would have to because that day was wet, cold and calm.  

Despite the poor weather, John Mactear, acting joint chairman, was determined not to disappoint those who had turned out so set up a racecourse at the mouth of the River Adur.  Four Access boats took part, two of which entered into a spirited race. One boat was hampered by a rudder which had been broken that morning and sadly that's how it will remain because Sussex Sailability do not have the funds to fix it.

Sussex Sailability, like so many other voluntary organisations, is perpetually short of money. Its sailing fleet is aging and damaged sails and centerboards are patched up, yet nothing holds them back. As J said, “We’ll never turn people* away. Even if we have to put them in a bath tub, we’ll get them on the water.”

If you would like to find out more about joining, volunteering or fund-raising for Sussex Sailability visit or call 01798 812265.

If you would like to make a donation any amount will do but here are a few items on their wish list:-

Buoyancy aids                   £30
Ropes                                 £20-30
Waterproof trousers            £50
Trailer wheels                     £80
Waterproof jackets              £80
Rudder                                £150
Tin of anti-fouling paint      £150

It’s half term next week so I’ll be back in about 10 days with Alison Lapper’s thoughts on Lord Coe's statement that “we will never think of disability the same way” after the 2012 Paralympics.

Bye for now.

* Minimum sailing age is 14 years old. 

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