AT’s wheelie traveller Vanessa Waller learns to sail with Sailability, a non-profit organisation that aims to get everyone from the aged to the immobile out on the water
Freedom and independence are two attributes that attract most of us to travel and also to particular modes of transport. Planes, trains and automobiles all have their benefits and let’s be honest, when it comes right down to it, we can simply get around using our own two feet, right?
Wrong! For us wheelies, travel is not that simple. Whether you are dealing with disability acquired through an accident or progressive disease, or disability thrust upon you at birth, travelling with a wheelchair requires a great deal of research and effort and can be downright disheartening at times.
Probably one of the most frustrating aspects is the need to depend on carers and helpers for at least some assistance. We’ve come a long way improving facilities for travelling wheelies, but I have recently discovered what I believe to be the only method of transport that lets me feel free, independent and in control to the point where the true joy of it lies not in the destination but in the actual act of travelling.
So what is this magical conveyance? A sail boat.
Towards the end of last year, I joined my local Sailability club and it is the best thing I’ve done in ages. Sailability is a non-profit organisation with the aim of providing sailing for everyone, regardless of age or ability. The boats used by Sailability are called Access Dinghies and they are built following universal design principles resulting in craft that are almost impossible to capsize and can be rigged to be operated by pretty much anyone. My local club has combined with the junior sailing school and is using the Access Dinghies to teach children as young as seven to sail. The boats are also used by a whole range of people with all manner of physical and intellectual disabilities as well as older sailors who are no longer able to manage a conventional vessel due to pesky age-related conditions such as arthritis.
In my case, I transfer from my mobility scooter “Black Betty” into the Club’s wheelchair and am carefully taken right down to the shore where the wonderful volunteers lift me into the boat and take me out into the water far enough to lower the keel and check the rigging. Once that’s done, I am off and in total control, free to sail where I want, chasing the playful dolphins to my heart’s content!
Another great thing about Sailability is that you can sail as little or as much as you want. Most clubs charge a casual fee (usually between $5 and $10) for newcomers to have a go. An experienced volunteer will take you out so that you can see what it’s all about. If you are anything like me, you will very quickly become addicted and may just find yourself sailing competitively before you know it!
Even if you are a confirmed land lubber, you might like to consider volunteering at a Sailability club. There is no escaping the fact that us wheelies simply can’t manage to get boats into the water, nor our bodies into the boats for that matter. The volunteers are the backbone of the organisation and I for one will be forever grateful to all the wonderful men and women who give so much of themselves to allow me to experience fun and freedom on the water.
Perhaps one day I will be proficient enough to sail to a particular destination, but for now, the enjoyment is in the sailing itself and it truly doesn’t matter that I am usually travelling around in circles.