Sailing will always give me that wonderful feeling of being free, out of my wheelchair and doing things nature’s way.
It all started on a sunny day, February 1997. Dad dropped me off at Belmont 16ft Sailing Club. A few weeks prior, I had seen a notice for a “Come ‘n’ Try Day” with Sailability and thought I would like to see what this is all about, little did I realize that it would open up an exciting world for me. I was lifted into a single-seated, 2.3metre long sailing boat, given a few instructions and pushed off from the shore. I was free. When I got home I was so excited about telling Mum and Dad that I had actually been sailing all by myself. They supported me in every way they could, taking me to regattas. Dad made a special seat so I could sit up properly and comfortably, later adding a Velcro belt after I fell overboard. These little boats are uncapsizable but can tip to the side and that’s when I overbalanced. I was rescued and ask if I wanted to go straight back out, Silly Question!
In my 18 years of sailing, I have competed in over 40 Regattas, at local, State, National, International and World Levels. I have numerous trophies and medals, including Equal 3rd in France where I sailed on Lake Geneva. Mum accompanied me to this wonderful venue, along with the Australian team.
There have been so many great experiences.
One particular day I knew there were dolphins in the lake where I was sailing. It was quite windy, all other sailors had gone in, I was heeling over when all of a sudden, a dolphin popped beside me and swam along with me for around 5 to 10 seconds. If I could have been able to put my right hand out, I would have touched it. I was overwhelmed with excitement.
I have sailed bigger boats solo that were adapted so the sails were made electric. They are called Liberties.
In a world event I raced at Port Phillip Bay in a Liberty, the race was called off due to rough conditions, however I was allowed to go out for a quick practice. The experience was out of this world, with the waves splashing in my face like someone was throwing buckets of water over me. I had no time to feel scared as I was safely strapped into the boat. It was far better than any amusement park ride I have ever been on. The best part was that I was in control on my own.
I love sailing so much that I have even written a song about it “In a little boat”. I would encourage anyone living with a disability to try sailing as even after all these years it still gives me a buzz to be out on the water. Whether it is calm or challenging, sailing will always be something I look forward to doing.