Ian White lives in Paignton with his guide dog Kinta and has been supported by our Voluntary Visiting Service for a number of years. He started losing his sight as result of retinitis pigmentosa and is now blind.
Ian is a keen sailor, and earlier this year he took the opportunity to take part in a sailing weekend on the East Coast run by the East Anglian Sailing Trust. He was joined by Julian Garner, the Trusts and Grants Fundraiser at Devon in Sight, who also enjoys sailing.
My first sailing experience was with the Jubilee Sailing Trust on their Tall Ship Lord Nelson in 1989. We sailed from Plymouth to Liverpool, via Dublin, the Isle of Man and Anglesey, over an eight day period. We experienced all kinds of weather conditions, ranging from flat calm to a force 7 and everything in between. I have also sailed several times on South Coast Blind Weeks. These are hosted by various Yacht Clubs along the South Coast and now alternate each year between Southampton and Falmouth. I have also taken part in a Cross Channel race as well as sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, the Ionian Sea and along the Turkish coast.
The East Anglian Sailing Trust (EAST) is a sailing charity based at Levington just outside Ipswich in a marina known as Suffolk Yacht Harbour. EAST organise dinghy sailing for people with visual impairments or physical disabilities, and three cruising events throughout the year on larger yachts.
For the May weekend earlier this year Julian and I drove up from Devon on a Thursday morning and arrived at Suffolk Yacht Harbour at around 5:30pm, where I was welcomed on board my yacht Soulis by the skipper Ian and his crew Barbara. Soulis is a 37 ft Jeaneau so we had plenty of space.
On Friday morning at just after 10:30am we set sail for Brightlingsea. It was decided that it should be a race. There were 9 boats taking part, each with a visually impaired person on board. Earlier in the week the weather was thought to be unfavourable to make this trip. However, things changed during the last few days and the wind was ideal; North Westerly. It took five hours to reach our destination – we came second in the race – and we were all safely moored on the Pontoon at Brightlingsea by mid afternoon.
On Saturday we were heading back up the Coast towards the Orwell. Because of the Tide, it meant a fairly early start. The wind had also backed from a Westerly direction to more Easterly, making it favourable for our return trip. We cast off around 7:40 am. Again it took roughly five hours to reach our destination, the Royal Harwich Yacht Club on the river Orwell just down river from Ipswich. We sailed all the way, no engine in either direction, which was truly amazing. Although it was very cold, especially on Friday, a little less so on Saturday. we had no rain on either day, which made it more pleasant. Our Skipper booked our crew in for a meal at the Royal Harwich Yacht Club where we were able to discuss the day’s activities.
Julian and I wanted to make a fairly early start on Sunday morning for the drive home to Devon so we just had a short sail back from the Royal Harwich Yacht Club to our starting point at Suffolk Yacht Harbour. We had to do lots of short tacks along the way, before firing up the engine for the final stretch into the Marina.
I like the EAST events because I like being part of a crew on a Cruising Yacht. Although I have done dinghy sailing in the past, it doesn’t appeal to me as much. The skippers on these events are very aware of our needs; whilst safety is paramount and is at the top of their list, at the same time, they help VI crew to be involved at whatever level they wish to be, so I get involved with rope work, putting out fenders, helming using an audio compass and keeping the boat clean and tidy.
The EAST Coast may seem too far for some people to travel to, but there are a number of sailing opportunities for people with visual impairments in Devon including the Dart Sailability scheme based near Dartmouth (www.dartsailability.org) and the Disabled Sailing Association in Torquay (www.disabledsailingassociation.org.uk). If you haven’t been sailing before do have a go!