Blind Sailing’s relationship with the Island is approaching 30 years. It started with UKSA and to this day they continue to show their support for the charity. They give us a base where all can meet to have a social drink, but they also provide classrooms for training as well as sponsoring a RIB and fuel for safety on the water. The exceptionally friendly staff always goes the extra mile to help our weekends be a success.
Over the years we have the formed friendships with Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club, a place that always has open doors to support a space for lunch or a break from the cold, and over the last four years they have hosted the Blind Sailing Nationals alongside the support of the Island Sailing Club who, each year, have provided winter and summer Sonars to train in.
The weekend of the 23rd and 24th March saw 15 visually impaired sailors arrive on the island - traveling from all over the UK - Newcastle, Bristol, Devon, Southend on Sea and many more. The weekend was supported by 15 volunteers, including three of our vitally important Guide Dog sitters.
The aim of the charity is to provide opportunities for all and this weekend we watched everyone in the team grow.
On Saturday, we welcomed Hannah Stodel from Hannah Stodel Racing to provide inspiration to some of our new sailors. As a Paralympian sailor and three times World Champion, she has spent many years campaigning in a Sonar - so what better person to take them out for their first sail on the Solent and sail in a sonar. Hannah said it was great to be back in a Sonar but in particular she enjoyed watching Rakhee take the helm for the first time, feel the breeze and make her own adjustments, even in the light winds. It’s something you can teach but when someone jumps on board and you can see from the questions they ask that they are building a visual picture - it is something very special.
On the other side of the race track, the more advanced sailors - both sighted and visually impaired - had put themselves forward for selection for the 2019 Blind Sailing Fleet Racing World Championships.
Martin Phillips, who has been out for two years due to ill health, was back on the water and said, “it’s such a great feeling - not just to be back on the water, but also to be back as part of the group. The group has grown, but just by sharing stories in the bar, the first night made me forget I had been away. Being in a healthy place to be able to go for selection has been my goal when recovering, being selected to represent your country is something very special.”
Saturday saw a light breeze with a strong tide, this meant that all the winter training in dinghy’s needed to be put into practice. One tack a bit too far through the wind and the sonar would shoot sideways in the tide. Communication had to be clear and body weight movement were key.
With two safety boats on standby for when the tide turned, the team under Ben Hazeldine looked at who had advantage in their sailing - sail trim, smooth helming staying on the breeze and being able to move around the boat, looking for the right team to represent Great Britain.
Saturday evening was fun and games, with some learning rules ready for the day ahead. Others took up the five knot challenge. The aim? To tie the fastest knots. Imagine you are totally blind and tying each knot by feel. This did not stop any of our sailors. Liam Cattermole even beat even some of the sighted.
Sunday gave even lighter winds on the solent so no sailing. A key part of winning the worlds is having teams that know the basics and can sail a boat fast. With all visually impaired sailors, creating the visual picture in vital. Taking a slide from a power point and making it into a tactile slide. So with the help of some of the visually impaired sailors who have a long line of success behind them we set up for sessions. Helming through tacks and gibes, lead by Sharon Grennan a B1 sailor who helms like a sighted sailor, jumping up on to the side to feel the breeze using tiller extension, then facing backwards down wind to feel the breeze still on her face. Liam Cattermole a B2 sailor spent several years on the Paralympic sailing team Main sheeting, he again helped VI’s learn how to handle the track and traveler using the boats along side the dock. Just allowing people to spend time feeling how others do it and working through the process helps each sailor grow. Two more sessions were lead by sighted sailors - roll tacks was lead by Will Morris one of our youngest sailors but showing each weekend he volunteers how much he is growing and communicating. Will worked again in a sonar on the dock on roll tacks in breeze under 5 knots. This again giving the time to feel and work out body positions. Ben then took a session on gibe trims. This was a key bit of learning being able to feel the slot between the gibe and the Main as Ben changed the controls. It truly turned the power point slide into a 3D image for all to understand.