Unsinkable: A sailing program that teaches you the ropes

If you’re looking to get outside and try a new sport, you might want to take a closer look at sailing—an activity that’s recognized for developing self-sufficiency, self-confidence and social connections.

One of 16 not-for-profit organizations that provide accessible sailing programs in Canada, we visited Able Sail Toronto which operates out of the National Yacht Club. It’s run by people with disabilities, exclusively for people with disabilities with able bodied volunteers assisting where and when needed. 

The program is possible thanks to adaptive technology which facilitates the needs of a wide range of participants including those living with paraplegia, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), brain injuries, and spina bifida. With specially-designed sailboats, docks and specialized equipment for people with limited mobility, dexterity, sensation and strength, almost anyone can get in the boat and head out onto the lake. 

Live and learn
Each program uses Martin 16 sailboats, which are currently used around the world for recreational sailing, learn-to-sail programs and racing. The sailor sits in a multi-adjustable seat that can accommodate any postural needs and a second seat for an instructor or companion is located behind. 

The Martin 16s are safe, given the 300-pound lead bulb that’s attached to their keels making them impossible to tip. Plus, for even more floatability, the inner hull of the boat is filled with foam flotation.  

A hand up
With a variety of assistive technologies, even those with no movement below the neck can independently sail. Able Sail uses davits and specialty docks to accommodate sailors who need assistance getting in and out of the boat. A windlass can be fitted onto the sailboat in order to multiply hand strength for adjusting sails and a small joystick, similar to a video game controller, that’s called an Autohelm can be used to steer the boat. Sailors can use their breath to steer the sailboat and trim the sails by inhaling or exhaling gently into straws. 

Water wings
Able Sail offers sailors an opportunity to challenge themselves, improve and learn new skills and capabilities. Typical activities include enjoyable pleasure sails, sailing lessons, racing competitions and social get-togethers. There’s something for everyone. 

In fact, for those with a competitive side, seafarers can also participate in the Mobility Cup—Canada’s international regatta for sailors living with disabilities. 

Jessie Forbes is an editorial and production assistant at BCS Group.

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