Thursday, October 31, 2013
Exe Sailing Club’s commitment to providing access for those with disability goes back to 2007, when The West of England School for children with little or no sight and the Exeter College for Deaf education were invited to sailing sessions, writes Rex frost.
At this point we had no special equipment or adapted craft and the groups used our standard dinghies. This worked well, but was limited to those who, although they had sensory and/or learning disabilities, were physically able. The next step was to provide for the less physically able.
In 2008 we joined the national ‘On Board’ project backed by the RYA (Royal Yachting Association) linking sailing clubs with local schools. This project was launched with an invitation to the opening event for a number of local councillors. Eileen Wragg, a Devon County Council member, listened to our plans for sailing for the disabled and invited us to apply for a grant from DCC. With her assistance we successfully purchased ‘No ExEcuse’, our adapted 20ft day boat. Phil Morrison (Exmouth’s internationally renowned dinghy designer) then designed special seating for the boat. Access for the most disabled is provided by a portable hoist, which Exmouth Marina Company allow us to site on the dock entrance pontoon and thankfully Ian Bradley (Explorer Water Taxi) and his co- skippers happily allow us to get in the way.
The arrival of ‘No ExEcuse’ marked the official start of the ‘Exe Sailability Project’. Sailability is a national charity, co-ordinated by the RYA which promotes and supports sailing for the disabled, including our successful Paralympic Sailors. The project has gone from strength to strength and this year we have provided some 300 sessions for sailors with disabilities ranging from sensory loss to tetraplegia or just getting a bit older, a bit stiff but ‘oh its great’ to keep sailing.
For the past five years the Club has welcomed students from The WESC Foundation (formerly The West of England School and College for young people with little or no sight) and allowed them to experience the wonders of sailing. Many students have benefitted from these sessions and they ask to attend year after year.
The sessions are held on Monday evenings (rain or shine) and, we have made use of both ‘No Execuse’ which is adapted for disabled sailors and ‘Up Spirits’ which is a more stable vessel and allows students to walk around and explore, or even lie on the engine box to feel the vibrations of the engine. All of the students have gained some benefit, whether it has been the achievement of handling ropes, helping to hoist the mainsail, helming, or for the less able students, experiencing the wind and spray on their faces and the motion of the waves. Jacob (aged 14), who had never sailed before, asked each week ’Please may I do this again next week? It’s such great fun” and Rhys (19), who has no sight at all, described his trip in a RIB as ’the best feeling in the world’.
For our students who have a wide range of disabilities (and abilities), including cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, acquired brain injuries and those who present with autism or are classified to have an autistic spectrum disorder accompanying the complexities of visual impairment, this has been an invaluable opportunity allowing them to enjoy all kinds of sensory experiences. One student even gains his sensory feedback from clamping his teeth on the gunnels to feel the engine vibrate and another loves to lean overboard and feel the water rushing past his head. These feelings allow some students to feel a sense of calm in an altogether confusing and chaotic world.
Instructor Roger Dunn, who works with Stallcombe House, says “one of the greatest joys of ‘Sailability’ is witnessing the transformation of people who are nervous or hesitant when they first climb aboard, becoming confident, happy and excited when steering the boat or taking part as crew. Taking part in the Sailability programme has been a very positive experience for me and is for all our volunteers.”
This local project owes its success to the commitment of Exe Sailing Club and in particular the club members who volunteer to run the project and skipper the boats. We have also received great support from Exmouth Town Council, Exmouth Round Table, local businesses and generous individuals who have contributed in cash or kind. Our next step is to raise around £15,000 to replace ‘No ExEcuse’ in three years’ time. If you would like to get involved please contact us. But remember, the project is open and we invite all those with a disability, a love of sailing and of our beautiful estuary, to contact us; we will get you afloat. Exe Sailability project, at Exe Sailing Club, Tornado, Shelly Rd, Exmouth, EX8 1EG. www.exe-sailing-club.org, or email. email@example.com