Out on the blue

WITH WEALDEN SAILABILITY

Wealden Sailability is a sailing club and registered charity that is run entirely by volunteers. It welcomes everyone no matter what their disability and their philosophy is to encourage all sailors to develop their sailing skills so that they may aim towards achieving personal goals, which may be simply to enjoy the freedom of being on the water, or to progress to taking full control and sailing solo, or even to learning to race. We spent a day with them to find out exactly what they get up to. Words by Steve Rowley, photos by Wealden Sailability.

Winning a gold medal. Crossing the oceans. Being in sole control of a boat at sea. These are things that disabled sailors can achieve, just as much as the able-bodied! With the right equipment, it’s likely you can get afloat and begin to follow a dream.

Those that try sailing often speak of the new freedom it brings them and people with a range of disabilities are getting the chance to challenge themselves on the water, thanks to a Sevenoaks-based charity.

Wealden Sailability formed in July 2008 and until June 2011 they operated at the Bough Beech Reservoir under the name of Bough Beech Sailability. However, in June 2011 the name
was changed as a result of moving to Chipstead Sailing Club where they now operate as a group member and have become a registered charity and member of the RYA Sailability scheme.

The whole ethos of Sailability focuses on the acceptance that everyone is different and it is what each individual can do, not what they can’t, that can be nurtured into a lifelong involvement in sailing. The people that come have a whole variety of physical and learning disabilities, ranging in severity from mild to very complex, but the most important thing is appreciating those differences and creating a range of appropriate opportunities.

Sailing has become a great leveller that encourages responsibility in the individual sailors. Once everyone is on the water the only thing that matters is making the boat go forwards.

Out on the blue
We joined Brian Stanley, one of the charities trustees, for the day. He took us through everything the charity does to ensure this huge operation, which starts at around 7.30am every Tuesday and Thursday morning throughout the summer to make the day most memorable for all those involved.

With more than 30 volunteers assisting differently abled people to sail there is a lot to do before they can get on the water. From safety regulations to descending into one of the many dinghies tied up on the dock of Chipstead lake, each step is taken slowly to ensure everyone is safe and enjoys their time on the water.

Brian said that Wealden Sailability gave people a chance to prove that disability did not necessarily mean inability, adding that ‘the point is about living life and doing what you can do’.
“Disability means someone is a little bit different, but once on the water you don’t actually see any disability, everyone is the same,” he said.

On the day, there were two groups of around 20 sailors, split into morning and afternoon sessions, which means a full days work for all the volunteers.

With all charity volunteering, the time given by individuals is like gold dust to the participants, for without them days like this just wouldn’t happen. The volunteers do this to make a difference, not for any other reason except for their love of sailing.

A support teacher and carer from Nash College in Croydon, who reguarly visit Chipstead lake with their pupils, said that the children are visibly transformed throughout the journey.
“Children go from being slightly tentative and nervous to just experiencing the thrill of it and being embraced.” she said.

As the day was coming to an end, some sailors climbed and others with more severe disabilities were lifted out of their boats, by hoists, back into their wheelchairs as sails were rolled up on the docks.

Wealden Sailability, the charity
Wealden Sailability is a volunteer run organisation offering sailing opportunities and instruction to people with disabilities. The primary aim of the charity is to make the sport of sailing accessible for people of all ages with health impairments, physical disabilities or learning difficulties that may prevent someone from living an every day active life. Put simply, to get less abled people on the water and keep them there to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

The charity is purposely structured to be cost sensitive and therefore accessible to people from our local communities. It also supports people to fully engage with the running of the club which does not only increase their own personal skills but enhance their Curriculum Vitae.

Each sailing day they have several sailors who need a hoist for the transfer from wheelchair to boat and without these reliable hoists they would have to turn many sailors away. As the club operate purely on donations they run a series of fundraisers throughout the year.

They recently won a ‘Highly Commended’ award from Sevenoaks Council for Charity of the Year.

Something to think about
Sailing is a Paralympic sport. Each athlete is assigned points based on their needs and when sailing as a team, the maximum points the team can have is 14 points. You’ll see these sailors taking off an arm or leg prosthesis, leaving them on the dock to get their team down to 14 points. Each person can adjust their “points” based on how able (with prosthetics) or disabled (with one or more prosthetics removed) they are.

With the number of injuries in car crashes, soldiers coming back after defending our country, this exciting sport awaits them. Convince them to give it a try, most are surprised at how invigorating sailing is and gives them a big boost.

• The team at Wealden Sailability will always give you a warm welcome no matter what your disability, so take the plunge, so to speak, and you will never look back. You can contact them via their website at www.wealdensailability.org

About Chipstead Sailing Club
Chipstead Sailing Club is situated on the shores of Chipstead lake in the peaceful village of Chipstead, Kent, just a minutes drive from junction 5 of the M25. The club offers class and handicap racing, sailing and powerboat training from beginners onwards, plus social events with a large and well appointed clubhouse overlooking the lake. They also have a well stocked bar with draught beer and lager including a varied and extensive lunch menu at weekends.

Every year they hold a Dragon Boat Racing event in aid of local charities, this year’s event is on Monday 28th August, starting at around 11.00am. Monies raised on the day will be distributed to Wealden Sailability and Cheshire Homes. The nearest pub is the well appointed Bricklayers Arms on Chevening Road. This Harvey’s Brewery pub overlooks the west end of the lake, giving perfect views of all the events going on throughout the year.

• Chipstead Sailing club can be contacted through their website at www.chipsteadsc.org.uk
• To book a table at The Bricklayers Arms contact them on 01732 743424