Adaptive Sailing and SEAS
Looking across Lake Michigan on Sunday, September 14, 2014 would have looked “just like another regatta” to most observers. Those with some sailing acumen may have taken that a bit further and seen that it was a match racing event, two boats racing against each other in a tradition that flows strongly from the prestigious America's Cup. Perhaps the shore-side sailor would have heard the unique beeps and honks coming from the race course and realized there was something different. The difference from every other race held in Sheboygan was that every racer on those sailboats was blind and they were racing each other for the world championship without the aid of sight!
The Plenco IFDS Blind Match Racing World Championships were held here in Sheboygan in September of 2014 and since has added a new direction for SEAS. Adaptive sailing is a growing section of the sailing industry and it’s no surprise why. Sailboats are relatively easy to adjust and adapt for various disabilities and once changed can allow for equal competition with both disabled and traditional sailors. Sailing is a past time for a wide range of individuals and that range is growing.
SEAS is committed to growing the opportunities for all those who wish to enjoy Lake Michigan’s waters. Part of this includes the new Sheboygan Adaptive Sailing Committee, which works toward making sailing accessible to the largest range of individuals possible. September’s blind racing event encouraged us to move forward with teaching local blind enthusiasts how to sail. The hopes are high for a competitive team next year to attend the National Blind Racing Championships and the World Blind Racing Championships. The format for 2015 is fleet racing and ideal to ease new racers in before the match racing in 2016.
Blind sailing is not our only goal for 2015. In 2014, we teamed up with the Sheboygan Youth Sailing Club to take clients from the Rehabilitation Center of Sheboygan (RCS) out sailing, all for their first time. Despite some windy weather that helped the boats power up quickly, the crew enjoyed the experience and vowed to return for another lesson. RCS participants face a variety of cognitive and physical challenges, which provides some much awaited challenges for SEAS.
In truth our program is still very young, but was born at a time when worldwide sailing programs just as this are beginning to take shape. Some of the more established programs are beginning to thrive and develop quite a following. National organizations like U.S. Sailing® are finding grant money to start up programs and Switzerland is promoting disabled sailing nationally. While we cannot yet help all those who seek to learn, we’ll continue to turn dreams into reality, one sailor at a time. After all, that IS adaptive sailing: overcoming obstacles one challenge at a time. ~Matt Wierzbach