FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Matt Wierzbach
September 4th, 2015
SAILING WITH ALS
SHEBOYGAN, WI - The Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan (SEAS) took a major step forward in their adaptive sailing program. Steve Heronemus, a sailor with advanced stage ALS was able to sail on his own thanks to a collaborative effort between SEAS, Sail Sheboygan, Harken, and an extensive team of dedicated individuals. The collaboration has not only given Steve an opportunity to enjoy sailing again, but it is a major step to providing enriching experiences on Lake Michigan to a new group of individuals.
Today was the result of a nine month project that began with Tryg Jacobson meeting Steve and being inspired by his story. Tryg, a long time sailor himself, was inspired by Steve and questioned if it were possible to develop an equipment package to get Steve sailing again. From that idea came a long series of e-mails and phone calls and the development began.
The first challenge to overcome was how to safely and comfortably get Steve on the water. While the idea of purchasing a new boat specifically for this project was originally posed it was quickly dropped in favor of adapting a Sonar currently in the Sail Sheboygan fleet. Sonars are a stable boat often used in adaptive sailing programs and major events such as the Paralympic games. The use of a Sonar allowed the project to move forward immediately.
It then was a challenge to find a seating solution for Steve who would not be able to sit in the boats original moulded seats. The solution came from a contact SEAS Program Director Matt Wierzbach made at the US Sailing Programs Symposium. Magnus Liljedahl from Team Paradise out of Miami had constructed what he called a “Lazy Susan” bench for the Sonar to be used for the foredeck position at the front of the boat. It was decided to build a version of the “Lazy Susan” in Sheboygan and Sail Sheboygan Bosun, Nick Chadwick, set to building with help from Tony Orlebeke and Britt Voechting. It was this chair that was used in June to give Steve his first sailing experience since before his ALS diagnosis. While the chair provided the opportunity to experience sailing as a passenger the goal still remained to develop a way for him to control the boat himself.
SEAS Executive Director Rich Reichelsdorfer and Tryg then brought in Steve Orlebeke and his team from Harken in to work toward developing the system required for Steve to operate the boat on his own. Harken out of Pewaukee Wisconsin specializes in marine technology and their electric winch proved to be the ideal solution to replace the manual role of sail trim. The winch, when hooked up to electric switches can trim and ease the sails to their proper position, something Steve is unable to do without their help. They modified a marine autopilot to allow steering in using a similar set-up, all led forward to the chair.
Despite foggy conditions this morning the weather cleared enough by 11 AM for the team to get out onto the water. Five support boats followed the Sonar out onto Lake Michigan filling roles from safety boat and video to a spectator boat for the family. After Steve had familiarized himself with the boat the support staff and boats backed off and Steve was able to sail alone on the boat. After sailing for around an hour on his own his father, tears in his eyes was the first to rejoin him on the boat.
After returning to the dock many of those who had worked on the project gathered for a short ceremony in which Steve was presented a new award, named in his honor, to be presented for the advancement of adaptive sailing. The boat will be available for Steve to sail for the remainder of the season before the team takes another look at the system over the winter to refine the system.
Combined with a blind team leaving for the Blind Fleet Racing World Championship in Chicago next week this has proven the commitment set last year by SEAS to develop an Adaptive Sailing Program here in Sheboygan. Breaking barriers to sailing and providing opportunities to enjoy the water for all those interested is not only a dream but now a reality.
SEAS is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Your contributions are recognized and are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by the United States Tax Code. Thank you for supporting SEAS mission.
The Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan exists to establish Sheboygan’s waterfront and boating programs as best in class for offerings and facilities, while enhancing our county’s already stellar attractions.
SEAS works to advance the sailing and water sport facilities on Sheboygan’s waterfront and marine education generally in order to provide more services at a reasonable cost. We strive to maximize the impact of our donors’ dollars by expanding awareness, training, and opportunities in marine and conservation activities through education and strategic outreach. SEAS also provides financial assistance to similarly engaged non-profit organizations.
For more information on SEAS please visit seasheboygan.org.