Martyn Sibley – We are sailing

Over the past years I’ve managed to do many amazing activities. You know the ones. Flying a plane. SCUBA diving. Skiing. Hot air ballooning. Tree climbing. Having made a decision to spend more time in my home town. Just for a couple of months anyway ? I wanted to ensure I still did fun things.

Travelling is amazing. However it can be tiring. I realised that I don’t have to be away from home to have fun. So in recent weeks I’ve been researching my local options.

Turns out finding adapted and inclusive activities in Cambridgeshire isn’t so easy!

There’s lots of options for disabled children. I found a couple of sports clubs for disabled adults, but I’m looking for something more inclusive and outdoors. I really wanted to go swimming, but struggle with the temperatures in public pools. I did find a hydrotherapy pool, but it’s far away and at awkward times.

My search finally took me to Pin-Point. On this website I found a list of accessible leisure activities. The two that grabbed me were horse riding and sailing. Unfortunately the horse riding wasn’t possible (I found this out from my email exchange with the organisers). The sailing looked possible though.

It was run by Sailability. A charity we’ve covered on Disability Horizons before. The local branch were based at Grafham waters. Only 20 minutes away from my home. Perfect.

So last Thursday, after some emails about dates and location, Kasia and I headed to try it out. They run the sessions from April to October every Thursday afternoon. I was feeling that kind of nervous excitement you get wondering how this may (or may not) work out.

After parking up, we could see a hive of activity next to the beautiful lake. Grafham waters also has a fantastic nature reserve nearby. There were lots people – disabled sailors with differing impairments, personal care assistants, Sailability staff and volunteers. Plus there were boats. Lots of them!

After being shown the boat house, which was relatively new and a definite pride of the group, I went with ‘beach patrol’ to look at my boat. It was called a Challenger. With its special design it couldn’t capsize, and a trained buddy would join me. Plus they had the all-important hoist, to lift me from my wheelchair.

Upon further inspection I felt the lack of head support and no assistance from Kasia would be a problem. Instead, we all agreed I should try the other boat used for group trips. After putting my life jacket on and getting my sling in place, I was being hoisted at the waters edge into the 6-8 person boat.

We decided to put my wheelchair cushion on the boat. This steadied my balance. Without any head support, I did need Kasia and one of the staff to help me. Particularly when the boat leaned or jerked. Once settled I felt very safe and calm.

We were out on the lake for around 30 minutes I would say. Interestingly my school took us there 25 years prior, and I’m sure we had a similar boat ride then. I definitely felt nostalgic out there. I really enjoyed the tranquility, the views, the smells and the change of routine.

The 2 guys sailing us were really friendly and helpful. Plus a girl with a learning disability and her carer were with us. We had a nice chat and I remember us all laughing a lot. Particularly about the killer shrimp poster we’d seen earlier, and enquired about.

Following some knowledge on how sailing works, we were heading back to shaw. Back up in the hoist. In my wheelchair and on dry land again. Fantastic!

The guys felt that with some head and side support, I could try the Challenger another time. So beach patrol measured me up and said he’d have it ready for next time ? Apparently there’ll be ways to enable me to even sail this boat (another lady who is paralysed uses special technology). Plus its then possible to race!

Let’s see how all that goes. Week by week. However I’m so glad I found Grafham waters and Sailability there. The equipment, the people, and the overall experience is excellent.

You can look them up here.

See you next time.