Sailing is one of the few genuinely inclusive sports where able and disabled sailors, regardless of age, can participate together on equal terms. It was British yachtsman Geoff Holt who first triggered public awareness of this enormous potential: he dived into the water aged 18 and despite breaking practically everything, went on to become the first quadriplegic sailor to circumnavigate single-handedly the British Isles in 2007. Sailing subsequently became a Paralympic sport and the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) created the national Sailability Programme, with 202 recognised sites in the UK.
Outside of the UK there are just three RYA Sailability Programmes in the world: Hong Cong, Dubai – and Antigua. The latter was set up and is managed voluntarily by English yachtsman Bob Bailey, co-founder of the UK Peterborough Sailability Programme and who lives on board his boat in Antigua six months of the year. Baily launched the scheme in 2014 at the non-profit Antigua National Sailing Academy (NSA) run by former Commodore Elizabeth Jordan – whose aim is to teach every child in Antigua how to swim and sail – for free!
Currently there are about 70 participants in the Sailability Program, mostly special needs, but the aim is to extend operations to include physical disabilities once more funds and instructors are forthcoming. The ultimate goal is to grow the Sailability Programme throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
Meanwhile qualified RYA instructors have taught five of the present participants to go solo, albeit under close supervision, while the others require a companion in the boat with them. The Academy is fortunate to have been donated two Challenger Trimarans that are used in weekly training with adults and children with disabilities plus three RS Venture Connects, which are very safe and stable boats, and one of the two types approved by the Governing Body of World Sailing. These are, of course, all hideously expensive but, thanks to Elizabeth Jordan’s relentless and dynamic fund-raising activities, generous donations continue to support this totally free but entirely worthy program. Contributions have come from the Antiguan Government’s Ministry of Social Transformation and various local businesses.
One of the main fund raisers is the annual Sailability Super Sunday Charity Walk. This highly popular and completely fun event includes a marching band, steel band and carnival costumes, all which accompany the able and disabled participants in their fund-raising trek from the NSA in Falmouth Harbour to Nelson’s Dockyard for refreshments and back again to relax and be entertained by local band 1761. The next walk takes place on 11 March 2019.
Thanks to Antigua’s Jumby Bay Foundation funding the necessary wheelchair access to boats, the NSA will host a Paralympic Development Programme (PDP) in January 2019 for disabled participants from the Caribbean and the Americas. Invitations have been sent out by the Member National Authorities in each region and at the time of writing, Belize, the BVI, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada have so far confirmed their attendance. World Sailing (WS) is sponsoring this exciting event, the first of its kind in the region. As well as transport to and from the event and accommodation, they will provide on loan 20 Hansa 303 boats.
Organizers in Antigua, said: “There is no age limit and we look forward to this ground-breaking major event which will go a long way towards enabling disabled sailors to ‘achieve the unimaginable’ – the slogan of Antigua Sailability.”
For more information, visit: www.antiguasailability.org/