Cowes Sailability Club made it possible for an island resident to overcome the challenges of blindness and participate in the world-renowned Round the Island Race.
Once again, Cowes Sailability Club collaborated with the Gwennili Trust to create opportunities for disabled people on the Isle of Wight to participate in the Round the Island Race, one of the most well-known events in the UK sailing calendar. Simon O’Connor, who is registered blind, was selected as one of this year’s lucky participants and, for him, the whole experience was a dream come true.
“I have always wanted to take part in the Round the Island Race, so you can imagine my joy when Cowes Sailability Club offered me this amazing opportunity,” Simon says. “I went on board with my sister Lisa (who was my eyes for the day) and joined a crew of disabled and able-bodied sailors. The motion of the catamaran was variable and I found the movement interesting. When I got off the boat at the end of the race and walked along the pontoon, I needed to hang tightly on to Lisa as it felt like I was still moving up and down!”
Simon’s sister Lisa Toombs adds, “Words can’t really adequately describe this amazing, epic day of sailing. We were extremely fortunate to sail with a brilliant crew and exceptional skipper. We made it around the Needles before the tide turned, whereas well over 200 other yachts didn’t and were forced to turn back as a result. The wind was very light and fitful so the race lasted a long time – 12 hours and 11 minutes! I can’t thank Cowes Sailability Club and the Gwennili Trust enough for making Simon’s dream come true.”
The race was undertaken in the Spirit of Scott Bader, a 35-foot wheelchair accessible catamaran owned by the Disabled Sailing Association and skippered by professional yachtsman John Douglas.
The yacht was chartered for the race by the Gwennili Trust, an approved RYA Sailability foundation organisation that Cowes Sailability Club has collaborated with successfully over many years. The Gwennili Trust provides access to offshore sailing for people with disabilities. From April to October, the Trust offers day sails and racing experiences in Spirit of Scott Bader and also has a programme of six-day cruises on the south coast in conventional yachts. Sailing with the Gwennili Trust is open to people with a range of disabilities and carers can usually be accommodated. www.gwennili.org.uk