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Blind Sailing Week 2015 by Stephen Pat

Above: Photo looking back the stern with the helms woman steering the yacht at an angle on the sea

A week of Sailing for the visually impaired, where VI are treated as very important people, not visually impaired passengers.The whole experience was so well organised and planned, I felt informed at every stage, from the initial communication which was clear and thorough. I did have some problems with the email application and medical forms, however this was just a program compatibility issue, which I have addressed with the organisers.

All the essential itinerary information was supplied and comprehensive such as arrival times, where to go on arrival and who to speak to. I felt at ease with all the administration stages and the Blind sailing week organisers are very thorough, ensuring all your dietary and medical needs are met or to the best of their ability. This was all done sensitively and in an empathetic manner and I felt if I had a specific need, I could talk to the organiser in confidence.

Saturday
Following the itinerary sent in an email. I travelled by train to Southampton Central and I took a taxi to Ocean Village, alternative forms of transport are available but a cab was the quickest and convenient. On arrival at Ocean Village. I presented myself to the volunteer organisers who contacted my crew for the week, I met Grant Morris our skipper and his first mate Dave Morgan. Grant had contacted me prior to the sailing week to introduce himself and forward useful information such as essential kit. And the plan for the week. We didn’t set sail on the Saturday as the focus was on settling everyone in, which was nice and easy start to the week,

Grant and Dave took me and my fellow VI crew member to our Yacht which is a Sweden 39Ft named Outreach. We were informed she was an excellent sailing boat and she looked and felt the part. Grant and Dave re-affirmed to us that we could do as much or as little as we wanted. However I was not going to waste an opportunity like this to pass me by. We settled in and went through the do and don’t s over tea and coffee. After our refreshments we got to explore and get familiar with the boat, all done in a safe and relaxed atmosphere.

That evening we had a welcoming Dinner at the Yacht club, which was a good opportunity to meet other crews and VI, I meet a lot of people that night, I found out that many crews and VI have been participating in Blind sailing week for many years and there was also a lot of new crew and VI. All the people I met were positive, encouraging, enthusiastic, kind and generous, the meal was excellent and atmosphere even better. It was a lovely easy start to the week. We got back to the Boat and settled in for the night.

Sunday
We had a leisurely start and went through some essential safety information. At this point I could talk extensively about the sailing however I don’t want to bombard the reader with Nautical terms and I could never truly articulate the sailing experience, as being there with the wind in your face, smell of the sea and excitement of sailing is something you need to experience for yourself.

We set sail to Chichester Harbour, there were 5 other boats in our fleet but every boat took their own way to Chichester. Our boat had a leisurely sail to Chichester and we got to develop our sailing knowledge such as Boat parts, knots, vocabulary and how things worked. During the sail we were offered refreshment at set intervals and lunched at appropriate times which usually meant calm seas. We arrived at Chichester harbour were we moored up along a pontoon, next to the early arrivals from our fleet, other members of our fleet arrived later. We had a lovely gathering on the pontoon with the other members of the fleet, this is also known as a pontoon party. Each boat takes it in turn to host a party, the hosts usual provide drinks and snacks. It is a great way to meet other crews and exchange stories/experiences of the day’s sail. After the party we headed back to our boat were we had dinner on board, after dinner we relaxed and settled in for the night some crews took the opportunity to go ashore but we settled in for the night, resting ourselves for the next day sail.

Monday
We sailed west to Beaulieu, it was good day of sailing and we took turns helming (steering) the boat. At appropriate times we stopped for breaks and lunch, usual anchoring or mooring up at a buoy.
After a good day of sailing we moored up at Gin’s Farm which is part of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club.
When all 6 boats moored up we had a pontoon party and we chatted and exchanged stories of the day. All the crews were booked in for a curry dinner at the Yacht club, were we had a good dinner and drinks, after dinner we explored the beautiful Gin’s farm, which has a variety of wildlife including Oyster catchers. Afterwards we headed back to the boat and settled in ready for the next day of sailing.

Tuesday
We had a long sail heading west, out of the Solent towards Poole harbour. As our sailing knowledge and experience developed we were given more opportunity to take control. We used an audio compass to steer the boat. The audio compass is a device which emits 2 different sounds, one is high pitched and the other is low pitched. Left or Port is high and right or starboard Low. There are several versions of this device and we used the one with an earpiece. It is easy use but total concentration is required. We anchored south of Brownsea Island and met up with other crews. There was no pontoon this evening so the boats moored up to each other.

Wednesday
We set sail, back to the Solent and headed towards Lymington for an overnight stop.

Thursday
We sailed around the Solent and moored up in Yarmouth. We went ashore and had a pub meal afterwards we wandered around the town.

Friday
The return sail to Southampton was leisurely and we arrived back early in anticipations of the final night’s dinner. The dinner was a happy yet sad evening. It was a celebration of all the weeks sailing, we had speeches from the organisers, reports from spokespeople from each fleet, who reported on their experiences and commemorative plaques were handed to the skippers of each boat. The food was excellent and everyone mingled about, chatting and laughing,
The only sad part is that another Blind sailing week was over and we would have to wait another year. Friendships were made and lives are changed.

Saturday
This was a slightly sad day, a lot of farewells to new friends and the long journey home. The day was made easier by volunteers who organised lifts to the train station. I really didn’t want to go home.
It would be too easy and cliché to say my experience was life changing, however I can honestly say this has been an extremely positive experience and I would encourage all VI to give Blind sailing week a try. The sailing is the focal point but it is the people that make Blind sailing week a success. If someone asked me if I would attend another sailing week the answer would be a resounding yes. So bring on Cornwall 2016 and I hope to get a place and meet old friends make new ones and hopefully meet Metro Blind sports members there.

Many thanks to the following people and organisations for making Blind Sailing week happen

Metro Blind Sports, Amanda Green, Will Bridge, Grant Morris, Dave Morgan, Royal Southampton Yacht Club,UKSA

And to all the volunteers: Skippers, crew and helpers. VI and everyone else involved with Blind sailing week.

Article by Stephen Pat