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I’m not barking mad! 

Disabled sailor Dave Durston explains why he loves sitting in a dinghy at the mercy of the wind.

It has taken nine years to hopefully finally dispel the belief amongst my wheelchair rugby teammates that I am in fact barking mad.  The main reason for this belief is, I think, because I go sailing.  This might seem perfectly reasonable as a pastime to most people, but I sustained quite a high level spinal injury 15 years ago.  This means that I have no hand function, limited arm strength, no balance or core strength, no temperature control, I can’t swim, and I float the wrong way up.  So why on earth would I want to sit in a tiny dinghy, getting cold and wet, at the mercy of the wind?

Recently, Whitefriars Sailability Group ran a taster session for eight members of the two wheelchair rugby teams that I am involved with: The South Wales Pirates, and a new team which has recently set up in Gloucester.  Nobody had sailed before, and everyone was quite nervous about how it would work in their disabled state.

Fortunately, Hansa, RS, and Bristol Sailability lent the club boats with suitable adaptations to meet the variety of needs of the sailors. Some required supportive seating, electric winches for adjusting the sails, and servo-assisted steering. Others lacked confidence and were reassured by having an instructor in the boat with them. A few were able to cope in a Wayfarer without any adaptations.  We were blessed with a warm, sunny day, and a moderate wind; making it a perfect day for sailing. 

Everybody came off the water buzzing, and I’m quite sure we’ll see a few of the novices again to join the club and hone their skills. 

“Really enjoyed the day and having boats with the right adaptations set up gave a really idea about what is possible. The staff and helpers on the day were really helpful, supportive, knowledgeable and friendly. Certainly want to try it again.” – Steve

“The sailing was tranquil and relaxing the first time we were taken out by one of the helpers. The second time was my first time solo and a great learning curve and adrenalin rush all rolled into one.  A great experience that I will definitely try again and again.” - Keith

This is why I fell in love with sailing. Even people with the most profound disabilities can adapt a boat to suit their needs; giving them complete control and independence.  There is no reason why with the right equipment in place that anybody with a disability cannot compete at any level, be it class racing against others in the same kind of boat, Paralympics, or even against able-bodied sailors at your local club.

Whitefriars is an integrated club, and encourages people with disabilities to get fully involved with the club, and racing.  Equally if racing is not for you, it is fantastic to enjoy the independence of being in complete control of a boat by yourself, and to enjoy the Cotswold scenery and wildlife.  It is also a fantastic sport that families can do together. People at the taster day were also surprised how inexpensive it can be as a sport.

Hopefully, everybody now gets why I love sailing.  At least on one count, I think I’ve proved I’m not mad!

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