“Sailing is something I feel positive about myself.”
Joe Cook is mulling over why he loves sailing. He’s sat in an empty marquee, animated after his first ever racing experience at this year’s Sailability Multiclass Regatta. If he was feeling any fatigue from sailing in the waves and the mental demands of competition, you would never know it.
“I get a buzz every time I go on the water and I think it's the sense it's something I can do. It gives me a lift.”
Now 26, Joe, from Uxbridge in Middlesex, was almost 13 when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He underwent treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital and latterly UCLH in London, and spent almost nine months in hospital during 2006.
His treatment had an impact on his mobility and language. Sailing helped him discover what he is capable of.
“Since doing it week in week out I've built up confidence in my ability to sail, and have enjoyed talking to all the different volunteers I see on the days I go. I have people at the club I enjoy spending time with.”A different course
Joe had previously tried sailing before his diagnosis. But it was after his brother took him along to Hillingdon Outdoor Adventure Centre’s (HOAC) annual Special Needs Watersports Day near his home that Joe got a real taste for being on the water.
Kayaking grabbed his interest initially. But after losing countless pairs of glasses in the HOAC lake, he figured you get less wet in a boat and opted to stick with sailing! That was five years ago and he hasn’t looked back. When the chance came to try racing this summer, he leapt at it.
“It was something different,” Joe continues. “It was that little bit further than just sailing on a Saturday. It was going that extra mile that brings it all into context. I've really enjoyed it.”
Keen to integrate racing into HOAC’s Sailability activities, Senior Instructor, Abby Pretlove, decided to use the Multiclass Regatta as a bit of a fact-finding mission. Joe was the only HOAC sailor that attended, and, although he typically sails a Challenger, the pair teamed up in a double-handed Hansa 303 at the Multiclass.
Every swell and every wave was then a learning experience for them both.
As Abby explains: “I want to integrate some racing into our club to help people progress their sailing a bit more. My own experience in racing is quite low so I decided to jump in at the deep end and say 'Ok we're going to the Multiclass!' Only after I'd said that I realised all the planning that goes in with it!
“There was one point where Joe turned round to me in the boat and he just looked and said 'Wow I've had a really good day'. And I thought, even if it's just once we do this we've had a really good weekend out of it.”Next steps
Not that Abby hopes it will be the first and only time HOAC get involved.
She admits she learned so much about racing that weekend and will spend next year getting up-to-speed with everything running racing entails. This includes returning to the 2020 Multiclass, this time with a team of HOAC volunteers she hopes, and shadowing different roles in the London Youth Sailing League series. The plan is to then formally introduce racing at HOAC in 2021.
Joe is already asking if he can go to next year’s Multiclass. It’s fair to say he was totally bitten by the racing bug.
“It's just getting to that next stepping stone, isn't it?” Joe concludes. “Pushing on with it, putting the effort it and taking hold of something that you're doing to get to the next level. I felt much more confident on the water than I did the day before and the day before that. It's the opportunity and achieving it. That's how I feel, like I've achieved something.”
Something says this won’t be the last we see of Joe Cook on a racecourse…