While Sailability nationwide is now into the full summer swing, did you know thousands of miles east and west disabled people were getting the same chance to get on the water with RYA Sailability?

Their ‘peak’ season maybe different to the UK, but Sailability Antigua, Sailability Hong Kong and Dubai Offshore Sailing Club (DOSC) Sailability are having the same impact in changing lives.

“Diversity and inclusion is a rather dry, technical phrase, but what does it mean? For us, at Sailability it means Simon is included. It’s so important for us all to feel part of something.”

Every Saturday, Terry Mountain’s son, Simon, sails with Hong Kong Sailability from Hebe Haven YC, set in a small, mangrove-lined natural harbour in the appropriately named Port Shelter. Simon is one of more than 1,670 individuals who sailed with the group since its launch in 2009.

Speaking to writer, Andrew Sheard (‘Sailing for Life’), earlier this year, Terry and wife, Penny, explained how when Simon first went to Sailability he needed help to get out of the car, walk across the car park, down the steps, put his lifejacket on, get into the boat and to order food after, all of which he can do independently now.

“It’s stunning, mind-blowing,” says Penny. “It’s a safe, secure environment. I can’t imagine Simon without Sailability, he’s matured and grown so much.”

It’s the kind of story everyone associated with Sailability is familiar with, but, here it is happening on the South China Sea. Sailability Hong Kong is run by Gosport-raised Mike Rawbone and wife, Kay, who have lived in the territory for over 15 years. The group started with two boats the couple purchased personally, but a decade on, that’s risen to 27 dinghies, across four different classes, plus three safety boats.

The site now has programmes throughout the week, ranging from complete beginners to international competitors, including Foo Yuen Wai and Puk Chi Yeung, who have raced and won medals as far afield as the UK, Finland, Australia and USA.

East to west

Meanwhile, as Sailability Hong Kong celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, its five years since two Challengers were imported from Peterborough Sailability to the National Sailing Academy in Antigua and Sailability Antigua was born.

Having dropped anchor in the island’s idyllic Falmouth Harbour during a post-retirement cruise in the Caribbean, Peterborough co-founder, Bob Bailey and his wife, Sue, saw an opportunity to replicate their UK work in archipelago.

With the help of Peterborough Shore Master and 2018 National RYA Sailability Exceptional Contribution award winner, Maureen Glover, delivery of the two trimarans was arranged and the first person ever to sail with the newly founded group was ‘Little’ Sylvester. Five years on and he is now official Sailability helper.

Bob, who spends winter in Antigua and summer back at home, picks up the story. He says: “Our ethos is about ‘what can we do for you’ not ‘what’s your disability.’

"The Academy is an RYA Training Centre and we’ve worked with their Senior Instructor, Sylvester, and their dinghy instructors on disability awareness and running the Sailability Logbook Scheme. To see ‘Little’ Sylvester become a helper himself is wonderful. He comes to Sailability five days a week, helping with general tidying and boat duties and also takes other sailors out under supervision.

“We’ve gone from working only with people with learning disabilities to the whole spectrum of physical, sensory and learning difficulties. Service provision for disabled people isn’t as structured in Antigua as it is in Britain so through sailing we’re raising awareness of disability across the island, and we’re proud of it.”

If the first four years were about laying the foundations and spreading the word, the last six months in particular have marked rapid growth at the site.

A new $40,000 dock was opened by His Excellency the Governor General, Sir Rodney Williams – a moment Bob describes as “symbolic” – a fleet of four Hansa dinghies and three RS Ventures have replaced the Challengers, the site staged the Caribbean’s first Inclusive Regatta and over 400 people took part in the ‘Sailability Super Sunday’ fundraising walk, regatta and BBQ, raising over £10,000.

Bob finds potential sailors by driving around the villages in his now famous blue bus, speaking to the elders about whether there are disabled people living in their community. The next fundraising project is for two minibuses that can go into the villages to pick people up - “Getting people on the water is the easy bit!”

Both Sailability Antigua and Sailability Hong Kong also had the honour of hosting World Sailing Paralympic Development Program (PDP) events and are leading the way on developing disabled sailing in their regions.

Hot hot hot!

Hong Kong isn’t the only overseas site celebrating 10 years in 2019, as DOSC Sailability – situated against the backdrop of Dubai’s iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa - also reaches the milestone.

Initially launched with five volunteers and 11 students, the addition of two RS Ventures to their fleet means DOSC now welcomes over 55 students across three sessions every Wednesday from September to May, although during this time temperatures can still reach a prohibitive 45°c!

On any given Wednesday 75 volunteers assist in running the sessions with students getting to try different boats as they work towards their Bronze, Silver and Gold Certificates of Achievement.

Two years ago, three sailors, who have been with the group since its inception, became the first to ‘graduate’ to DOSC Sailability volunteers. Now two more sailors have joined the volunteer team, something DOSC Sailability Coordinator, Kathryn Saxton describes as a “major achievement.”

She said: “That these students can now confidently share their knowledge and experience with others has made a huge difference to them and increased their confidence and self-esteem. It’s truly amazing to see just how much they get out it.”

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, Sailability makes a real difference.