With more than 100 sailors, competing in over 70 boats, the UK’s biggest disability sailing event of its kind took place last weekend (05–07 July) at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA), home of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  

The RYA Sailability Multiclass Regatta has evolved over the years and is now a real festival for disabled sailing and a celebration of the impact sailing can have. Tom Hepburn, 15, is a wheelchair user from Wyke Regis who sails with Chesil Sailability and was one of the club’s two youth members competing: "Sailing has given me a lot of freedom. I can go anywhere in the harbour I choose to go pretty much, which is different to how I feel in my day-to-day life."  

The event provides a whole host of opportunities for participants of varying abilities to get out on the water. About 25 volunteers from Chesil Sailability provided the essential transfer assistance on the pontoon, transferring people, many of them wheelchair users needing a hoist, from the shore to the water and back again. Hugh de Longh, vice-chair of Chesil Sailability explained: “The Academy itself is a world-class accessible sailing centre that ran the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012, and Portland Harbour is a world-class sailing venue. We are a small voluntary group, but we aimed to rise to the challenge of transferring people from one to the other at a very high level of service.”  

RYA Sailability Manager, Joff McGill concluded: “This year’s regatta was our biggest and best so far. Along with the exciting fleet racing and the annual Ken Ellis Pursuit Race, the event allows those who have never even been on the water before to give it a go and experience the freedom that being on the water brings.”  

Ten classes of boat, many of which have been adapted to enable people with disabilities to compete on a ‘level playing field’ were included.  

The Blind Sailing team - consisting of Lucy Hodges, Ben Hazeldine, Eddie Kitchen and Martin Phillips - sailing in an Elliot 6M keelboat, won the Keelboat League and were awarded the prestigious Ken Ellis trophy finishing first place in the Pursuit Race.  

The class winners, who included south-west sailors from Chesil Sailability and Whitefriars Sailability, were:  

  • Random pairs team racing:
  • - Liberty winner: Chris Atkins, Hanningfield Sailability
  • - 303 winner: Bob Waters, Waveney Sailability and Timothy Hall, Chesil Sailability
  • RS Venture Connect: Thomas Harper and Michael Harper, Chesil Sailability
  • Access Liberty: David Durston, Whitefriars Sailability
  • Hansa 303 single: Defending Champion Mike Everitt, Frensham Pond Sailing Club, retained his title Hansa 303 double: Natalia Hillman and Alan Hillman
  • Challenger: Defending Champion Valerie Millward, Rutland Sailability, retained her title
  • Hansa 2.3: Defending Champion Lindsay Burns, Frensham Pond Sailing Club, retained her title Skud18: Lynne Swan and Stu Swan, Weston Sailing Club
  • 2.4mR: Megan Pascoe, Frensham Pond Sailing Club
  • Weta: Chris Hodge and Tony McCoy, Sussex Sailability      

Thank you to all the volunteers who worked tirelessly all weekend to make the event possible, including hosts Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy. Thanks also go to the local support teams including: Chesil Sailability, the Andrew Simpson Watersports Centre, the OTC, and the Miss Isle Sailing School.  

Sailability is the national programme run by sailing’s governing body, the RYA, giving people with disabilities the chance to try sailing and to take part regularly. The British network of more than 200 RYA-approved Sailability sites have boats and facilities to cater for people across the whole spectrum of abilities.  

To find out more about sailing opportunities for disabled people, or those that need specific support to get on the water visit www.rya.org.uk/sailability.  

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