Meet Ben

We met first-year Ben in between semesters in his hometown in Oxford to discuss university sailing life.

candid shot of young man tying sale to rigging

Ben, a neurodivergent and autistic sailor, is an active member of Lancaster University Sailing Club's second team. For Ben, sailing is a stress relief.

"Sailing is very important to me. It gives me something to do. I have a few hours where I have a load of fun, I forget about everything that's going on that I'd otherwise be worrying about, and get focused on something, and yeah, that's a lot of what it is." 

Like many young people, Ben was nervous about going to university, it represented an unknown full of new challenges and experiences. However, the thing he feared the most was also the thing he loved, and that was sailing.

For Ben, the concerns were two-fold; he was anxious not only about the sailing experience on the water but equally about the shoreside activities and the rumours he had heard of a sports team party culture.

For someone with Autism, nightclubs presented a sensory challenge, and Ben was worried that attending these events would be expected. Ben was also nervous about team racing and how teams often encourage one another by shouting, which he finds aggressive and hard to cope with.

Reaching out

Following a discussion with the RYA Sailability team, Ben decided to reach out to the University Sailing Club to discuss his concerns he shared with them the RYA Guide to Autism which they were grateful for and arranged to meet with members of the committee during Freshers week.

For Ben, it was a significant relief to discover that there was no expectation for him to do anything he didn't want to do. However, he enjoyed sharing with us his experience of the sailing team's first Curry social!

"I was surprised when I got there to discover that my knife and fork had been taken away, but then they explained that this was a tradition for freshers. They said I didn't have to participate if I didn't want to. I did it anyway, but it was nice of them to say that I didn't have to." 

Ben has also found it helpful to have someone to speak with, and he can discuss his concerns and accessibility with the race captain. Together they create coping strategies.

"If I've been frustrated by something or someone on the water, I come off the water and can chat to her about it. I think that's good to have someone you can go to."

Relishing new experiences

Ben thoroughly enjoys university life and has relished being part of team racing the Firefly, a new experience from sailing Challengers and Lasers in his local club.

"It's a completely different dynamic, I love it. It's weird because with the autistic side of sailing, you can take a huge interest in what the rules are and the roadmap but then use the rule in ways they weren't intended to be used, which is very fun."

For anyone else nervous about joining a university sailing club, Ben’s advice is just do it. It’s a friendly environment and you get to meet lots of new people. Reach out and share what a sailing environment means for you and ask “can we make this work?”

Find out more about RYA Sailability and opportunities to get out on the water.