I was apprehensive the first time I went. I couldn’t picture how I’d get in a boat. I didn’t realise there was such a thing as hoists and incredible people willing to make it possible. Once I was back on the water, it was like riding a bike.
I’ve probably made more friends through sailing than I have at any other point in my life, it’s become the core of my social life. It’s just a wonderful place to be a - it’s my thing.
When Chris Emmet was diagnosed with MS at 40 he put sailing in a box.
He loved being involved with his family at Staunton Harold SC, sailing his Mirror was his children. But when his newly diagnosed condition meant he no longer had the strength to pull the boat up the slipway, or the dexterity to tie knots, he gave it up.
Yet, now 72, Chris is more active on the water than ever. Sailing not only gave him a renewed lease of life, it became his lifeline.
The onset of a chronic health condition or simply the aging process can quickly lead to people becoming housebound. Chris concedes sitting at home in front of the TV becomes much easier; not leaving the house means you are not stressing yourself or others out with all the challenges that come with getting up and out.
But Chris had cabin fever. He didn’t want to sit at home, as he puts it, “dithering away getting old.” He knew he wanted to do something. Sailability, which is funded by the National Lottery via Sport England, was the answer.
“You’ve got to have a bit of confidence to get back out there,” he continues. “But at Rutland there are so many people like me who found that confidence and discovered Sailability and have great joy in being involved.
“In the last 10 years I’ve probably made more friends through Sailability than I have at any other point in my life, it’s become the core of my social life.
“Even if I’m not feeling well enough to actually sail I always go to Sailability as it’s just a wonderful place to be and there’s always something else I can do, for example, going out on the rescue boat. It’s my thing.”
For the first five years after returning to the water, Chris sailed a two-person Hansa 303 so had help reaching and pulling some of the ropes. But he always wanted to be able to do it on his own and discovered that was possible in the Hansa Liberty.
With the boat’s motorized servo assist controls and rope positioning helping remove some of the physical barriers to sailing solo, Chris discovered an even greater sense of independence and improved physical and mental wellbeing.
“Everyone should be out in the fresh air and sunshine. I have so much freedom in nature and love being sat on Rutland Water watching the ospreys flying over. These are priceless moments you would never experience cooped up in the house.”
Sailing has also allowed Chris to satisfy his competitive streak as a regular on the national and European Hansa class racing circuit. In 2018 he was the Hansa Liberty National Champion and finished fifth at the 2017 Europeans in Meze, France, where he also picked up an award for being the oldest competitor!
In his wheelchair-adapted Mercedes Sprinter van, Chris is totally independent in travelling and towing his boat to Rutland and events. This October he is once again set to drive across Europe to the 2019 Europeans in Portimão on Portugal’s Algarve.
Chris admits 10 years ago he could never have imagined what his life has become. But he will always be grateful to fate intervening and putting him back in a boat.
“People might be afraid to try sailing as they have a vision of being in footstraps hanging over the side of a boat or capsizing and falling in. But we’re sitting in these very stable boats facing forwards and, although I enjoy racing, there are as many people who just enjoy being on the water and paddling around under sail.”
He concludes: “I didn’t know any of this was possible, but now I live a free life and it really could happen to anyone. Independence is there and it’s grabbable.”
With over 200 Sailability venues, there is somewhere on the water near you. Finding the best fit for your values, needs and budget is key to your enjoymebnt.
Before your first visit, find out what support you can expect, plan what you need to bring and think about the support you will need
Everyone's different, so contact us if you have questions or want to find out more about how boating can be made to work for you
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Sailing is open to everyone. Regardless of age or ability, it’s a level playing field out on the water and the opportunities to get involved are ever evolving. Find out about some of the boats involved