‘Anyone with any disability - I mean any disability - can sail this boat’ says Steve Sawford, builder of RYA Sailability’s latest dinghy

RYA Sailability’s mission, to open sailing up to the disabled community, has received another boost with the formal introduction of the Access dinghy. It’s been a boon for the Australians who’ve been enjoying this design for the last five years and various tweaks and tucks mean any – that’s any – disabled person can sail solo.

“It has been used for five years now,” says Sawford. “There are over 500 in the world. There’s about 150 in this country – we were the first, then Florida, Canada, California, Japan, Tasmania, Australia. They’re going into France, Holland, Spain and Portugal and that’s just starting off this year!”

“This boat is simple to sail, anyone with any disability – I mean any disability – can sail this boat and it could be sailed to the same level by you or I. That’s what I’m trying to do, there’s no line between the disabilities. If you’ve got a physical disability, some clubs find it difficult use sailing boats with people with learning difficulties but we do not recognise disability at all.”

There are two versions of this boat, the 2.3 and the larger 303. Both boats feature hammock-style seating for comfort and lead keels, 20kg in the 2.3 and 30kg in the 303, to eliminate the risk of capsize. Steering is by joystick, so push the stick left and the boat goes left, push right and it goes right which removes a stage from the learning process, making it more friendly to those with learning difficulties.

After that, all they need to master is the reefable sail and bingo – a real taste of independence. For those without movement below the neck, there’s an ingenious joystick that can be strapped onto the chest and operated with the chin; left and right for left and right, backwards and forwards for sheeting in and out.

“We’ve got Mark Ellis, the leading blind sailor, and he singlehands the boat and uses a walkie talkie and his buddy is Val Milward, RYA, another 2.3 sailor, tells him when to tack and avoid boats, so in the nationals he’s up there with the best.

“And when I said any disability, the new boat, the 303, has a single seat version with a self-tacking jib and it accomodates a ventilated quadriplegic. Narva, from Australia, was the first ventilated quadriplegic ever to sail a dinghy on her own.” Now that’s independence.
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