Vision What Really Happened
By Claire Jennings
It’s coming up to the second anniversary since Yachting monthly ran a story about when we at The Visually Impaired Sailing Association of Great Britain sailed the UKSA’s yacht “Vision” onto the sand bank at Warsash Shingle Bank. The picture they used has now become our mascot and is the one we profile on our website’s front page.
I’m going to give the inside scoop on what really happened that day and why, here at Visa, we are extremely proud of what we achieved that week.
The week itself was ground breaking because we had 5 totally blind sailors under-taking training supported by 2 sighted crew. 3 of us took our competent crew and 2 the day skipper practical as approved by the Royal Yachting Association. The week was designed to be as accessible for blind sailors as possible. We had dummy flares to feel and learn how to activate, we were able to inflate a life-jacket to feel how they work, we practice Man Overboard by raising someone from the pontoon with a block and tackle via the main Halliard, we independently rowed a dingy by using a walky-talky linking us to the sighted skipper to direct us, we used a bleeping audio compass for helming, tactile charts for navigation as well as all the usual sail hoisting, winching, knot tying, mooring lines and fender usage.
For totally blind people to under-take training of this kind to the point where we are totally independent is exhilarating and liberating as, although we obviously need sighted people to scan the horizon and guide us when mooring and to be there in case of emergencies, the sighted Skipper and Mate are able to sit down and verbally direct us by providing information that supports us to work effectively without them needing to lift a finger. . That 4 out of the 5 of us passed the official RYA exams is also proof that we can go beyond what we thought possible and make history.
On the day in question, Colin Fowler was navigating at night as part of the Day Skipper Practical Course. He plotted the course from Southampton Ocean Village Yacht Club to the Hamble. Although day-light doesn’t effect us in a practical sense as it’s dark all the time for us, the fact that the journey was at night meant that Colin was using leading lights to help inform his course into the entrance to the Hamble Harbour. Colin was receiving information about the lights from the sighted crew but, because it was something that had never been attempted before, there was a misunderstanding between the verbal instruction and the exact positioning of the yacht. We ran aground and when we found reversing was having no effect, the sighted skipper took over as a safety precaution. We immediately contacted The Solent Coastguard who advised us to stay on the boat. As you can see from the picture, we were in a precarious position but the yacht was set fast in the shingle and the skipper directed us all to the saloon, the centre point of the boat and instructed us to remain in our sailing kit and life jackets in case of the need to evacuate. The sighted skipper stayed up all night, monitoring the situation while the rest of us slept. He kept in contact with the coastguard and ensured that the yacht wasn’t moving around or listing. To have attempted to evacuate 5 blind people from the yacht, set above the shingle as it was would have been extremely risky which is why the skipper made the correct decision for us to keep still in the centre of the boat wile he monitored for change. As the Tide rose, we carefully moved back up into the cockpit. The coastguard visited us and saw that we were safe but by then, the tide lifted us off and we were able to continue our sail into Hamble Harbour.
We came in for a lot of criticism, as did the sighted skipper for running aground and remaining on the yacht but the only way for anyone never to make a mistake at sea is never to sail. I am sure every sailor worthy of the name has run aground at one point or another. Those instances may not make photographic history in quite the way we did but at the end of the day, VISA is giving blind people the chance to give sailing our best shot and succeed. We’ll get it wrong sometimes, just like sighted people do but if running aground once, in the 16 successful VISA trips we’ve run up to the end of 2013 is the worst we do then we’re not doing too badly!
The Visually Impaired Sailing Association of Great Britain receives no statutory funding and is entirely dependent on donations, gifts, and contributions from companies, trusts and private individuals.
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