Nfld. & Labrador

Accessible sailing hoping to make waves for people with disabilities in N.L.

The Martin 16 sailboat allows everything in the boat to be operated through a series of pulley systems, letting the sailor control the entire boat while seated.

Sailing grants freedom often not found on land, Hayley Redmond said

Hayley Redmond pilots a Martin 16 sailboat, designed for sailors with disabilities. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

Many people in Newfoundland and Labrador love a day out on the water sailing, and one group from this province is making sure everyone is able to experience it.

Able Sail NL was created in 2018 with the goal of helping make sailing more accessible to those with physical or mental disabilities.

"If someone's got a physical or mental disability, we don't want that to be a barrier to sailing," said Matt Debicki, president of Able Sail NL, on Friday.

"We've partnered with the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club along with other partners such as Ocean Quest and Ocean Yacht Sales and several others to try and be as inclusive as possible with our sailing school."

The group was able to get into the water for the first time last year with close to a dozen athletes manning the sails. The program was made possible after they purchased two Martin 16 vessels, a sailboat designed specifically for sailors with disabilities.

The Martin 16 allows everything in the boat to be controlled through a series of pulley systems. The jib sail is controlled with the right hand, while the mainsail is controlled with the left. With the rudder controlled by a lever in front of the sailor, the boat can be entirely controlled while seated.

The Martin 16 can be controlled entirely while seated. The rope on the right side controls the jib sail, while the rope on the left controls the mainsail. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

Hayley Redmond started sailing the Martin 16 in 2016, when she travelled to Ottawa to represent Newfoundland and Labrador at the Mobility Cup, an international regatta featuring sailors from Canada and the United States.

Redmond, who uses a wheelchair, said she loves being on the water as it helps grant a kind of freedom she can't often find on land.

When asked what she enjoys most about being on the water, she said, "The freedom of being alone and steering, and having the control of my own boat.

Hayley Redmond travelled to Ottawa last year to represent Newfoundland and Labrador at the Mobility Cup, an international accessible sailing competition. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"It means everything to me. It's great that were getting people involved in sailing, and great that I'll have some people to race against in the future."

It just means a lot to me that they get to experience real freedom, and they don't have any limits when they're in the water.- Sky Walker

Debicki said that freedom on the water is felt by just about every sailor, as navigating the city can sometimes be challenging for those using equipment like wheelchairs.

"With all our hills, our older buildings and everything, accessibility issues are greater than a lot of the other parts of Canada, whereas the ocean is the same everywhere," he said. "All we need to go is get you in a boat and you're good to go."

Sky Walker, one of the coaches at Able Sail NL, came to the province after spending time with the accessible sailing program in Montreal. As time goes on, she hopes a strong able sailing program will be able to develop in Newfoundland.

Able Sail NL president Matt Debicki, left, and coach Sky Walker say they hope to continue to grow accessible sailing in the province. (CBC)

"I've been sailing pretty much my whole life, since I was seven years old," Walker said. "And in my first program, there was a girl who was in an access dinghy. We never really saw it as anything different, and I think that just kind of stood with me."

"It just kind of happened, and I just fell in love with it."

Walker hopes to be able to work as a kinesiologist with young people with disabilities. After working in accessible sailing, she said, she sees how much it means to those involved.

"It just means a lot to me that they get to experience real freedom, and they don't have any limits when they're in the water," she said.

As Able Sail NL continues to develop, Walker said the program hopes to be able to bring a future Mobility Cup event to the province. The group will be hosting an event on Monday morning to allow people to try accessible sailing for themselves.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Alex Kennedy works for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.


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