Equals Freedom For Tetraplegic Sailor
Terry LeBlanc's Tale
Part of the joy for Terry LeBlanc
is working the entire experience by intuition as much as by mariner's
skills. He merely needs to bite, breathe and think to sail his
boat and gain an intense feeling of freedom on the waters of Vancouver's
It's mostly due to the Sip
'n' Puff technology of the Martin 16 sailboat that LeBlanc
uses. These are untippable craft, provided by the funders of the
Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia. Sip 'n' Puff
controls enables sailors to chose either trimming the sails or
directing the tiller, simply by biting the plastic straw. The
interface of hardware and firmware allows a tetraiplegic
to operate a sailboat.
The sailboat was developed
in 1993 by DSA in conjunction with Alvis Marine. The Neil Squire
Foundation was instrumental in developing the sailboats Sip 'n'
Puff electronic control system, which allows a person with little
or no movement below the neck to sail independently. All functions,
including setting the sails and steering the boat, are controlled
by the sailors breath.
The boat has been getting a lot
of attention since it was first launched in 1993, and many sailors
with severe disabilities are enjoying the sport of sailing through
The Martin 16 looks like a miniature
America's Cup yacht. With narrow beam, a plumb bow, bulb keel
and an open transom, it has all the signs of a pocket racing keelboat.
But up close, the Martin is steered like a small plane, with a
joystick that is positioned between the helmsman's legs. The pilot,
so to speak, sits facing forward in a fully adjustable, molded,
The helm is responsive and light
and the boat sails like it's running on steel wheels. Although
the Martin 16 was designed to be sailed using Sip 'n'
Puff interface which operates electronic sheeting and helms control,
this is a no-compromise, performance keelboat that would also
be great for 30- to 70- something club racers.
LeBlanc sips on the straw to head
the boat to starboard when he's in the tiller mode and he puffs
(or exhales) when he wishes to turn to port. He bites on the straw
when he wants to go into 'sail' mode, hauling in the sails for
example, when he wants to track, or sail against the wind.
"It's quite simple,"
he said recently. "Now in a racing situation, when you have
to jockey about for position at the start line, it can get tricky.
But I find it really quite intuitive, really." LeBlanc a
native of Moncton, New Brunswick, left the Maritimes years ago
to find work in his occupation of the time, as a land surveyor.
He moved to Calgary, but while on holiday in 1978, he was injured
diving from a raft on a lake near Pentiction, BC.
Later, while searching for a new
way to get out on the water again, this time as a tetraplegic,
he discovered DSA. Over the years, LeBlanc has made many friends
through his sailing, either through racing or the social activity
that is synonymous with boating.
"The whole social aspect
is quite neat," he said. "I like to hang out on the
second floor deck at the sailing centre, and you can never tell
who you will meet."