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The Thrill of Going Solo

"the wind, sun and a little sea spray on my face...",
Jane Stillwell

I heard about the Disabled Sailing Association (DSA) and was intrigued. With their specially rigged boats I understood anyone with a disability could learn to sail. The boats were Martin 16s, which are fitted with a system of pulleys to lessen the amount of strength needed to trim the sails. The rudder is set up as a joystick situated in front of you. This summer I was going to be in town and decided to enroll for lessons. For what I thought was a nominal fee, I was assured I would be sailing solo by the end of the summer. Lessons included five-hour classes on Sunday afternoons. After completing two exams I would have my white sail levels I and II.

The day of my first class dawned gloomy and cold, but luckily enough the day was spent on dry land going over sailing safety, knot tying (I can now tie a pretty mean bowline knot in less than 15 seconds, if I do say so myself!), terminology and rigging/derigging the boats. My four classmates and I left that afternoon with one of instructors, Berkley, telling us, "Next week you're on the water." Uh oh!

With much better weather, we started our second class with a short talk on capsizing, which I way quickly assured would never happen since the Martin 16s are equipped with a heavy keel thus making it impossible to capsize. My trepidation lessoned somewhat on hearing this and off I went to get my PFD (personal flotation device) on and load up into the boat. Using the mechanical hoist, transfers from land to boat are a breeze. The first time on the water, each student was accompanied by a trained volunteer who, should you need assistance, reassurance or someone to chit-chat with, was right there. It was wonderful!

With the wind, sun and a little sea spray on my face, I had a great time. Ben, my volunteer, who was along for the ride, said I did very well. One problem, however, we pulled of one unscheduled man overboard maneuver--not to retrieve a man, but my hat!

The sailing bug had bit and I couldn't wait for the next time. The remainder of the lessons took a similar format with a little classroom teaching to start before the sail. The only difference was that after that first sail with a volunteer along, you went solo. At first I was a little nervous (on my own already? Yikes!), but the instructors assured us that we were competent. Besides, they are on the water with you, zipping around in an engine-powered zodiac. Also, each boat is equipped with a two-way radio. They were right--nothing did go wrong and another sunny after noon was spent sailing on English Bay. Starting to feel more relaxed I began to be aware of how beautiful the surroundings were, and I even got a chance to look at some seals.

As the lessons progress, the instructors begin evaluating you on your "on-the-water skills" and a two part written exam is completed on the final day. I am proud to say that I passed all my evaluations and am now a qualified White Sail I and II sailor and also a member of the DSA racing club. However, I must note that I am not a racing member at this point but I'm sure that will change next year. I can't wait!

  Image: Woman sailing solo.

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