Nina takes the helm – disabled sailor sets course for Japan regatta

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Nina takes control of a 25-foot racing yacht for the first time.
Nina takes control of a 25-foot racing yacht for the first time.

Nina is a lovely local lady from Pattaya who suffered a serious car accident when she was just 25 years old and is now a quadriplegic. Having been able-bodied for a long time it must have been so much harder to adapt to a life confined to a wheelchair, however, despite her mobility restrictions Nina leads a very full life and spends a lot of time working to help other people with disabilities.

Luckily there are quite a lot of “good” people around and it is with their help and commitment that Nina and others are given the chance to not only go sailing but also take an active part in sailing a yacht.

Nina (right) poses with her fellow intrepid sailors at Ocean Marina Yacht Club in Pattaya.
Nina (right) poses with her fellow intrepid sailors at Ocean Marina Yacht Club in Pattaya.

At Ocean Marina Yacht Club, just South of Pattaya, with the support of the marina management, there are many sailors who put their time and energy into helping others go sailing. Whether it be giving orphanage kids the opportunity of a fun day out on the ocean or teaching people with physical disabilities how to sail in specially adapted boats. The benefits work both ways. Those given the opportunity to go sailing enjoy the freedom of the sea, away from their wheelchairs and the pollution and noise of the land, and the organisers enjoy the feelings that only “giving” can bring. To see the joy on the faces of all those they take to sea is an unforgettable experience.

So it was arranged for Nina to go sailing on a 25-foot racing yacht for the first time in her life and also to experience being an active part of the crew. The yacht has been fitted with a specially adapted motor driven rudder control which is operated by pressing switches with the little movement Nina has in her left hand. This would be her first step to sailing courses which we hope will see her taking part in a Combined World Championship regatta in Japan in October.

The entries for this ‘Combined’ regatta are both able and disabled bodied crew racing the same courses together. Once a person is given the controls to overcome their disabilities they are considered able to sail as well as anyone else. To see them in action in 25 knots of wind, check out https://vimeo.com/116919764.

Controls have been developed to cope with almost any form of disability. In the extreme, these adaptations have resulted in a ventilated, quadriplegic lady being able to sail a small yacht single handed. As well as the mechanical controls needed, her dingy had to be fitted with the oxygen supply she needs 24 hours a day. It is beyond our understanding what the feeling this lady had as she sailed, free as a bird, away from the restrictions she normally had to endure every waking moment of her life. Hearing her talk of her joy afterwards was enough to affect anyone.

The steering system developed for Nina was used the previous day by K. Narong from the Father Ray foundation and worked very well for him. Sitting in a “rally car” style seat bolted to the deck, he was easily able to steer the boat. We also had “Meeow” (a paraplegic lady) on board and she had a turn at steering, using the tiller by hand in the conventional way, and did very well considering it was her first by time to do so. K. Phong was also on board and in spite of only having one leg he was in control of the jib sheets and was able to move from one side of the boat to the other with ease.

Nina’s trial the next day did not go so smoothly because the weather was not so kind to us. It had been beautiful conditions the previous two days but for Nina the wind was much stronger and there were waves to contend with. It is very hard to sail smoothly under these conditions because the wind tries to steer the boat itself. However we did manage to have an hour on the water, but because of the very limited use of her left hand, the control unit only responded in one direction.

The good news is that because of this trial we now have a second generation steering unit already on the drawing board and this will easily give Nina full control. The trial was a success in that it provided important information for us to solve some issues. It will not be long before we are back on the water again.

If we needed any encouragement to continue this project that was provided by the brief moment when Nina expressed the sensation of being in control and this was a joy to behold. That’s why the folks at Freedom Sailing do this work.

A big thanks goes to Ocean Marina Yacht Club for sponsoring our efforts and to Doug Smith who has worked tirelessly, on and off the water, since the beginning of Freedom Sailing. Also to Tom Mc Neill of Austhai Electronic Solutions for designing and supplying the control units.

Note: If you would like to learn more about Freedom Sailing and how you can help, check out: www.FreedomSailingThailand.com , www.DisabledSailingThailand.org  or contact Kevin Scott at [email protected] .