Wheelchair No Obstacle to Sailing

Published Friday, December 19, 2008

At Expo ’86 Margaret Thatcher, then the Prime Minister of Britain, donated a
sailboat to Rick Hansen in honour of his “Man in Motion” world tour. Three years later Rick Hansen donated the boat to Sam Sullivan who used it to help create the Disabled Sailing Association of BC.

For Daryl Park is was a different fortuitous meeting that began his involvement with the the Disabled Sailing Association. Five years ago Daryl and his wife were new to Kelowna. They went to the Kelowna Yacht Club’s annual boat show and were approached by Hans Van Leening, the president of the Kelowna Disabled Sailing Association, who asked Daryl if he had ever tried sailing. After Daryl said no Hans asked if he would like to try and Daryl said “I’m willing to try anything”. “And that”, says Daryl, “is basically how it started”.

Daryl, who is a quadriplegic, hadn’t thought of sailing as an option prior to this meting. He was quickly able to sail independently after only a few sessions of having a secondary person in the boat to help him learn the ropes. Daryl was quickly hooked. “I grew up waterskiing, powerboats, everything like that, and I had no idea you could get so much enjoyment, fun, and speed with something that is being pushed along by a little bit of wind.”

Five years later Daryl owns a Martin 16 sailboat and sails at least once or twice a week. The Martin 16 is used by the Disabled Sailing Association because, as Daryl explains, it was “designed from the ground up for disabled sailors. It was designed so that it can’t capsize. It’s a very solid boat to sail on and very forgiving, all the control lines are within arm’s reach.” For sailers like Daryl they have a system to work the controls called an ‘auto-helm’ which is basically like a joystick on a power chair. The Martin 16 can be individualized to fit each sailor’s needs.

One of the things Daryl likes most about sailing is that “when you’re sailing you are always honing your skill. It’s not something you stop learning because no two sailing days are the same. There are so many different factors involved in sailing it’s always new and evolving which means you are never finished learning.”

Sailing is a popular sport that offers both recreational and competitive options. Daryl says that “a lot of sailers get to the point where they’re comfortable on the boat and they just go out there and sail for enjoyment; they are not out there to walk that razor’s edge trying to get as much speed as possible.” For Daryl he enjoys trying the competitive side of sailing. In 2006 Daryl competed in the Silver Fleet at the Mobility Cup in Vancouver and he placed second. The Mobility Cup brings sailers from across Canada and the US together to compete. The Silver Fleet is for sailers who “have someone in the back seat that teaches you the rules of racing and the tactics for racing. The Gold Fleet is where you sail by yourself against other sailers.”

Daryl loves the “free feeling” he experiences while sailing. “Sailing gives you freedom from your wheelchair where you can go pretty much anyplace you want on a body of water. You’re not restricted like you can be in a wheelchair, like not being able to go over a lip into a business, or up stairs into a friend’s house. You can sail along like any other sailboat out there.”

For more information about the Disabled Sailing Association of BC visit http://www.disabledsailingbc.org/