Into the Mystic

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“Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea, and feel the sky let your soul and spirit fly—into the mystic…”
― Van Morrison

Connor Roberts, left, and Orlando Manghane, both of Hosanna Community, have sustained traumatic head injuries in the past and are learning to sail in the Privateer Adaptive Sailing Camp.

A sport that allows participants to enjoy the freedom of movement and independence—whiling away the afternoon on an inland lake, mastering the wind in recreational races, or attempting challenging elite-level competition in exotic ports—sailing offers something for everyone.

Steve Sherman, now retired president of McLaughlin Boat Works, a builder of Optimist class racing sailboats in the US, is off on another adventure. This summer as a director of the Privateer Yacht Club Sailing Camps ℹ️, he is developing an Adaptive Sailing Camp for people with disabilities. It began with 14 students. Now in its second year, the program accepts students of all ages with cognitive and physical disabilities, at little or no cost.

The idea germinated after Sherman was asked to help provide sailboats on consignment for a big regatta sponsored by the Park City (Utah) Sailing Club. While he was helping with the event he was hosted by a local snow skiing instructor who convinced him to volunteer on the slopes, helping students with disabilities. Sherman tried it and decided he enjoyed the experience. He went back for two more seasons.

“I thoroughly enjoyed helping the physically challenged,” says Sherman. “I was emotionally charged and happy to see what they could accomplish.” He came home and decided he wanted to do the same thing for lake sailing in Chattanooga.

It was a process, but once he started, Sherman was all in. He volunteered at Siskin, helping accident victims who were trying to re-enter the workplace. He became a volunteer of Hosanna Community in Chattanooga and now serves on its executive board. Finally, last year he began working with ROVER, a group of retired veterans that wanted to start a sailing club. Collaborating with Privateer Yacht Club, he and a few key people laid the ground work for the first camp.

Students gain self-confidence and enjoy a sense of accomplishment when they learn to maneuver a sailboat. B. J. Smoot is tucked into a foot harness as his boat heels with the wind.

Through a chance encounter with Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA) Chattanooga administrators, Jerry and Debbie Hightower at a conference in Colorado, Sherman modeled the Privateer program after the DSUSA program. “Individuals of all abilities can enjoy the sport of sailing as boats can be adapted for seating, controls and rigging. The first step is gaining access to a sailing center that has an adaptive program,” states the organization’s website. The local chapter is called Sports, Arts and Recreation of Chattanooga (SPARC) and it sponsors activities in a wide range of interests from paddleboarding to wheelchair tennis.

For a groundbreaking sailing program, Sherman enlisted Chattanooga native David Cunningham to help with preparation for the first camp, designing and building transfer benches that make access on and off the boat possible, for himself and other sailors with challenges. He has been sailing with Sherman since last spring and says he enjoys the freedom of being on the water. “It’s just you out there sailing, doing your own thing,” he says. “I used to hang glide—that’s how I had my accident. It reminds me of that a little, how you move the boat to take advantage of the wind.” His 2012 accident and resulting spinal cord injury left him unable to walk. Cunningham says he likes the design aspect of adapting the boats and hopes to help Sherman with the camp again this summer. “You have to figure out what each individual needs.”

Bob Ewing, president of Footloose Sailing Association, Seattle, another DSUSA chapter, knows the specifics. “Adaptations for disabilities include things like special seating, electric power winches, electric starter motors, talking GPS, roller furling, davit transfer systems, joy stick controls and other innovations that are sometimes customized to a certain situation,” says Ewing. “For example we have two 16-foot boats that have electric winches for steering and sail control set up to work with a joy stick, chin stick or sip and puff. Once we give the sailor the basic knowledge, they can have control of sailing a boat. If you think about that, and the situation that the sailor lives in, it becomes very powerful.”

Sherman is still perfecting his adaptations as the camp adds participants. This year he will be using an O’Day 28’, a Flying Scot 20’ and an MC Scow 16’—all popular boats for recreation that may be adapted to special needs.

Additionally, the future may hold options for competitive and Paralympic sailing, too, once the basic skills have been mastered. In the competition scenario, teams are made up of persons with differing disabilities and of various ages. For example, among the teams that recently participated in the Paralympic sailing events in Rio, the average age was 40. Some were as young as 21 and the oldest was 57. “That’s the beauty of sailing,” says Sherman. “You can be nine or 90 and still be competitive. You don’t age out in our sport.”

Privateer Yacht Club—Making waves on a great inland lake!
Founded in the summer of 1940, Privateer Yacht Club (PYC) seeks to promote sailing and teach its members nautical skills, water safety and waterway ethics, while calling attention to one of the South’s “Great Lakes”—Lake Chickamauga. Over the years it has become a nucleus of boating related activities, especially racing and education, for Chattanooga boating enthusiasts.

The Club has several major sailing regattas and holds club level races each weekend from April through November. In 2014 the members replaced the 1940s-era clubhouse with a new one, built on the original foundation. Architect Rob Fowler redesigned the facility.

The club has over 150 member families and operates a marina with more than 80 slips. The 28-acre property also has provisions for dry storage and future expansion.

Each summer, qualified instructors teach sailing to children and adults through a variety of collaborative programs that PYC hosts. Baylor, McCallie and GPS have all held camps at PYC. Last summer the Club introduced its first-ever adaptive sailing program for participants with cognitive and physical disabilities.

The PYC Ship’s Store carries Coral Reef sailing apparel with member discounts and the marina is located at 4713 Privateer Road in Hixson, Tennessee.

For more information, visit privateeryachtclub.org

Story by Miles Baker
Photography by Steve Sherman

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