Disabled Can Enjoy Sailing, Too

Posted: December 04, 1988

One thing you don't see much on the water is wheelchairs.

No, that's not a joke. The pleasures of boating are fully available to the handicapped, though few people seem to realize it. This holiday season, you could put some joy into the life of a disabled person by spreading the word.

The National Ocean Access Project is a two-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to getting "challenged sailors" into all forms of boating activities, including racing regattas, cruises and day sailing. The NOAP recently moved from Newport, R.I., to Annapolis, Md., and is setting up learn- to-sail programs for the handicapped. There could be one soon in Philadelphia if the demand is great enough, according to executive director John Lancaster.

The courses teach the usual how-to for beginners and help the sailor adapt a boat to special needs.

"And we help them design whatever contraptions they may need or want, to make operating the boat easy and comfortable," Lancaster said.

There is even a special-design sailboat for the disabled. The Freedom Independence, a 20-footer, is distributed exclusively by the NOAP for $11,900.

"It's fast and it's fun, but it's also extremely stable and safe," Lancaster said.

Want to play Santa but can't afford to give a boat? How about a Caribbean cruise? The Lord Nelson, a three-masted, square-rigged bark, out of Freeport, is a 179-foot, 400-ton boat equipped to be sailed by both disabled and able- bodied crew members. Lifts to all deck levels mean wheelchair-bound sailors fully participate, and the boat is set up for the blind and hearing-impaired, too. The cost is $950 for a week's berth and board.

For more information on courses, the boat or the cruises, write National Ocean Access Project, 410 Severn Ave., Suite 306, Annapolis, Md., 21403, or call John Lancaster, 301-280-0464,.

Got a more modest gift budget than boats and cruises? A disabled person on your list might like a book by Tristan Jones, who is handicapped and who has sailed more miles, in more harrowing and more hilarious situations, than any known sailor in the world.

Jones looks as if he should have a parrot on his shoulder, a bottle of rum in his pocket and a knife in his teeth. His wit and grit are legendary, and he obviously uses the long stretches of solitude on the water for writing because he has nearly a dozen books and a regular newsletter in print. The Incredible Voyage of Tristan Jones is on videocassette, too. The book Outward Leg tells of his return to the sea after losing a leg, and it is a rollicking good tale as well as an inspiration. Available at the Sailors Bookshelf in Hillside, N.J., 201-964-4620.

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