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With a pull on the sheets, the sailor adjusts the sails to get ready to tack. A feeling of exhilaration rises as the sailboat responds and waves lap at the boat as it cuts through the water on a new path.
This may be a routine experience to many sailors, but to the paraplegic and wheelchair bound, the chance to experience these simple sailing pleasures can be extraordinary
"I tried it once and I got hooked. It's a real blast," says Sail Connecticut Access member Jonathan Recor. "I'd never sailed post-injury" until trying it through Sail Connecticut Access.
That chance-the opportunity to bend a sailboat's path to one's will-wasn't available to disabled and handicapped adults before Sail Connecticut Access was formed in 1990.
"The biggest benefit of the sailing experience for the disabled is that it gives the (disabled) who learn to sail the confidence to try to do other things," says Richard Fucci of Guilford, one of the organization's founders.
Left paralyzed due to an accident, Fucci and his friend Harry Horgan, also paralyzed, conquered their disabilities and together competed successfully in the first-ever U.S. Sail Independence Cup in Newport, Rhode Island, more than 20 years ago. They came back determined to bring sailing experiences like they'd had to the disabled and handicapped adults in Connecticut. Soon thereafter they founded Sail Connecticut Access.
At its peak in 2008, the nonprofit group conducted 330 sails in the May through September season. Through an upcoming open house, Sail Connecticut Access hopes to reach out to new disabled and handicapped adults and their caregivers to help them enjoy the pleasures of sailing.
The organization uses volunteer skippers and first mates to take as many as three or four individuals out on each sail.
On Saturday, June 16, Sail Connecticut Access will hold an open house in the Brewer Pilots Point Marina South and East yards in Westbrook. Visitors will be able to take a guided sail in one of the organization's three sailboats starting at 9:30 a.m.; the last boat will go out at 2:30 p.m. Disabled and handicapped adults as well as their family or caregivers are welcome to participate in both the open house sails or to come along on a scheduled sail with a member at other times.
Any individual who is disabled may become a member of Sail Connecticut Access for $45 for the season, which entitles him or her to schedule sails throughout the season for no additional charge. Caregivers or family members may accompany him or her on the sail for no added charge.
Group memberships also are available to organizations that serve the handicapped or the disabled, including agencies running group homes. An agency with a group membership would be charged $60 a sail.
"Our mission is to take people with disabilities out sailing to give them a sailing experience," said Rob Ratliff.
The fleet includes two, 20-foot sloops-Independence and Seas The Day-and a Pearson Ensign 23-foot sloop, Shazam. All have been adapted for the diverse needs of the sailors. A Hoyer sling helps disabled sailors to enter the boat and two special post-mounted chairs can be installed in boat's center.
"The sailors can go from wheelchair by sling into the boat chair; they can then run the deck lines and trim the jib from that chair," said Ratliff.
Ratliff said the organization is very grateful for the support the organization gets from its financial partners including Brewer Pilots Point Marina, which provides the three sailboat berths and built the deck. The accessible ramp was provided by Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
For more information about becoming a Sail Connecticut Access member, the open house or joining the group as a volunteer skipper or first mate or to donate funds or in-kind services, call Rob Ratliff, Sail Connecticut Access' sailing director at 860-304-6588. For additional information, visit www.sailctaccess.org.