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Old 10-06-2017, 17:09   #1
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Disabled Sailors?

Hi everybody. I'm a long time lurker and avid follower of all the good advice being dispensed here.

I'm currently a non-sailor, but have a yearning for being on the water, whether it's just coastal sailing just now and building up to a sizeable trip some day.

My main question is regarding my girlfriend. She has mobility issues and cannot take any large steps due to a severley injured leg. She's not in a wheelchair yet, but there may be a possibility she could be at some stage as her condition is only going to get worse for the rest of her life. This makes climbing ladders or lifting her leg over a guardrail impossible.

Is there anybody on here who could give me some pointers regarding what sailing will be like for her? I know there will be issues regarding boarding the vessel and entering the cabin. I can't really pursue my dream if I either have to leave her at home, or it is going to be so unpleasant for her she doesn't enjoy a minute of it.

I'm also thinking about what kind of vessel would be ideal. After much research I can see that a catamaran would be the best option - everything on the one level, a view all round from the cabin - allowing her to see what's going on without having to climb up and down a narrow set of steps from a cabin, plus an easier way of her getting out the water should she wish to go for a swim. However, the costs seem to be very prohibitive for us.

So what about single hulls? I know i could build some sort of gangway to get her from the dock onto the boat, but I'm wondering how easy it is to get down into the cabin.

Is there anybody on here who has experience of sailing with a less able-bodied companion, or who is themselves disabled (without wanting to pry into personal circumstances too much)?

Thanks folks
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Old 10-06-2017, 17:18   #2
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

I have not, but there is an active organization in Annapolis called CRAB, who can probably assist you.
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Old 10-06-2017, 17:21   #3
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

Thanks for this.

I'll Google them just now.
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Old 10-06-2017, 17:24   #4
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

There is a huge difference between monohulls on how treacherous the companionway steps are. On some boats they aren't steps but ladders. Look for one with easy steps and few of them.
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Old 10-06-2017, 17:57   #5
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

hi.....look at in Australia......they have done Sydney Hobart....Hamilton Island Race Week.......all crew members have disability.....including the skipper......David Pescud......whether its a missing limb.....or blind....or name it...all have benefited.......
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Old 10-06-2017, 17:57   #6
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

I think you can do it. It's harder, but then, so is normal life with a disability.

My oldest daughter has something like cerebral palsy. She's 14, and we've been sailing far with her since she was 0, though not continuously. She's sailed with us in Africa, the Caribbean, Pacific Mexico, and the usual route through the South Pacific to New Zealand.

Physically, she sounds somewhat similar to your girlfriend. She can't really climb a ladder and has trouble on steep stairs. She can't walk far, stumbles easily, and was in a wheelchair until a couple years ago.

So... We've made it work. On three different boats, all monohulls.

High dinghy docks are nearly impossible, though sometimes there's a beach landing nearby that we can use instead. The Caribbean was sometimes hard, because the dinghy docks are crowded and newbies/rude people sometimes short tie their dinghys (or even lock them on a short leash) to the dock, and since my daughter can't climb over other dinghys, we sometimes couldn't go ashore because there's no way to get next to the dock.

Dinghy transfers are by far the toughest thing we deal with. Getting ashore from the dinghy, and getting into and out of the dinghy from the boat.

We skipped Rarotonga because the way ashore is up a ladder. We haven't skipped any other places, yet. We even went to Niue, which has a somewhat crazy (-- lift the dinghy with a crane) situation. My daughter thought it was awesome to ride the crane in the dinghy, up to the pier.

A swim platform helps, but we still needed a sling and four part tackle to the radar arch. We'd loop the sling under her arms and pull on the tackle until she was standing on the swim platform. Pretty easy. The sling is just thick webbing. It's not comfortable, but it's easy to put on and off and we only lifted her with it for a few seconds.

Our current boat does not have a swim platform. After a lot of experimentation we've settled on a big mesh square with webbing loops on each corner. She sits on the square on the poop deck, or in the dinghy, and we attach a line off the mizzen boom to it, lift her, and drop her into the dinghy. This is also how she swims -- we just drop her further, into the water.

Our current boat also has a side boarding staircase. The steps are shallow enough that it's a short step up from the dinghy to it. This also works well, except when it's choppy and the dinghy is moving up and down a lot. This staircase makes boarding way easier for her when we are in a marina.

We were somewhat limited in the boats that would work for us. I liked the Amazon 44's (and etc), but my daughter could not do the high and steep companionway. Our second and third boats had something more like a staircase than a companionway ladder.

I could go on and on. So I'll be brief unless you have specific questions.

But I will say that everyone we've encountered, out there, has been amazingly wonderful to my daughter. Sometimes it's a bit embarrassing, or awkward, with how nice people are to her. Fiji and Tonga, especially. We've had so much help from random strangers -- teenagers hanging out drinking on the dock, who at first look seem like naer-do-wells, but step up to help lift her onto a high pier. Or the water taxi drivers in Galapagos were so, so sweet with her. And etc.

Photos are of her going for a swim (though we also lift her from the dinghy with the same system), and the side boarding folding staircase thing that also helps with the dinghy.
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Old 10-06-2017, 19:03   #7
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

Thanks for this msponer. You've managed to convince my other half that things are do-able, with some modifications and equipment customised to suit different needs.

We are both a lot happier that we can now seriously start down this road and any problems we foresee can be overcome.

And grahamb thanks for the link. We'll be making contact with them shortly even if it is just to throw a few dollars in their direction.

Thanks once again guys.
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Old 10-06-2017, 21:16   #8
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

You have received a lot of good advice regarding disabilities, so I won't and really can't offer anything constructive there. But a suggestion would be to look at deck salon and pilot house models.
It would limit stairs and keep you in a mono, and keep the price down.
We also are looking to retire on a cat, but a jeaneau deck salon is our back up if funds don't quite measure up.
Good luck.
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Old 10-06-2017, 22:17   #9
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

I think you should watch this youtube channel. He is a paraplegic, in a wheelchair, and they live and cruise on a Hunter '27.
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Old 10-06-2017, 22:49   #10
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

Originally Posted by chris mac View Post
But a suggestion would be to look at deck salon and pilot house models.
Thanks for this. Now i know the technical names for what I'm searching for so i should find them a lot easier.

And TooCoys this is one channel I haven't stumbled upon so that's our Sunday evening viewing sorted.

I knew it could be done and all of the information everyone has imparted on this thread has certainly swayed my good lady's thoughts on her ability to come with me.
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Old 11-06-2017, 02:35   #11
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

I have sailed with a crew member with double club foot, and another who lost a leg to a motorcycle accident. In both cases they were very independent minded and insisted on as little help as possible.

They both enjoyed swimming and had watch duties. They both could pull themselves out of the water and transfer by kayak. They could also sit and scoot themselves up and down steps with little problem.

My big wide trimaran provided some great stability and made their trips easier. Most big trimarans do not have life lines to clamber over.

The combination that wouldn't work is
1. If the individual lacked the upper body strength to do everything on their own, and
2. Refused to accept help or was too embarrassed to scoot on their butt.

I did run into two problems with the double club foot crew member.
#1 He was shy about going to shore in a new port because he was afraid people would make fun of him.
#2 He was so independent minded he refused to take seasick pills when he got seasick.
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Old 11-06-2017, 05:41   #12
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

Here is another organization that helps disabled people sail.
Shake A Leg Miami - Biscayne Bay Miami, Florida
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Old 11-06-2017, 21:42   #13
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Re: Disabled Sailors?

I have some ideas that have worked for my wife and myself:

We sail in pretty calm weather, and for shorter (less than 8 hours) runs on a given day. Yes, this limits us in our cruising range. We do short coastal hops, and lots of day sailing. When the waves kick up (it's the waves, not the wind that gets to her) we reef deeply, and de-power the boat. Keep enough way to keep the boat footing, but take some of the edge off the motion. We often choose to find a sheltered anchorage, rather than press on for more distance.

We have bought boats with a wheel instead of a tiller. My wife is able to use the wheel in most conditions we find ourselves in. That keeps her connected to the task of sailing. She makes an excellent lookout, and keeps an eye on the rig looking for possible problems. She is not able to handle jib sheets, but is able to loop lines over cleats when we dock. We have found what she can do, and she does it. By the way, I recently installed electric jib winches. She'll operate those.

We have a boat with a step-through transom and a swim step. I often dock stern to, and it's much easier for her to board and leave the boat. When we cruise, I carry a three step boarding stair down in the cabin, which we use to make getting on the boat easier when we are at a dock. Dinghys are not really an option for us at this point. When we anchor, she stays on board. For this reason, we look for dock space when we are out cruising.

We've bought a boat that is really comfortable for us in sleeping arrangements and in the cabin. Also, she can get very comfortable in a blue pad chair that snuggles up on the front of the cockpit seat,under the dodger. When she's there she can sit on the leaward side and not have to brace herself in too difficult a manner.

It is so much more fun to sail with my wife than do it by myself, that making modifications and accommodations are as important to me as they are to her. We've been sailing together for 39 years now - our anniversary was yesterday - and raised three children sailing on weekends and vacations. Now we take our kids and grandchildren out quite often. This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it certainly works for us.
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