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Racing Timers and Watches:

The GBR Blind match racing team was emailed, to let us know that Optemum had sponsored us with a watch each.  As the totally blind member of the team I assumed they couldn’t mean me as however large or clear the dial or numbers, I could not read it.

Imagine my excitement when I was handed my  first ever racing watch which I, not only could;  hear increasing countdown bleeps, feel a vibration at each bleep, but due to the easy button layout and acknowledging bleeps when pressed,  I could  also set up the watch myself, and be confident I had correctly started it.

 At the Blind world match racing championships Sheboygan USA , I can confirm, despite sometimes not being able to properly feel my fingers due to the cold,  I never missed getting the start sequence. For the first time ever, I had a reliable countdown, which didn’t let me down through any of my ten races.

Optimum Time OS series 14

Bright future for blind match racing

When the 2014 IFDS Disabled Sailing Worlds Match Racing Championship was held September 10-14 in Sheboygan, WI, it was the first world championship sail with no sighted observers on board.

At the seven minute count down, the team coaches left the racing boats, leaving the visually impaired sailors alone on board to race the boats using only the feel of the wind, feedback through the hull and tiller, pressure in the sails, and using audio buoys to make decisions on layline strategy and tactics.

Each mark of the course emitted a different tone, with race managers communicating to teams by radio. With teams circling each other and battling for pre start dominance, often only a few feet between boats, the umpire’s role, communicating over the radio, information and penalties, was key.

Vicki Sheen, who won the Category 2 title (sailors have limited sight), explains “As a blind helm it is essential to be able to feel the wind on your face and the back of your neck, therefore, despite the cold temperature, I tied up my warm covering of shoulder length hair, and pushed down my fleecy collar to expose as much skin as possible. Not a warm way to sail but, needs must, when trying to win races.”

Sheen’s team of Lucy Hodges on jib with Liam Cattermole on main have all successfully helmed and won medals at previous international sailing events. This understanding of each other’s roles assisted them to develop great team work through excellent communication on the boat. “We can’t see what each other are doing, so we need to keep the information flowing back and forth all the time,” explained Hodges.

“It is an amazing and exhilarating way to sail,” shared Sheen. “Blind and partially sighted sailors, completely reliant on their own skills to sail the boat”. Blind match racing is a newly developing sport. Sheen, who is also President of Blind Sailing International, came away from the event, not only with a gold medal, but excited for the bright future of Blind match racing.

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Why Is Britain So Good At Blind Sailing? 

Fleet Racing Worlds success this year, Match Racing Worlds next. Team member Vicki Sheen explains.

“When people want to wind me up they say I’ve got extra-sensitive hearing!”

Vicki Sheen laughs as she reflects on another golden year for Britain’s blind sailing team and looks ahead to what they hope will be more World glory in 2014.

Winning touch

Vicki and her 11 GB teammates returned triumphant from the IFDS Blind Sailing World and International Championships 2013 in Japan in June.

They claimed victory in the B1 and B2 classes, plus silver in the B3 class, to take the overall Squadron Cup for the top nation, while Vicki and her B1 crewmates were awarded The Colin Spanhake Trophy for their win.

But the sailors have already turned their attention to making it back-to-back World crowns, and replicating the success they had in Perth, Australia in 2011, at the IFDS World Match Racing Championship in Boston, USA in 2014.

Born with 10 per cent vision, which she gradually lost by her late twenties, Vicki discovered sailing on a standard RYA learn to sail course in Salcombe, Devon in 1996. Within three years she had joined a committed group of visually impaired and sighted sailors to set up the British Blind Sailing Racing Association, which became Blind Sailing UK, of which Vicki was the Commodore for six years.

So why have the Brits been so successful in both fleet and match racing in recent years.

Vicki explains.“The two disciplines are very different. In fleet racing there is a team of two visually impaired sailors and two sighted sailors in a boat, while in match racing the whole three-strong crew is visually impaired. Each requires a different focus.

“For example in the BI class in fleet racing the mainsheet hand must be a VI, with a sighted tactician who can’t handle any controls at any time while racing and a sighted crew who can handle all controls with the exception of the helm, mainsheet, and the mainsheet traveller. There can be seven or more boats on the racecourse so start lines and mark roundings would be chaos without a sighted element aboard.

“The teamwork and communication required to make this work as effectively as possible doesn’t happen by accident. For the Japan Worlds we had a really intense training period through the whole winter mainly out of UKSA on the Isle of Wight and Castle Coombe SC in Weymouth. We competed in the RYA Spring Series events and trained with some of the British Paralympic Sonar team, so it was very professional.

“We had a bigger squad, which was well-trained and experienced in terms of both the VI and sighted sailors. This meant it was actually a tough selection, only the best sailors and strongest teams went. All that work definitely paid off.”

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The match racing the Brits will experience in Boston next year, however, will be quite different again.

With three VI sailors in one boat, but only two boats going head-to-head at any one time the sailors rely on audio buoys, radio countdowns and on boat audio-tone to let them know where the other boat is, how close it is and whether the other boat is on port or starboard. Vicki admits especially the pre-starts are very, very intense, but it is an amazing adrenaline buzz.

Vicki will be presenting a talk on ‘Sailing With Your Senses’ at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show at Alexandra Palace on 1-2 March, revealing the secrets that make her and her teammates World beaters, and how these can help sighted sailors expand their skills by using all their senses. She will also offer tips on getting into blind sailing.

“For me as a blind sailor, how I log sensory information is critical,” she added. “Sight takes over as the dominant sense for most people but VI people have to take their cues from other sources and make sense of that information in order to paint a picture in our minds. 

“We don’t have extra-sensitive hearing! We are just able to focus on the information we are receiving and log and register that to make well-rounded decisions. The more you can train that on the water the better a sailor you will be regardless of sight.”

Britain’s 2013 World Fleet Racing Champions:

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Class B1: from no perception of light in either eye up to perception of light but inability to recognize the shape of a hand at any distance in any direction

  • VI Helm: Sharon Grennan
  • VI Mainsheet: Vicki Sheen
  • Sighted Tactician: Martin Moody
  • Sighted Crew: Ian Shirra


Class B2:
from the ability to recognize the shape of a hand up to a visual acuity of 2/60 and/or a field of 5 degrees or less

  • VI Helm: Lucy Hodges
  • VI Mainsheet: Martin Phillips
  • Sighted Tactician: Adam McGovern
  • Sighted Crew: Gary Butler

Class B3: from a visual acuity above 2/60 up to 6/60 and/or a visual field of more than 5 degrees and less than 20 degrees.

  • VI Helm: Liam Cattermole
  • VI Mainsheet: Toby Davey
  • Sighted Tactician: Jonny Cormack
  • Sighted Crew: Jonny Stevenson

IN 2013 BRITAIN’S BLIND SAILORS ONCE AGAIN PROVED THEMSELVES TO BE THE BEST IN THE WORLD, CLAIMING TEAM IFDS BLIND WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP GLORY IN JAPAN.

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Vicki Sheen was part of that team and is now a double World Blind Sailing champion. Born with 10 per cent vision, which she gradually lost by her late twenties, Vicky discovered sailing on a standard RYA Learn to Sail course in Salcombe, Devon in 1996 and now sails with both sighted and visually impaired crews.

Vicki draws on her experience as a physiotherapist to demonstrate just what sighted people miss when using only their eyes: ‘If a colleague and I are working behind adjoining curtains, the next patient can come in and I will know if that person is male or female, whether they are anxious or agitated and potentially what they are having treated just from the way they walk or from the sound of them taking off their coat. ‘For example males always jangle their keys in their pockets. The curtain is not a barrier to me in the same way it is to my colleague. My colleague will be hearing the same as me but won’t register and log that information in the same way.

‘Sight takes over as the dominant sense for most people; you can be hearing and feeling but what you register is what you see. It is a question of focus and how you register and log all the information around to make the most rounded decisions.’

Complete trust

Vicki insists the key to a visually impaired sailor sailing successfully with either sighted or other visually impaired crews is trust, and it works both ways. Sighted crews have to trust the skills of the visually impaired sailors, normally the helm and the mainsail trimmer. But the visually impaired sailor also has to completely trust the sighted crews. Such close partnerships between the sighted and unsighted crew can on occasion – especially while carrying out an emergency repair or checking the rig – allow them to forget there is someone who cannot see steering the boat! Vicki says this interdependency forges connections on a boat very quickly, and through sailing she has had the opportunity – in her words a ‘privilege’ – to meet people and develop friendships that she believes she never would have had if she had not had the chance to sail in this way. ‘Walking through someone’s front door is a massive challenge, I don’t know where the doors are, if there are steps or anything to bump into,’ she added. ‘But I can step on to any boat, and once I know which end is the bow and which is the stern, I can sort myself out within a minute and sail with complete strangers because my other senses come into play.’

Use your senses

How can Vicki’s expertise open your eyes to a whole new level of sailing? Here is a taster of some of the secrets she will reveal in her RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show talk, ‘Sailing With Your Senses’.

Filtering down

For a sighted person the brain filters out about 99 per cent of the information it is receiving so things like touch, temperature and body position don’t have the same importance unless they are needed. A visually impaired person logs more of that peripheral information and registers it so awareness and knowledge of what is going on around you all the time comes from different sources.

It’s all about the hairline

One of the key places for me to feel the wind is the back of my neck. I sail with my hair up and I have been known to cut hoods and collars off bulky wet weather gear, even offshore, so I can feel the breeze on my neck.

Drop in pressure

Cold, heavier air is easier to detect against the skin than a light breeze on a warm summer’s day as the air is less dense and the temperature is more like body temperature.

Audio clues

Do you notice cleats on boats nearby being released, or do you see their sails and manoeuvres? When you are used to registering sounds like that, and the variant sounds of different sail tensions, your ability to anticipate their next move improves.

Direction differences

Sensory indicators vary on a run and a beat and whether you are feeling true or apparent wind. It is possible to steer an almost perfect course unsighted when you learn what the wind feels like on your neck and face.

Feel your way

How much notice do you take of how the boat feels under your thighs or feet, or the changing angle of the boat or what you can sense through the tiller? Getting a true feel of the hull in the water makes you and the boat much closer and you more receptive to changes in the way it is sailing.

Let’s talk

What you say and how you say it are equally important. Instructions must be clear, calm and concise for a visually impaired sailor. Would that not make for a less frantic, more efficient sighted crew too?

– See more at: http://www.yachtsandyachting.co.uk/sailing-techniques/sailing-senses-tips-from-a-blind-winner/#sthash.yBmpWFRh.dpuf

Sense the Wind

Sense the Wind Blind Sailing Documentary – you can see it here, with the Audio Description:

http://www.sensethewind.com

Sunday May 26th 2013 – Japan World Blind Sailing Championships

Japan is amazing.  You really do get a sense of being in a different country and culture. Not least because of the changes of footwear from; shoes, to slippers, to slippers within bathrooms. There is such an attention to small details, pleasant fragrances, different fruit designs in the pavements, bird song on the railway platforms.

The opening ceremony was the first chance for all the teams to get together. a chance to catch up with old friends; from New Zealand, Japan, USA, and a chance to take right back up where we left off joking and teasing with our good friends from Australia and Canada. A traditional Lion dance and a few rum cocktails later and we’re back to reminiscing over previous races and old battles won and lost.

Good first day’s racing: winds progressed through the four races, from moderately light to moderately windy. With  the B1 team finishing the day in joint first place with Japan, and the B2 team finishing first  with the B3 team second.

In the light winds the Japanese appear bolistic, while in the stronger  winds all our winter heavy weather training seams to have paid off (or is it just our heavier weight?).  Keep your fingers crossed it’s only the first day and there is  a lot of competition and races to go.

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Japan 2013 Blind World Sailing Championships

We leave on Monday to travel to Japan for the 2013 World Blind Fleet Sailing
Championships. A competition where Blind sailors helm and crew J24s a
twenty-four foot racing yacht. With between seven to eleven boats fighting
for position on the start line it can be quite lively and invariably results
in very close competitive sailing.

I have raced in the Brixham sailing fleet for the last ten years and am
currently helming Blues Too in the Thursday evening Brixham yacht club,
sailing a  hunter Impala owned and raced by David and Liz Mills.  Doing well
in the first two races of the season coming second  and first so far in the
Corinthian fleet.

In Japan, I am hoping to replicate my success in Australia at the Perth 2011
Blind Match racing Championships at which I and the GB team won gold. In
Blind match racing, the boats are sailed with the entire crew comprised of
Visually impaired sailors, with no sighted crew on board.

We have been training for the Japan World Championships, through the winter
in Cowes Rile of White and Weymouth, much of the time in freezing conditions
and high winds.  Japan is predicted to be gentle winds and The GB team will
only have two days of training in Japan in which to adjust to these light
conditions.  The teams had a highly successful final training session in
Weymouth hosted by the Castle Cove sailing club who’s members generously
loaned us three J24s. Alongside this support, The GP team has been
generously sponsored by Mustow with team kit

There are nineteen teams from five countries, sailing in three separate
classes for Blind and partially sighted sailors. I will be competing in the
Blind class. Each team comprises of; a Visually impaired helm, visually
impaired main sal trimmer, Sighted jib sail trimmer  and a sighted
tactician.

Racing starts Sunday 26th May finishing Saturday June 1st, weather allowing
we hope to sail up to fifteen races. Keen supporters can follow the progress
on the Blind Sailing web site blindsailing.org.

B1 Blind GP team; Vicki Sheen from Brixham Torbay, Sharon Grennan from Greenwich London, Ian Shearer from Cambria, Martin Moody from Southampton.

B1 Blind GP team; Vicki Sheen from Brixham
Torbay, Sharon Grennan from Greenwich London, Ian Shearer from Cambria,
Martin Moody from Southampton.

GB Teams going out

GB Teams going out