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Brixham Yacht Club

I had the honour of being asked to be the after dinner speaker at the Brixham Yacht Club annual dinner and dance. The more cynical of you-my husband included-will be asking yourselves “So who dropped out?”

 On the plus side. It was good to be able to share with the members my genuine thanks for the club giving me my first opportunity  out on the water and great support ever since then.  

 It was great to discover how interested and supportive everyone was to hear about Perth and the world Sailing Match racing Championships.

On the negative side. I have discovered several disadvantages to being an “After dinner” speaker:

 You have to wait three hours before you speak.  This gives you three hours in which you will have convinced yourself that you have forgotten the whole speech.

 You are invited to a free seven course meal. However you are too nervous to  eat more than a few mouthfuls of each course.

You are sat in a room with a bar, and at a table where people are offering you glasses of very nice wine. However you are unable to drink alcohol as you need to keep a clear head in order to remember the speech.

Not being able to read from a set of printed prompts has its disadvantages.  It is difficult to hold a microphone and read from Braille notes. Reading from in-depth Braille notes is not fluent therefore I always memorise my presentations and speeches.  Far more fluent and natural but far more high risk and nerve wracking.

 As it was a black tie event Zeke, unlike my husband,  did me proud and the boy managed to keep his bow tie on and in place all evening

 I therefore have a plea. Next time couldn’t I be the “Before dinner” speaker?

Just Sailing Thursday 2nd May


Blues too a 28 foot Hunter Impala took to the water to join the Brixham club racing for the first time in three years. Dave and Liz Mills the owners took a very brave step and asked me to helm her.  I think much to all of our surprise we won our first race

John and Sally who I normally crew for, have gone off sailing to the Med for six months. We were all gathered on the boat at their  leaving meal

Knowing I was boatless for the summer season I had wondered if I could ask Dave and Liz Mills who I did occasionally race with before they stopped racing three years ago, whether they had any sailing plans.  The truth was, I was planning to wait until far later in the evening once they had had enough to drink and might  feel mellow and reckless and agree to a suggestion from me.

 However early in the evening, not even prompted by alcohol, Dave suddenly announced “Blues Too is a lovely boat. It’s almost criminal that she is sat on the mareener  not sailing on a Thursday evening”.

“Ah” I said,  “I’d been meaning to ask you a favour”

“Why”  retorted Dave “Would you helm her?”.

 I am just so grateful. Not only have they made their boat available, but they are giving up their time to get the boat race fit and come out and race her with me. Then on top of all that, Dave provides me with the sighted information I need. Remember, these aren’t the windward leeward  courses used in Blind fleet or match racing. With  only white sailing, Instead, club racing includes,   flying the spinnaker  as well as reaches  as well as the beats and runs.

 Well, we now have a crew. Harley a Brixham junior sailor will be joining us and when Dave and Liz can’t make it then Ian Mills their son a sailing coach, will also put in a guest appearance.

 Well first race, first win and we won the beer leg so we could celebrate back at the yacht club. The club members made it clear they were glad to see Dave and Liz back again and Blues Too back out on the water on race night. But did suggest it would have been more polite not to win the race and the beer on your first time back in three years.

 I am not expecting our results to always be so good, but regardless it will be  great to be out on the water with such good company and great to have such an opportunity to develop my helming skills.

February 14th Salous Game Reserve Tanzania East Africa

The Salous Game reserve is amazing. Our camp is just outside the official boundaries of the park; however someone forgot to tell the animals, it is great they just wander through the camp. The Shower this morning was just a trickle of water, apparently this is because the baboons had turned on the outside tap beside our tent. Probably the same ones which woke us up by using the roof of our tent as a trampoline.

 The bush babies are really cute, but very noisy at night, so to is the hyena which wanders through the tents.

 We arrived at the game reserve in a single prop plane, landing on a grass\dirt air strip. Only structure was an opened sided thatch hut building around the trunk of a tree.  Its very like catching a bus. When the single prop plane lands, you wander up with your bag and ask the pilot if he is going in your direction.  

 We have met the lion pride twice now. Always at noon when they are at their most relaxed, well fed and hot and lazy. Good job really as our jeep pulled up within ten feet of a group of nine of them, females and youngsters.  I was even more perturbed the next day when Rama our guide found the pride again but this time pulled up between two trees under which they were seeking shade. I must confess I was twitching between my shoulder blades, sat in an open sided jeep watching four lions in front with five lions behind us.  Again they were just lazing in the mid day sun, I could even hear one of them panting in the heat.

 My favourite was the hippos. Lots of splashing grunting and calling to each other. As we left on our last day, we almost ran over a crocodile in order to pull into the edge of the water so I could get up close to the hippos. We did decide that retreat was best, when four of the hippos started moving in a line towards us. It turned out the jeep though tilted, wasn’t stuck in the mud and we made a hasty retreat. 

 We left Salous, taking off from the airstrip with giraffes munching in the tree tops alongside.

 Now in Zanzibar. This morning had my last dive. We found 7 turtles, I swapped the guiding hand of my dive buddy for the shell of a turtle, the turtle haply guided me around the reef it was Fantastic.

I have finally decided that 50th birthdays aren’t so bad after all.

Jan 22nd Ten Mile Walk

We really did it. I am now back at home listening to the contented snoring of Zeke and Penny, current and retired guide dog. Zeke did the whole distance with us, Brixham to Paignton to Torquay, while Penny joined us half way. Despite her eleven years, she stoically ploughed on tail always wagging; I think someone told her there was a free drink at the end of it.

 The most wonderful thing for me, was having the support of my friends, six of us completed the walk. Even Ivan, my exercise shy husband decided to join us, this meant a slight change of plan, with Ivan on the walk we no longer had a return lift waiting for us at the end. John stepped into the breach, rather than sponsoring us to do the ten mile walk, John was willing to pay not to have to do it, and become our return chauffer.

 Having started this walk at Brixham harbor I quickly remembered why I so love Devon. No gentle inclines for us.  Within three hundred yards we are climbing up steps and ascending hill sides, quickly followed by descending uneven, irregular rock hewn steps, down into Churston Cove. Tree routes, rolling stones under your feet some steps a shallow six inches while others two foot deep. I discovered two things:  What goes up must come down, high promontories followed by low lying beaches. Also, Sally and Pete my alternating guides, really can talk and walk.

 Churston Cove, Elbery Cove, Broadsands and Goodrington beach. It was lovely to see   Arabella, a Brixham boat and crew I previously raced with, out on the water sailing in close to the coves as we looked out from the headland.

 Paignton harbour was the halfway point and the beginning of the more level terrain. My guide dog Penny and good friend Nicola joined us at Preston. Zeke now had wide expanse of beach to charge around on, while Penny investigated whether crispy seaweed was just as tasty on the beach as it is in a Chinese restaurant.

 I was wondering whether Preston was a good spot to sit and have a rest and possibly a bite to eat.  However Pete had different ideas.  I was given instructions on how to, while still walking, reach the water bottle in his ruck sack. Not only were we going to walk the distance, but he was determined we did it in a reasonable time. We walked past the fountains and pavilion on Torquay sea front, stepping onto the bridge across Torquay harbour. Brixham harbour to Torquay harbour via Paington harbour in three hours and fifty minutes. Finally I got my sit down and yes a very large glass of cold cider.


Massive thanks to the amazing generosity of those who have sponsored us.  Many thanks to those who supported us on route and again huge thanks to those who did the walk with Zeke and me, not only giving us their money but also their time and making it all possible.

January 10th Fund raising for Blind Sailing.

Sunday January 22nd, Zeke, my guide dog and I will be doing a ten mile sponsored walk to raise money for Blind Sailing. 

Blind Sailing is the charity that organizes coaching and racing events for blind and partially sighted sailors, enabling them to compete in Blind fleet racing events as well as Blind match racing, the most recent  being the world championships in Perth last March .

Funds raised go towards the purchase of equipment, cost of professional coaches for training weekends, expenses of volunteer coaches, and subsidizing the cost for students or those on lower incomes.

  The current priorities for fundraising are:

*     Maintenance and acquisition of additional audio buoys and other

Equipment for race training;

*     raising over £12,000 to host a blind match racing world championship

In the UK in September 2012.

What we are going to do to raise money

Zeke my guide dog and I are going to walk along the coast of Torbay. This will be a special walk for me as; it links my favourite harbours, Brixham, Paignton, and Torquay.  I will be able to do it with Zeke my guide dog and lastly and most importantly, I will be able to be joined by friends who are keen to give their support to both me and Blind Sailing.

What training have I done?

My training has been yacht racing back and forth across the bay, possibly not the best training for a land walk.Zeke however has been putting in lots of training; charging around Berry Head, rolling other dogs over and stealing their balls, when not doing that then leaping after birds  in the hope he will one day catch one.

If you would like to sponsor us, you can do this by using the justgiving page that I have set up at

Wish us luck.

October 22nd Wow what an experience!

Nick and I have spent the weekend up at Queen Mary yacht club at the RYA J80 Match racing event. As I expected, it was just about the most challenging and difficult thing I have ever done. Constant boat on boat contact from the moment you enter the zone, high winds, spinnakers and five hours of seven back to back races. The results didn’t reflect the exhilaration, boat on boat contact and shear fun we all had. By the end of the day, none of us could move due to pain and fatigue, but we had the largest grins ever across our faces. The buzz was fantastic the experience and learning amazing.

 I knew I would always have regretted not helming, taking the safe course and main sheeting, stepping aside for a sighted helm.  It was a hard decision, full credit to Ian Mills and Chris Coulcher for supporting Nick and I  with this choice. We did prove that a partially sighted tactician and a blind helm can with the right training and experience, cope in main stream match racing. Though I would endorse our earlier thoughts that there are less challenging competitions through which to do this.

 I was worried because I knew we were under trained as a team. it would also be very different from Blind match racing, not just because there would be no sound buoys, but I knew there would be a difference in how the competition was structure, and the other sailors would all be experienced battle tested pros. All good teams many excellent  teams.

 We hadn’t had a chance to race together. None of us had raced or sailed a J80.  Nick and I had never matched raced with spinnakers only the Blind Sailing Gibb and main.  Though was used to mainstream racing with spinnakers I had rarely helmed to a kite.

 The moment you entered the box at four minutes to the start, it is constant boat on boat manoeuvring and contact. Constant circling, luffing, holding station dial ups.

 Apparently during our race against our American cousins, Chris thought he was on a Harry Potter set, “the skipper was waving the protest flag  like a wand, continually up and down “The result was constant whistling from the umpire boat, no penalties.

 All boats were racing dead downwind on the leeward legs, this was easy for me but a lot more stressful when you know you have  a bow man at risk if you don’t get it right. Someone did end up in the water, don’t get excited it wasn’t our boat, we think the French. Though it might be an idea to add as an exercise during our training weekend, scooping team members out of the water. They did it so quickly.

 Between a boat and a hard place. I must admit to a brief moment of concern during the pre start on one race when we were squeezed up by the other boat. I seem to be surrounded by the sound of crunching and the feel of very hard substances. In a two boat race how did they manage to hit us on port and starboard almost simultaneously? They didn’t, but what they had done was make the mistake of luffing us up into the committee boat at a point in the race when it was a keep clear obstacle n much crunching for us and a penalty for them.

 When speeding back in on the rib an observer asked Nick and I if we were an item “Oh god no” exclaimed a startled Nick “sailing with her is far worse than being married!”

 So what was Zeke up to during this? We left Zeke for the weekend back in Brixham staying with Thorpie skipper of Fire fox the boat I race on in Torbay. Fire fox is now out of the water and in the yacht club compound.  We received a text Saturday night,  “You have to talk to your dog.  He is meant to be helping me with Firefox, not giving my tools to anyone walking by who says hello to him.  More training required. Thorpie ”

 So what does the future hold? A large glass of white wine.  A full nights undisturbed sleep. Massive reduction in my stress levels. Some great ideas for training and some newly identified training needs. Nick and I would very much like to pass on our Thanks to; Ian Mills and Chris Coucher are extremely brave team members, Queen Mary yacht club, RYA and the royal Thames boats.

Dog Distraction

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Planning for the RyA Nationals – September 24th

The RYA Match Racing Nationals are now only one month away. I will admit, I was chilled when the idea was for Nick and I to enter and crew one of the boats. Nick to be tactician his normal role, with me moving from helm to main sheet which is my crew role when I race in main stream competitions. However we have now moved onto plan B; Nick still tactician but myself staying on helm. Nick and our coach are convinced I will get more out of it on the helm than by would main sheeting.

The entry is now in. Ian Mills a coach and World Champion sailor in his own right has generously agreed to join us and has talked a friend into becoming the fourth team member.

So what are the challenges: I will be a totally blind helm against sighted helm? There will be no audio marks to tell me where the start line is. There will be no audio buoys to tell me where the windward or leeward mark or finish line is. No audio sound on the other boat to tell me whether it is on port or starboard.

How will we do it: Nick Donnini and I have developed very clear communication skills between us. Ian has supported my training over the years and has supported me on helm. With Ian and our fourth crew member to feed in information regarding marks when distant, Nick can see the marks once he is close enough. I can always hear the noise of the other boats on the water.

Good communication skills are essential for any successful sailing team. As visually impaired sailors we always work hard  to continually feedback information to each other. So will this all make me less nervous? Somehow I doubt it, but hay ho what’s life without an even bigger challenge to look forward to.

Skills Training weekend Windermere on Beneteaus 211 – September 14th

Having spent the previous evening drying out clothes, gloves and hats, we return back to the water with promises of 12 to 14 knots winds and less rain.  Ummmm, correct about no rain, but also no wind.  Descriptions of mirror like water and the ominous sound of sails flapping back and forth met our first 45 minutes.  Then hurray! wind, not great amounts but enough to practice.  It is always worth remembering that we will spend as much time racing in light winds as heavy.  I have a reputation as good in heavy weather, however my last three match racing competitions; a third followed by two first places, have all been in light winds.

I got the chance to practice; pre start coming up onto the wind to cross the start line fast and high. Time to build my knowledge around jib trimming in light winds and time on the helm as a guinea pig for the others to practice the instructions they would need to use if calling someone around a mark.

Sailing and meeting up with everyone was great fun and valuable time on the water practicing skills with instant feedback to allow reflection, review and repeating it again with more insight and practice.  I would like to thank Johnny who gave up time from being with his wife and twelve week old baby Jessica, and Ian and Gary on the other boats, plus Tobey and Laura my fellow crew mates and Lucy for organising the weekend.