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Posts tagged ‘blind sailing’



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:

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.


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

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

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

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.



Skills Training weekend Windermere on Beneteaus 211 – September 13th

Forecast of 12 to 14 knots wind possibly building.  So why were we sat in the pouring rain barely moving across the lake.  The good news was, we always kept moving, no matter how slowly, the bad news was the pouring rain.  I couldn’t understand why when I stepped onto the scales Monday morning I still weighed the same.  Surely after that amount of time emerged in water, rain running down my face, water trickling into small gaps, collars and sleeves, through which to soak the so called dry clothing under the water proof gear, surely I must have dissolved a bit.