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Posts tagged ‘sailing’

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.”


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:


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

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.