Blind Sailing: State of the Union

Published on December 3rd, 2014

by Vicki Sheen, Chairman, Blind Sailing International
This has been an exciting year for Blind Sailing International and visually-impaired sailors. There have been well-supported national regattas, sailors demonstrating their skills, experimenting and developing new technologies to advance visually-impaired racing and sailing. There have been two international events for blind sailors from Australia, Canada, Finland, Great Britain, Italy, USA and the US Virgin Islands to come together to race and share their experiences and ideas for the future.

The 2014 Homerus International Match Racing Championship hosted by La Spezia, Italy June 10-14 gave competitors and guests a great opportunity to further push the boundaries of blind sailing. This event introduced, for the first time at an international event, blind sailors racing with no sighted guides on board.

The 2014 International Federation of Disabled Sailors (IFDS) Blind Match Racing World Championships in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA September 9-14 provided support and an environment which allowed all sailors, both those new to the sport of match racing and those with more experience, an opportunity to enjoy the event, gain confidence and develop new skills.

The match racing featured visually-impaired sailors pushing the boundaries of their skills. More experienced crews hunted each other down in typical match racing style, while the USA team pushed themselves — three sailors who had never met prior to the event — to learn something new. They came together to meet the challenge and raced a boat completely under their own control with no sighted on board.

(Editor’s note: The regatta was raced in Sail Sheboygan’s evenly matched Sonar fleet with sounding systems that indicate which tack the boat is on, as well as Homerus Autonomous Sailing System marks that each give a unique sound for the competitors to track. All three sailors on the Sonar were blind with a sighted coach following in a RIB during the actual race. The coach was not allowed to communicate with their team until after the match has finished.)

The 2015 IFDS Blind Fleet Racing World Championships are still proposed for Houston, Texas USA for late September/October 2015. As soon as the specific date, venue and boats are confirmed BSI will circulate details.

Additional visually-impaired sailors joined the ranks of those sailing in the Sonar and SCUD classes at the 2014 IFDS Paralympic World Championships in Halifax August 15-24, proving that visually-impaired sailors can overcome barriers and do well at the Paralympics.

2014 has been a good year for strengthening visually-impaired sailors’ links and roles within the IFDS, part of International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the international governing body for sailboat racing. In March I was invited to join the IFDS Technical Committee and the Events and Scheduling Committees, and in November I attended my first ISAF/IFDS conference in Palma.

As part of my work with IFDS, I have been invited to be part of a panel to review the Paralympic vision classification system. The panel has been selected from classifiers, ophthalmologists, athletes, coaches and organisers representing a wide range of sports and nations. I will work hard to ensure I represent and am knowledgeable about the wide range of issues with vision classification, particularly those relating to sailing.

Blind Sailing International:

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