Free­dom found un­der the sail

Central Leader - - SPORT - By LAUREN PRIESTLEY

Ken Richard­son is ditch­ing his wheel­chair for the waves this weekend.

The 48-year-old CBD res­i­dent is tak­ing part in the 2014 Ocean­bridge Sail Auck­land re­gatta for the first time.

The four-day event hosted at Royal Akarana Yacht Club in Okahu Bay starts tomorrow.

When Mr Richard­son was 16 he was in a head-on mo­tor­cy­cle col­li­sion with a car, leav­ing him a quad­ri­plegic.

The busi­ness in­tel­li­gence de­vel­oper now works at the Green­lane Clin­i­cal Cen­tre and uses a pow­ered wheel­chair.

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent he thought his childhood pas­sion for sail­ing was off the cards. But soon his fa­ther found a way around his dis­abil­ity, car­ry­ing him on board the fam­ily yacht and set­ting him up with the till while oth­ers took care of the sails.

‘‘When you have that sort of in­jury you have to change your fo­cus a lot. I was very ‘out­doorsy’ when I was younger. It takes peo­ple dif­fer­ent times to deal with things like that. It took me five years to start look­ing for­ward in­stead of back.’’

Mr Richard­son will be com­pet­ing in the full elec­tri­cal Lib­erty dinghy class this weekend where the steer­ing and sail con­trol are pow­ered me­chan­i­cally.

He says the op­por­tu­nity to race sin­gle-handed yachts is thanks to Sail­abil­ity Auck­land. The or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vides peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties the chance to have sole con­trol of a boat re­gard­less of the level of their dis­abil­ity or sail­ing skill.

Yachts with weighted keels are used be­cause they are al­most im­pos­si­ble to cap­size.

‘‘Be­ing able to do it in­de­pen­dently, in con­trol of ev­ery­thing – that’s the best part. It makes a nice change.

‘‘Of­ten you’re de­pen­dent on other peo­ple to do things like that.’’

Mr Richard­son tries to race ev­ery weekend to im­prove his skills and aims to move up to the two-man Par­a­lympic sail­ing boats.

‘‘It’s good to go sail­ing with other peo­ple who un­der­stand the phys­i­cal con­straints that you have to live within.

‘‘On a sunny day, sit­ting out there on the wa­ter – there’s noth­ing bet­ter.’’

Sail­abil­ity Auck­land chair­man Bren­dan Tourelle says the world­wide or­gan­i­sa­tion aims to make the wa­ter ac­ces­si­ble for ev­ery­one.

Some of the sailors with high lev­els of dis­abil­ity op­er­ate the sails and steer­ing with their chin alone.

‘‘Be­cause a per­son has a dis­abil­ity their life is al­ready lim­ited. If they’re in a wheel­chair there’s cer­tain places they can’t go and things they can’t do.

‘‘When you open up the ocean to them, they are on a level play­ing field. Imag­ine how free­ing it is for some­one who is in a wheel­chair for 12 hours a day and then can head out on the wa­ter.’’

Royal Akarana Yacht Club gen­eral man­ager An­drew Brook­land says the club is ex­pect­ing 250 sailors and 100 vol­un­teers to take part in Sail Auck­land.

‘‘It’s big, not just for the club but for sail­ing. It’s the most im­por­tant event on the sail­ing cal­en­dar.’’

Photo: LAUREN PRIESTLEY

Salty air: Ken Richard­son will be com­pet­ing in the Sail Auck­land re­gatta this weekend.

Sails up: Sail­abil­ity Auck­land uses boats with weighted keels so they are vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to cap­size.

Go to cen­tral­leader. co.nz and click Lat­est Edi­tion to see a Sail­abil­ity Auck­land video.

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