Freedom found under the sail
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.’’
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.