Thursday, 21 November 2013

Sink or Swim... or Sail!

Sailing was a central piece of the jigsaw of my life. Being on the water, socialising with sailors and everything about it defined me. Following a particularly bad relapse triggered by a neck injury that happened whilst in the middle of the Solent, my doctors (who incidentally didn't sail) said a categorical NO to sailing. The jigsaw that made up my life was falling apart.  

From where they were sitting, and having had to pick up the pieces of me being transferred from a boat in the marina to dry land then whizzed with blue lights into A&E strapped to a C-spine board unable to move or speak, sailing seemed risky. I agreed with them. 

But I also began to realise there was a risk to my mental health if I didn't go sailing, as I plunged into despair and depression. Then I watched the Paralympics, and realised that there must be a way. The simple mechanics of what happened to my neck (which because of the extra bendyness caused by the EDS and my Chiari squishing my nerves a bit) could happen if I trip walking along the pavement. Just living seemed pretty risky, but I wasn't going to stop doing that was I?! 

So after a good conversation with my GP (who did sail!), I met an an orthotist and got a neck brace. I wasn't going to be stupid and put my family through another serious accident, so I did my best to manage the risk. I looked at the Paralypmic classes that further reduced the risk (and actually proved great boats to sail!).

Then I joined Chesil Sailability, and got one of the most precious parts of my life back! I reclaimed it from the grasp of illness. I went sailing! 

Chesil Sailabilty is a local charity based at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA), the venue for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing events. It is a true legacy! From its first meeting in January 2013, the group has become a fully established charity, and run sessions on the water all summer. The amazing team have given me the opportunity to go sailing on home waters all summer! The freedom of being on the water again is unparalleled. One of my most memorable sails this summer was in September during a relapse. With the boat ready for me on the pontoon (and the pontoons being fully accessible!) I was able to flop into the boat from my wheelchair. Having spent the previous three days confined to bed with any trip out of bed taking an inordinate amount of effort, I was struggling from serious cabin fever. Again another eye opening into life of those with more challenging conditions. I still consider myself very lucky! Once in the boat, with no movement of my legs, and only one fully functional hand, I could actaully go places! I was cast off the pontoon, and suddenly deciding to go a few metres was easy! Not a case of hauling myself there in the zimmer frame, but a case of just gently pulling in the main sail and off I went! The relief and pleasure was immeasurable!

I have been racing, and even skippered doubled-handed boats taking someone else out for their first sail - an enormous thrill and privilege! All thanks to the fabulous team of volunteers at Chesil Sailability!

With an understanding of what sailing was about, and what it was about for me, I worked with my GP and orthotist to re-frame risk. Living with a long-term health condition doesn't mean you have to automatically get wrapped up in cotton wool for the rest of your life! Besides, there is no medicine quite as good as being on the water on a sunny summer's evening!


  1. That's so brilliant! May the wind always be the right strength and from a convenient direction.

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