New boat making waves at Grafham Sailability

AN AVID sportsman who is gradually losing his sight was one of the first disabled sailors in the country to take to the water on a new boat on Monday.

Eddie Baker is almost completely blind and needs a navigator when sailing, but the enthusiast was at the Grafham Water Sailability centre to try out the Hobie Cat Tandem Island.

The �4,895 two-seater craft boasts dual controls, so that disabled sailors and their instructors or passengers can travel together.

Though not designed exclusively for disabled sailors, hopes are the boat will make going on to the water more accessible for sailors with learning difficulties or disabilities.

Currently Sailability members train using the Challenger boats, which require an instructor to be perched on the side of the boat on a detachable seat.

Mr Baker, who hopes to sail with his daughter Sally acting as his eyes, said: “I was looking for a boat where two people could actually sail it, and with this boat two people can really take part.”

Steve Beard of the Hobie Cat Centre in Poole, which supplies the Tandem Island boats, said: “It is easy to use and very good for families and children, and it cannot capsize. That is ideal for the people here.

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“In the Challenger, if you are a new member, it is like taking someone who has not learnt to drive in racing cars.

“But the Tandem is a proper two-seater with full dual control. What I have found is that because of its stability, if the buddy is in the back seat, they can crouch forward so that they are right by their ear and talk to them.

“This club is the first disabled sailing club in the UK to try this boat. This is one of the biggest disabled sailing fleets in the country. Nationally they are well-known.”

Club chairman Wendy Hopkins said she had high hopes the boat would be suitable for a range of members.

“We have a lot of people with disabilities. Some who like to sail but do not want to go out on their own. If you are in front on this boat you feel like you are on your own, being there and being in control.

“Hopefully more and more people will get to know about it and those with a disability will want to try it. It could be particularly good for a parent and child. Often parents bring children down and have to wait for them. Now if the parent was at all interested they might take to the Tandem. It easier than the Challenger.”

A new boat has been ordered for the club courtesy of a donation from Mr Baker and hopes are it will be delivered later this month.