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 huge welcome and 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 IFDS Blind Match Racing World Championships in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA September 9-14 offered a chance to catch up with old friends plus a wonderful opportunity to make new friends. The event and its organisers 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.
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 International Federation of Disabled Sailors (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.
Recently I spent time with Emma Hickman, secretary to IFDS. Some areas we covered include: how is blind sailor participation captured or tracked, the classification registry and event planning. IFDS Vice President Henry Sleutel proudly informed me that there are “Five world championships allocated each year for disabled sailors. Three are the Paralympic classes — Sonar, Scud and 2.4m — while a fourth has now been ring-fenced for a blind sailing event!”
I know some of you will be asking questions such as: Can blind sailors afford to attend a world championship every year? Can blind sailors afford not to attend a world championship if they wish to be considered elite sailors? Is a world event every year sustainable? Some of you may have strong views around this, and I anticipate this will be a hot topic for an upcoming forum.
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.
There has been some expressions of interest to host the 2016 IFDS Blind Match Racing World Championships. As with all IFDS events everyone will work to try and arrange events as far ahead as possible and keep you all updated.
Here at the BSI, some of you will have spotted that our BSI web site was hijacked earlier this year. We are making progress re-establishing the site, with help from my husband Ivan, who is an I.T. consultant, my godson who is a web designer, plus contributions from BSI Treasurer Ryck Lent, BSI Vice-chair David Brown and especially to Don Mason, BSI co-founder and outgoing chairman. You can find the new site at: www.blindsailinginternational.com It is work in progress, so please be patient with us. If anyone has information they would like to add to the site or has historical information that has not reappeared, contact BSI at: http://www.blindsailinginternational.com/contact/
Our goals for the new site include social media and forums which will make the exchange of information and ideas far easier. In the meantime,
Another goal is a regular BSI newsletter. If you have a contribution for our next issue, don’t hesitate to send your item to Ryck Lent (firstname.lastname@example.org) who will gratefully receive your submission. We look forward to receiving your news, views and ideas, and you can always contact me at: email@example.com
At the end of 2014, I wish you all congratulations on a great past year and continued good sailing in 2015!
Vicki Sheen: Chairman, Blind Sailing International (BSI)
IFDS Technical Committee