On Saturday 12 July 22 yachts assemble in the Club's section of the Ocean Village marina. Each has a crew of two visually impaired sailors, two helpers, a skipper and mate. Everyone then enjoys a week on the water. The yachts are divided into groups with a lead boat. Some go for day cruises, others with more experience make longer passages, perhaps across the Channel, before returning to Southampton on Friday 18th July for a celebratory party.
RYA Sailability is the Royal Yachting Association's charity arm which encourages sailing for the disabled. Their Julian Mandiwall has been involved in organising RYA Sailability Blind Week, which alternates between the Solent and the West Country, for 16 years. He says that visually impaired and blind people make fantastic sailors: "They soon learn their way around a small thing like a boat. After all, it is a neat confined space, with everything in its place; far different from the ever-changing street scene or new shop." It usually takes only two to three hours for the crew to familiarise themselves. The only modifications to the boats come in the form of a special HiMark pen so the blind crew can use charts and an audio compass. This is silent when the boat is on course but emits differing port and starboard tones, at different rates, to tell the helm how much correction to apply.
RYA Sailability Blind Week has raised many brilliant sailors. Great Britain has won the World Blind Sailing Championships, a complete visually impaired crew have completed the gruelling Fastnet Race and visually impaired sailors regularly compete in Skandia Cowes Week. One blind sailor has single-handedly completed a voyage across the Indian Ocean, from Durban to Perth.
Anton Bates, Commodore of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club is delighted the Club is hosting the event this year: "RYA Sailability is the Club's chosen sailing charity and everyone involved is looking forward to welcoming these admirable sailors. Many of our members have participated in the event in previous years, donating boats and assisting with crew. We're all going to ensure a successful and enjoyable week, both afloat and ashore."