Sailing with Sam Sullivan

The northwest breeze is picking up on the water off Jericho Sailing Centre. As the 16-foot Martin sailboat starts heeling, her speed quickly increases and the concert of wind and sea gets louder around the small vessel.

At the helm, his clear eyes scrutinizing the horizon and the sails above, is skipper Sam Sullivan. This is no ordinary captain; this is no ordinary boat, either. In fact, there is not even a tiller or wheel since most controls are done through a joystick or, alternatively, a sip-and-puff pipe that allows trimming the sails or moving the rudder.

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The Martin 16 is the brainchild of two visionaries: Sullivan, the former mayor of Vancouver, and Don Martin, a boat designer who has to his credit a number of racing designs.

At 19, Sullivan had a skiing accident that left him a paraplegic, with limited use of his hands. A long period of deep despair followed. Years later, as part of his renewal quest and need to help others, he imagined putting severely disabled men and women on the sea and in charge of this most demanding vehicle of escape a sailboat.

After much door knocking, he found various sponsors who agreed to come on board with the funds, one boat at a time. The next task was to find the right boat designer. Don Martin was up to the challenge and agreed to build a boat with instructions that all necessary maneuvers be brought down to the simplest and most efficient operation.

The sponsorship program continues, and last week a boat sponsored by the Friends of Ferrari was christened and launched by the Jericho Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia, a volunteer-run organization.

Sitting in the cockpit behind Sullivan, I admire the seemingly simple technology; using just two fingers, he sails the boat away from the beach. On the water around us, flotillas of both able-bodied and disabled boaters sail or race together. As our boat accelerates, leaning with the wind, I cant repress a grin, and that amazing feeling that all sailors experience once the lines to land are cast and the craft starts moving under her own power.

Comfortably ensconced in his bucket seat, Sam suddenly lets out a joyous Yippee! an accurate expression of that incredible sensation of independence and freedom.

For details, go to DisabledSailingBC.org

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