How do people with disabilities get into sailing? Clemens Kraus, coordinator of the „We are We“ project at the 1st Wassersportverein Lausitzer Seeland e. V., once said: „A limitation starts in the head. There is technology for everything else.“ Pondering this, I wait on a gloomy Monday afternoon in North German muddy weather and little wind at the Hamburg Sailing Club for a person I don’t know at first. We are to take a test trip together on a new boat, the Far East S\V 14, on the Alster.
The meeting was organised by Anja Düvel, a member of the Inclusion Working Group in the broad-based sailing department of FC St. Pauli. „We are a colourful mix of non-disabled, blind, wheelchair-bound people, people with intellectual limitations and without disabilities,“ she explained to me extensively in a preliminary conversation.
“I won’t let them get me down!”
And recommended Nadine to me for the test: She was predestined, she knew the boat inside out. That would work out perfectly. With this information in mind, I looked at the unusual boat with its „bicycle handlebars“ in front of the rear seat, which was moored right in front of the HSC clubhouse. And that’s supposed to work?
To say it in advance: It worked! As well as I would have thought possible at first, when Nadine Löschke, who had been announced to me, turned the corner cheerfully, nimbly and agilely – in a wheelchair. She has spastic paraparesis, a movement restriction of both legs, she explains to me. In a pinch, she can walk three steps. „Three steps can be gold! However, walking also hurts me a lot, so I rarely do it.“
In addition, she has a congenital deformity of the hand. „I don’t let it get me down! I think very positively about it.“ And that’s not a saying with her, she radiates it constantly! Nowhere does she need help at first, neither in independently driving up an inclined plane to the outer door of the club, nor in opening the door afterwards, nor in swinging her chair to the side at the table.
„A limitation begins in the mind“, remembering these words I feel caught. What on earth was I expecting? First we „get to know each other“ in an extremely informative preliminary conversation. And it gets even better: later, without any visible effort, Nadine Löschke slides from her wheelchair onto the dock to get the boat ready and climbs into the boat.
Independently from the wheelchair into the boat
And so it goes on: My fellow sailor does not need my help! I am only allowed to help with fetching the sails, the back cushions and the side wedges, because they are stored high on a cupboard in the clubhouse. Everything else, setting the sails, inserting the sheets, tying the knots properly, even the bowline, I couldn’t have done better on my own. Maybe a little faster – that’s all!
With two people, it’s child’s play to get the S\V 14 ready to sail. Unlike many other clubs, most of the jetties on the Alster are not barrier-free. The HSC, on the other hand, has built a few ramps for wheelchair users exactly where there needed to be the least alterations. In addition, the footbridges above the hull are not so high. This would then not be suitable for wheelchair users to get into the boat independently.
The special thing: Before we cast off – I have strapped myself into the seat in the meantime according to regulations and adjusted the back cushion and the side seat wedges – the S\V 14 is explained to me in detail. „The nice thing is that the seat can be trimmed. It can be angled to the hull at the touch of a button on the handlebars.“ This means when in position, you can stand up straight, unlike the RS Venture Connect, another inclusion boat at the HSC jetty. The seat swivels 30 degrees. When the Venture Connect heels, you sit side by side at an angle, as it were, in the direction of travel, which can feel uncomfortable when heeling more.
Changing seats on the way is not possible
With the S\V 14, on the other hand, you sit behind each other – the helmsman always at the back and the foresailor always at the front. It is also difficult to swap places while underway, unless both can stand up, slide out of the seat onto the coaming and over to the front or rear seat. This is relatively complicated and at least not possible without existing seat stability. Not even in stronger winds.
Before the first cast off, I learn more important details: „For our people with sensory disabilities or intellectual disabilities, it is important that all the sheets, all the things I need to operate the boat, are always in exactly the same place. So that you can reach the curry clamps from the seat where you don’t have to look for a long time.“
This is much easier for learning to sail than if the sheet lies here or there. My fellow sailor adds: „You always have your sheet in the same place. So when I want to furl the main, I know the curry clip is between my legs.“
So the person at the back is strictly in charge of steering, the mainsheet and trimming. In front, the jib and, if necessary, the gennaker are both set and driven. Although this has not yet been converted on the HSC boat so that it is possible without effort. The S\V 14 was delivered this way by the Chinese shipyard Shanghai Far East Boats Co Ltd.
The gennaker halyard is difficult to operate at the point to the side of the seat. The sheets have to pull it transversely with direction to the front. Because of heavy friction loss, this is only possible with great effort. However, the importer Bootspunkt is currently working on an improvement.
The S\V 14 cannot capsize
My companion thinks the S\V 14 is the sportier boat compared to the RS Venture Connect. The Venture Connect is bigger and more stable, needs more wind and has a large turning circle. The S\V14 is much more „agile“, but also forgives fewer mistakes. And it sails at a good height. Our test in the light breeze proved it.
I also learn that capsizing is impossible even at extreme angles. Perhaps the most important safety aspect of a boat for inclusive sailors. Only, the Chinese would probably have asked themselves how much two adult people weigh – and decided on a combined weight of 150 kilograms. „That’s not always easy for two grown-up Central Europeans,“ my companion says with a laugh. For the stability calculations, Alex Simonis assumed 85 kg per sailor, so there is still a reserve.
„But,“ she continues, „if you sit in it and don’t exceed the weight limit by much, and the boat really does lay down on the water, then this boat is self-righting.“ And not just to 90 degrees, but even up to 130 degrees. That means it won’t capsize even if the sail is pushed underwater. I am reassured! That simply gives more security, especially to those who can’t get out or crawl out so quickly.
The 110-kilogram lead bomb on the keel is „only“ designed for a crew weight of 150 kilograms. But you only have to pay attention to the weight limit for crews where two people with limited mobility sail the boat alone. „We do it here on the Alster so that often one mobility-impaired person sails with a normal person.“
Sitting upright even when the boat is hauling
Then the disabled person must not weigh more than 150 kilograms – should be manageable … „The person sailing with them can then get out of the seat and help right the boat in an emergency.“ The person only has to sit on the right side of the hull and „help“ the boat to right itself. The trust of the disabled person and the correct assessment of the non-disabled companion, especially in strong winds, is always a prerequisite!
The 110-kilo keel ballast represents a ballast share of over 60 percent. This makes it possible to keep the boat at an optimum heel angle of less than 20 degrees. It is important to limit the heel as much as possible, as the seat can be tilted up to 20 degrees in either direction for the crew. This allows them to sit upright in most sailing conditions.
This not only increases the crew’s sailing comfort, but also serves as an additional confidence-building measure underway. For me as a „normal person“, as my companion Nadine likes to dub us non-disabled people, this is quite an unusual experience – pushing the position and still sitting upright or creating the leeward/leeward trim via hydraulics.
The boat has a single lifting point to hoist it into or out of the water quickly and without much effort. The total weight of the S\V14 including ballast is rated at 300 kg. This means it can be towed on a single-axle trailer by a normal family car.
No one has earned anything from the boat
The S\V14 is a young design: In 2015, a Thai sailing club commissioned Dutch yacht designer Alex Simonis to design a safe, modern, sporty and, above all, affordable boat for the para-sailing community. Along the way, it should quickly establish itself as a regatta class to enable as many people as possible, whether with or without disabilities, to enjoy this great shared sporting experience.
„This is a non-profit project by Alex Simonis, Far East and us. All those involved do not earn any money with it. Alex does not get a designer’s fee, the shipyard delivers the first 1,000 boats at cost, we use any profits for advertising, sponsoring, free demonstration boats, etc.,“ says Dirk Weißenborn from the importer Bootspunkt. Leads to an attractive price: the complete boat with sails currently costs 9,669 euros plus transport.
The first thousand S\V 14s were even provided at cost price, which was still below the raw material costs for the self-build wooden version, he says. Series production of the S\V 14 then began in the summer of 2018 at the renowned shipyard in Shanghai. There are six different versions, tailor-made for the most diverse requirements. Even people with more severe disabilities can ride in the class thanks to the electrically operated tilting seats.
Different sail combinations are possible to adapt to the level of competence, crew and performance. Like all Far East Boats models, the S\V 14 is produced with a vacuum infused sandwich hull. The rudder and lifting keel fin are made of carbon, while the cast-iron T-keel is covered in fibreglass. The design team also developed a kit that allows even the crafty layman to easily build this do-it-yourself boat without the need for expensive tools.
Technical data Far East S\V 14
Rumpflänge (ohne Ruder und Bugspriet): 4,39 m
Length: 5.35 m
Width: 1.59 m
Draught: 1.20 m
Weight: 345 kg
Main: 6.7 qm
Jib: 2.1 qm
Gen: 9.5 qm
CE catetory C (coastal waters)
Optimised for do-it-yourself construction
However, only a few boats have been built like this so far. Conclusion: The S\V 14 is a very special boat. It was developed first and foremost for people with disabilities to enable them to sail again, or depending on the fate they have suffered, but it also offers people who, due to their age, are no longer as sure-footed and stable the opportunity to sail.
Even an inexpensive boat can only take off if there are enough helpers at the start: In order to further boost inclusion sailing and other projects with S\V14, any help is gratefully accepted. Donations are requested or sponsors who are willing to get involved.
In addition, new members are needed in the class association and in the clubs – and volunteers who, for example, do regatta service and the like at the weekend. Interested parties can contact the importer Bootspunkt in this regard or also Clemens Kraus from the 1. WSVLS e.V. Weißenborn: „At the national league regatta, I activated a former employee, but that’s just all connected with a lot of effort and very expensive.“