Sailors with disabilities set out to circumnavigate Ireland
44 mixed-ability skippers and crew aim to highlight equality on water
Some members of the crews taking part in a circumnavigation of Ireland to raise awareness of sailing for people with disabilities. Front row: Gary Crothers (skipper of yacht Kind of Blue and committee member of Foyle Sailability. He lost the use of his left arm after a car crash) and Aideen Corr (Kind of Blue crew and Foyle Sailability committee member who has Parkinson’s disease). Back row, from left: Ken Curry (Kind of Blue crew), Luke Farren (Dream Machine crew), George McCormick (Dream Machine skipper), Kim Banks (Aaraura crew) and Vicki Smith (Aaraura crew). Photograph: Trevor McBride
Four yachts with 44 mixed-ability skippers and crew are participating in the voyage from Lough Foyle, which is backed by Sailability Ireland, the organisation which promotes the watersport for people with disabilities.
Among the participants are Georgina Griffin (18), a national champion sailor from Kinsale, Co Cork, and Jerome McGirl (43), from Mullaghmore Sailability in Co Sligo. McGirl, who uses crutches after he contracted transverse myelitis on his spinal cord at the age of 19, took up sailing at Rosses Point, Sligo, in 2003.
“Sometimes we bring our own personal passions into our activity and in my case I found myself co-ordinating sailing for people with disabilities at Mullaghmore,” he says. The Co Sligo harbour has a floating pontoon, which makes it easier to access craft, he adds.
McGirl has signed up for the entire voyage, which involves landfalls at Sailability centres at Carrickfergus in Belfast Lough, Carlingford, Co Louth, the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Kinsale, Galway, and Killybegs, Co Donegal.
Georgina Griffin took up sailing in Kinsale, where its sailing club has pioneered access for people with physical disabilities to watersports. “I’ve done a lot of dinghy sailing, have completed all my Irish Sailing Association levels and would like to take my instructor qualifications,”she says.
“I haven’t spent much time offshore, apart from night passages on the Spirit of Oysterhaven sail trainer,” she adds, “so this will be a bit of fun.”
Current and former fishermen have volunteered to support the effort, according to onshore co-ordinator Séamus Bovaird of Greencastle, Co Donegal, who is involved with Foyle Sailability. Bovaird says he was surprised by the random offers of help. All costs for the passage are being borne by boat-owners and able-bodied volunteers, he adds, and running costs are, therefore, “minimal”.
He says his local petrol station was filling tanks with diesel and berths were being provided free of charge by host clubs. Volunteers were also paying for travel to and from crew change points.
“Now that Ireland can talk about being LGBT, we might start a conversation about disability equality,” Bovaird notes.
Donegal’s first access pontoon and crew hoist for people with disabilities was formally opened on Friday at Greencastle, and three Hansa dinghies, two Canadian clipper kayaks, a post boat and sea-angling boat were provided to take people out on water.
The Sailability Round Ireland boats aim to return to Greencastle, weather permitting, by July 10th.
Also circumnavigating Ireland have been two brothers, Nathaniel and Fergus Ogden, in an 18ft Drascombe lugger, and two sea swimmers, David Burns and Maghnus Collins – both adventures are in aid of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Meanwhile, a round-Ireland relay rowing crew set out from Bray, Co Wicklow, almost a month ago to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.