Inclusive sailing events helping more people to get out on the water

The Cork Sports Partnership delivered five new boats plus a support RIB to Kinsale Yacht Club this week

There are no black sails, no carbon-fibre foils and no high-tech electronics. Not yet anyway.

But for the participants in this weekend’s Watersports Inclusion Games in Wexford Harbour Boat Club, simply being on the water is as good as it gets and is clearly a source of joy for all, especially their families.

Not so long ago, the Irish Disabled Sailing Association was the only show in town but in the modern era, the emphasis has switched simply to ability and so Sailability is now the vehicle that includes a hugely diverse range of sailors.

Just last weekend, the Cork Sports Partnership delivered five new boats plus a support RIB to Kinsale Yacht Club, which serves more than 50 families in the region.


Although the West Cork club is effectively the spiritual home for Sailability, having taken delivery of the first Challenger class multihulls in 1982, activities have spread nationwide.

Fitting too that Irish Sailing president John Twomey, a veteran of eleven Paralympic Games (and three-time medal winner) was on hand in his home club to witness the hand-over.

The former hurler and cyclist has been a wheelchair user for more than 50 years, but has also campaigned in the International Dragon class as well as in Irish Cruiser Racing Association events, where he is a past class champion in his specially modified boats.

He has campaigned for disability sports from national to global level, at one time leading the International Class Association before sailing was dropped from the Paralympics.

Nowadays, his passion is to see more and more groups shut out of mainstream society gain access to the water. Sailability now includes physical, intellectual, sensory (vision and/or hearing impairment) disabilities.

Inclusion is at the heart of the concept but goes further with projects such as Sailing into Wellness, also a Kinsale-based initiative that has grown beyond its drug rehabilitation purpose to cater for foreign nationals and other minority groups who previously lacked direct access to society.

Much of the growth has come off the back of interest generated by the Special Olympics hosted by Ireland in 2003, an event that is currently being held in Berlin.

However, in spite of the legacy of those games 20 years ago, there is no Irish sailing squad in Germany this week.

Eleven sports are represented by the Special Olympics family in Ireland but to be included, various criteria must be achieved – including being a year-round sport.

David Branigan

David Branigan

David Branigan is a contributor on sailing to The Irish Times