Disabled Sailors of All Levels and Skills are Welcome!
Story by Vicki McEvoy

Sail along the shores of the big sea-waters of Gitchie Gummee! Feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. Enjoy the smooth motion as the sailboat glides through the water. Courage Duluth runs a sailing program for people with disabilities that attracts all levels of sailors — from those who have never been on a sailboat to those who enjoy some casual racing in a solo boat. With the proper equipment, sailing can be a universally accessible water sport for people of all levels of functional ability. They sail from the Park Point Recreation Area in the Duluth/Superior Harbor, which is in the St. Louis River estuary and protected from the big waves on Lake Superior.
From left to right, Sam Tabaka, Scott Anderson and Joe Collelo.
Photo by John Danicic.

People new to sailing participate in a group sail on a Soling, a 27-foot light displacement keelboat (www.abbottboats.com/soling.htm). This is an Olympic-class racing sailboat yet is a very stable platform for even the beginner. The Soling has a large center cockpit that allows for safe, dry sailing. Two seats have been adapted in the cockpit to provide comfortable and secure seating for people with disabilities. A hand-operated hydraulic lift permanently mounted at the dock enables people with limited movement to transfer into and out of the boat. There is at least one volunteer on board for each person with a disability. A US Sailing certified sailing instructor employed by Duluth Superior Sailing Association sails the boat out.
Scott Anderson, Sam Tabaka, and Joe Collelo prepare to take their sailboats out racing. Photo by John Danicic.

Looks of concern fade away. The smiles on their faces show their enjoyment of the motion of the boat and the camaraderie of the shared experience. Shane Lueck, a young man with cerebral palsy who went sailing with some apprehension, felt safe and comfortable knowing that an experienced and trained sailor was in charge of the sailboat. After some basic instructions, he began learning the art of sailing. A simple adaptation adds a line to the tiller, allowing Shane to pull in or to slacken the line to control the direction of the boat. Sarah Seethoff, 21, is handed the sheet, the control line of the mainsail, which allows her to control the set of the sail. And off the boat sails, with the instructor at hand to provide instruction and any needed assistance!
From left to right Scott Anderson, Sam Tabaka and Joe Collelo racing. Photo by John Danicic.

Sailing solo is also a possibility for people with disabilities to pursue. The Courage Duluth program uses a Norlin 2.4 keelboat (www.us24meter.org). This boat is only 13 feet long and weighs 550 pounds, so it is as agile and responsive as a sailing dinghy. But with 400 pounds of lead in the keel under the sailor, it is very stable and requires no hiking past the side of the boat as movable ballast. The sailor sits down inside the cockpit with only his or her head sticking out. All controls are in front of the sailor within easy reach, including hand steering.
Sam Tabaka, Scott Anderson and Joe Collelo racing. Photo by John Danicic.

The Norlin is ideal for people with disabilities and has been in the Paralympic class since 2000. The 2005 Paralympics in Elba, Italy, had more than 80 boats at the starting line, representing 10 countries. People with disabilities also compete alongside able-bodied sailors, and in 2002 and 2005 people with disabilities won World Championships!
Sarah Seethoff and Shane Lueck getting ready to sail. Photo by John Danicic.

The difficulty of getting into and out of a small cockpit two feet below the dock can be overcome. Some people are able to maneuver in and out without assistance. Others may need a helping hand, and still others utilize the assistance of the manual hydraulic lift. But once in the sailboat, the fun begins!
Shane Lueck and Sarah Seethoff having fun synchronizing their sailing. Photo by John Danicic.

Scott Anderson, a 45-year-old paraplegic (T5 & 6), has been with the program in its various forms since the 1980s. Scott loves the freedom of sailing with no motors — sailing with only the wind. The thinking aspect of the sport, not just the physical activity, is an important element for him. “Do you tack now or do you wait? What is the wind doing?” asks Anderson. “All those factors you constantly assess and reassess.”
Shane Lueck and Sarah Seethoff having fun sailing with help from Courage Center volunteers. Photo by John Danicic.

Sam Tabaka, 27, has family members who sail and was a sailor before his spinal cord injury (T10). This program has allowed him to return to a sport he always enjoyed. He encourages others to come out and sail on their own. Sam particularly enjoys the independence he has in controlling and maneuvering the sailboat, but also has fun sailing in company with others. There is an old sailor adage — two or more boats close together, and the race is on!

Joe Collelo’s mom, Cheryl, thinks the Courage Duluth sailing program is totally awesome and felt very emotional the first time she saw her son sail. Independence has been limited for Joe, 25, since his traumatic brain injury. Sailing has been one way for him to participate in independent activity. Sailing has opened up a whole new world for him, increased his self-confidence and made him feel special that he can sail.
Shane Lueck and Sarah Seethoff having fun sailing with help from Courage Center volunteers. Photo by John Danicic.

For some people, sailing has become a family event. Bryan Jensen, who has cerebral palsy, has sailed solo in the Norlin for several years. Bryan likes to relax out on the water and has a sense of accomplishment that he can do this on his own. While Bryan enjoys sailing solo, his wife Raquel, who also has cerebral palsy, participates in the group sail on the Soling. Their able-bodied son Val, who is 12, handles the Norlin with style, and volunteers as a helper with group sails. Val enjoys participating in this fun hobby with his family.

Eric Larson, program coordinator of Courage Duluth, is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. Eric is appreciative of the technical assistance and financial support from the many volunteers and partnering organizations. Duluth Superior Sailing Association (www.sailingforall.org) and the Duluth Boat Club (www.duluthboatclub.org) are both valuable resources. Eric believes “it’s truly remarkable that a formula including financial assistance from the community, a good amount of creativity on the parts of many and committed volunteer support has resulted in such a win for the Northland.”

Great care makes sailing a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. All volunteers are screened, many continue volunteering summer after summer. Everyone wears PFD’s (personal flotation devices), even on the dock, and all equipment is regularly inspected to make sure it is working properly. A small motorboat, which serves as the safety boat, is on hand at all times in case of difficulty out on the water. All this effort is made to ensure the sailing experience is safe and fun!

Courage Center Duluth provides sports and recreational activities for people with disabilities, including such activities as kayaking, biking, swimming, archery, downhill skiing and dogsledding. Courage Center Duluth is part of Courage Center in Minneapolis, a nonprofit rehabilitation and resource center that helps people with disabilities live more independently. For more information go to courage.org.

Vicki McEvoy, a sailing enthusiast, is an administrative assistant in the Marketing Department of Courage Center. John Danicic is a free-lance photographer and also a sailing enthusiast.

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