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Kraken Travel open doors to Blind Sailor to complete ambition of competing in Round the Island Race

by Blind Sailing 20 Jul 07:55 BST
The Round the Island Race from a blind sailor's point of view © Blind Sailing

You may be reading about Blind Sailing for the first time! But, if you are a sailor at any level you know a big part of it is teamwork, even from the single handers there is still a team behind them on shore and in safety boats, that teamwork is what makes sailing so inclusive. It takes one key element from all and that is COMMUNICATION.

Kate had a goal to compete in the famous Round the Isle Race. This was put on hold due to Covid, but Henry, Mike and the team at Kraken Travel enabled Kate to complete her goal in the 2021 edition on board Incisor which is a Corby 45 - a whole new experience of racing for Kate.

Kate joined Blind Sailing over four years ago, and all we can say is she sets her goals and goes for them. Kate has been blind since birth and only sees light and slight shadows. As Kate says herself, her brain fills in the gaps and, as you will read, she does not miss much. Hold in your mind when Blind Sailing first met Kate, the fear of stepping over the guard rail on to a wobbly platform was enough to make Kate think, but words of encouragement and Kate's determination has seen her grow, not just in this race but in early 2020 setting sail aboard a Tall Ship and crossing the Atlantic, to racing with Blind Sailing at RYA events.

Thursday night before the race Lucy, Commodore of Blind Sailing, put in a call to Kate to say good luck and have fun. Lucy knows Kate well, and a few words gave her so much confidence. Kate asked Lucy what should I say if they ask which role I should do, Lucy said, "The wind looks like it is going to be exceptionally light for your training day and then light first thing, increasing to a nice breeze. In a race boat like Kraken you will be part of the team and your sight will not matter, working a winch you can work in pairs or on the main, but one thing - do not worry and just have fun!"

Blind Sailing is truly grateful for all the support they receive, enabling the charity to open doors, and always says to the sailors that the volunteers who are new will be nervous as well, but the sport brings people together and sharing of experiences is key. Lucy asked Henry Burkitt, founder and CEO of Kraken Travel, what his thoughts were before meetings Kate and did he have any previous experience that he could draw on. Henry said, "We didn't really have many concerns with Kate joining the boat. The main thing was that she enjoyed the day and experienced the event to its fullest. As with all training days and meeting new crew, it is key to find everyone's strengths and make the team work for all. I have previously sailed onboard tall ships that are geared up to support people with many different requirements, including visually impaired people and wheelchair users. My mum had a stroke a number of years ago which led to me seeking out accessible sailing and I've done two weeks on board with her. So yes, I have sailed with visually impaired people before, but on a tall ship under quite controlled conditions. Not the biggest participation yacht race in the world on a high-performance race yacht, which is a very different prospect."

Kate joined the Kraken crew on Friday and was met by Henry, so she was in great hands. The wind was not on their side with light breeze which was dropping. A few tacks and a few gybes and it was back to shore. Although it may not have seemed it, it was a great time for Henry and Kate along with the crew to work out the best role for Kate in the race and for Kate to familiarise herself with the layout and the working of the boat.

It was great to hear that the team and Kate at the end of the day had a debrief of the training day and worked out the best way for her to fully participate. In the end, Kate ran the traveller and I did the mainsheet trim, so Henry and Kate became a working pair. On Incisor, the traveller is positioned at the back of the boat and there is a semi-clear route from one side of the boat to the other.

Sailing is all about the people that come together, and Kate was made to feel so welcome onboard and in the social Friday evening, you can often hear the members of Blind Sailing say, it is far easier on board a boat as you become so familiar with the layout and understand why things change. On land everything is always changing and you have to keep alert, but on board a boat you can give your guide dog a rest or fold your cane away and use your senses to feel the boat and work the controls.

Saturday and it was race day! The day Kate had been waiting for.

Lucy asked Kate to put into words the feeling of the start as she was heading out to the line with a fleet of over a 1,000 boats.

Kate put it into words, "Race Day was an early start, and as soon as I stepped on to the pontoon to make use of the onshore facilities something felt quite different compared to the day before. The atmosphere was quiet yet electric. This carried forward to the start line. It was not anything I had expected it to be like. I thought that you would hear a cacophony of noise and there was nothing of the sort. If people were talking it was in whispered conversations and the only other sounds, I could hear were the movements of sails and the chug of engines but as soon as we had begun our approach to the start line these all dropped away. The next thing I heard was the starting cannon and then we were off to see who could float around the island the fastest."

Kate's role onboard then became a busy one and key in the conditions, light wind tacking up the Solent, helping the boat keep moving, then adjusting as the wind increased as they reached the Needles. Henry said it was great to watch Kate's feel for the boat and, as the wind grew, our teamwork and communication increased. Also it was new to Kate to be part of a larger racing team, from being with Blind Sailing racing in teams of four on aboard, to a crew of 12 all working together and chatting.

There were a few small showers round the back of the Island, but with the wind increasing and staying steady there was no sign of moaning. But for Kate the best moment was yet to come and little did she know.

A highlight for Kate was when she was asked to helm the team over the finishing line, an opportunity Kate did not miss. Kate said, "There is just something about feeling the wind in my hair and knowing that although I cannot see where we were going, I had control of the vessel, all be it under the watchful eye of Derrick the skipper. Crossing the line with the team was an amazing feeling, then to hear were we came topped it off!"

The Kraken Team onboard Incisor completed the course in an Elapsed Time of 07:36:40 and on a corrected time of 08:38:19. Finishing 10th in IRC Class 0 and 32nd overall in Line Honours out of 1,200 entries.

It is true to say the bonds you make on board a boat stay with you like a family and Kate wants to thank the whole team for making the experience so special and allowing her to play a full role on board.

A few last thoughts from Kate and Henry...

Kate: "I would like to end this article by thanking Henry, Mike and Jordan from Kraken Travel for doing everything they could to make my adventure as worry free as possible and to my fellow racing teammates, thank you for jumping in with both feet and for not panicking when trying to guide me around. I understand it can be scary when trying to guide someone who you've never met before around an environment such as a marina. Lastly, to everyone at Blind Sailing UK, I have learnt so much since beginning my journey with you, and I really look forward to my future in sailing."

Henry: "We loved the experience. One of the founding principles, when we set up Kraken Travel, was to break down barriers to access sailing. Having Kate on board with us for the Round the Island Race was a great milestone. We proved to ourselves (and hopefully others), that this is possible and, by doing some planning, there is no reason why visually impaired people can't sail on standard race boats or any other boat for that matter. It was a lot of fun and something we'll do more of."

Blind Sailing sends their thanks to Kraken Travel and the team and look forward to working with them in the future, creating more adventures.

If someone somewhere reads this who has a disability and thinks just a tiny bit that they would like to try and see what doors sailing can open for them, we would recommend taking that leap of faith because you never know what, it will bring you in the future.

Do it now contact blind.sailing@yahoo.co.uk

And to find out about both organisations click on the links below,

Safe Sailing to all.

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