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Introducing the Andrew Cassell Foundation - helping disabled sailors reach maximum independence

by Ian Wyllie 29 Jan 17:41 GMT
Jazz Turner prepares to board the Sonar from her wheelchair © Andrew Cassell Foundation

The Andrew Cassell Foundation has a unique role in helping disabled sailors reach maximum independence on the water. Using Sonar keelboats the Foundation focuses on racing and race training with - and against - able bodied crews on a level playing field and equal terms. Each year the charity develops mixed crews of abled and disabled people to compete effectively in the growing Sonar fleet during Cowes Week.

Matt Grier the director said: "We encourage a sense of ownership in our participants by becoming part of the Foundation family. Our expectation is that they commit to sailing, including caring for boats properly and racing them with commitment. In return we mentor and support them to achieve at the highest levels."

Andrew (Andy) Cassell, the noted sailmaker and former owner of Ratsey and Lapthorn in Cowes founded the charity after he won a gold medal at the Paralympics. He wanted participants to have the same experience he had of being welcomed and accepted in a succession of racing fleets without regard to his significant physical disability. He remains actively involved as Patron of the charity.

Louise, a volunteer with the Foundation since 2020 said: "Each sailor, new or experienced, has taught me about themselves and how no disability effects two people in the same way. ACF understands this individuality and I have learnt to support each sailor and ensure they achieve their goals both on and off of the water. Our growing team are defying limits, racing competitively and bringing home top results."

Independence on the water never has a single meaning. We don't expect a blind and deaf participant to be a solo helm in a fully integrated racing fleet, but we have qualified one of our sailors in this situation to be a fully effective and independent mainsheet trimmer on a Sonar. By contrast, participants with multiple amputations have gone on to be independent skippers of the Sonar, and then boat owners enjoying cruising Europe and wider waters.

Ian Wyllie, who sails with the after effects of Spinal Cord Injury, said "The Foundation was a key part of my rehabilitation journey from being in a nursing home to cruising independently. The quality of their training and mentoring coupled with the competitive stakes of the race course was key to my rapid development and has allowed me to achieve more than I could imagine."

Disabled participants face very significant challenges in crossing the gap between supported disability sailing activity and being an independent member of a club, a boat owner or regular crew in a team. The Foundation provides mentoring and support to help participants progress in the sport, and to overcome barriers to integration.

Bex, one of our neurodiverse participants, said, "I'm able to take opportunities I couldn't have otherwise. It's not just the sailing - when we race I'm respected as an integral crew member. It was never in my dreams to be competing for podiums at Cowes Week, but now it's a reality."

Find out about racing, volunteering or donating at acfsailing.org

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