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Sailors with a disability do not give up - Lynn Steward has got back into dinghy racing

by Magnus Smith 18 Feb 12:00 GMT
Lynn Steward, an inspirational Challenger sailor © Ewan Kirkbride

Lynn Steward races the only Challenger trimaran at Wigan St Helen's SC, and frequently jokes with the able-bodied competitors in the PY fleet crossing the finish line ahead of her: "You try doing it one-handed!"

Lynn lost control of her right side three years ago, and has poor grip. She moves slowly now. But past years of crewing in an Enterprise and in catamarans couldn't be denied, and she's now back on the water, competing, and enjoying it.

She is quick to say, "I'm still learning," both regarding her helming and her disability. We admire her greatly, and enjoyed discovering her story, with a view to encouraging others to try the Challenger fleet.

Other dinghies and keelboats are suitable for sailors with a disability, of course, so why did Lynn choose the Challenger? She tells the story of how her ex-helm was instrumental in the whole process. Fresh out of the hospital's rehabilitation department, she met up with him, and he said, "Right! Time to get you back in a boat." She thought she couldn't... but this guy knew to push on.

He also knew she'd want something fast and fun, which is what led his research to the Challenger. Lynn found that the boat was indeed fast and exciting, with the only issue being prone to getting stuck in irons in light winds (similar to many single-sail multihulls).

Her friend's next step was to talk the local sailing club committee into buying a Challenger, and Lynn has now been borrowing this club boat for just over a year. She is moving up the ranks slowly, and has been doing more open meetings lately. This is inspirational.

Whilst the club had no Sailability scheme or equipment before, they have been happy to change and adapt. Lynn is comfortable at Wigan St Helen's SC because most members knew her from when she had sailed there before, when able-bodied. In the past she also enjoyed tennis and long walks with her dog, but neither is possible now - only the sailing.

Going sailing is not as simple as it was, of course. Everything from the moment you arrive can be an issue, says Lynn. Taking the cover off, getting changed, rigging.... Even the simple task of doing up her buoyancy aid needs two hands, and is no longer possible alone.

The only option is asking friends or passers-by for help. Lynn admits she finds asking for help rather alien to her, but she simply cannot go sailing otherwise, so she has to. She remarks that life in general is the same; she has to ask strangers for help in the supermarket.

At her home club the launch process is handled by the sailor embarking on land, then the boat is pushed into the water. A helm can drop their own rudder and centreboard with control lines. Lynn says she can find this moment claustrophobic, as she knows she cannot just jump out if she wants to. It is great that she can overcome these feelings in order to enjoy the racing.

Once sailing, Lynn has learned a few tricks which make her life easier. She steers with her knees when she needs to sheet in. She remembers to re-thread the kicker control line to the left side only. She has been experimenting with different methods to write down the course. Her next goals are to build stamina and improve her technique. She says she is not a racing expert yet.

It is highly admirable that Lynn has made it all happen, despite the structure not being present all around her. It is lovely to hear that club members are always happy to help. What is also lovely is how Lynn has been able to borrow a Challenger in order to compete in open meetings too (Oxford SC and Rutland SC have big Sailability fleets). She usually has to travel alone by bus, trains and taxis to get to the events up and down the country.

"These people are as tough as anything," Lynn says of other sailors with a disability. We think this quote applies to her, very squarely, too.

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