Edward (aka Eddie) works for a major telecommunications company and has sailed with the Andrew Cassell Foundation for 3 years. He is completely blind and lives with a major hearing impairment, and started sailing when he was 13 years old and continues to compete regularly in the Visually Impaired sailing community. Since sailing with the Foundation he has become an increasingly serious sailor and is now based in Cowes which allows him to sail even more frequently.
Eddie describes the joy he has in sailing with the Andrew Cassell Foundation saying “it’s just like being out on the water and enjoying that feeling of freedom. It’s freedom.” The Foundation offers him a unique sailing environment where he can participate equally despite being completely blind and living with 50% hearing loss. 9section may need changing.
Like many disabled people Eddie works full time and he explained that until he found the Andrew Cassell Foundation this was a major bar to his sailing, saying: “There’s Sailability groups but again my problem is that I work so I really need to go sailing at weekends and a lot of the groups only go sailing during the week. That doesn’t work for me, So coming down here it’s always at the weekends, also it’s on the sea, and like I said it’s inclusive and we get to go racing against the able bodied guys down here – a lot of them have been racing here for years and years so it’s a good competitive environment.”
The opportunity to take part in Cowes Week and to sail competitively in an inclusive environment where as he puts it “we all help each other basically. As a disabled person you bring certain things to the organisation and you’re encouraged to participate and give your knowledge and experience regardless of whether you’ve got a disability or not – so your treated as an equal person with an equal voice which quite often you’re not in society or in other organisations you might sail with.”
“Sailing well, and trimming the mainsheet of the Sonar – effectively controlling the boat’s accelerator – without seeing sounds pretty tricky.” However Eddie explains: “It’s all about feel – because you’ve got an awareness of where you are on the boat and then it’s all about how you can feel the boat, what its doing going through the water and I’m in that feeling of sailing along but it’s all about the feeling rather than what you can see.”
Having cruised extensively in yachts, sailed on tall ships and some ocean legs in bigger boats as well as with disability sailing organisations specific to people for Visual Impairment gives a particular perspective on sailing the Sonar as opposed to other boats. “I think sometimes the most challenging bit is space – getting in each others way which is quite difficult what you have to rely on the people that can see to move around. I mean, sailing a big boat is totally different because you’ve got more facilities and you’ve got more space and I suppose you’ve got more bits to worry about, but you’ve still really got the same sort of set up, on Dolphin or Spare Part – you’ve still got all the sail controls just in different places.
One of the the major problems relating to sailing with both hearing and vision loss is ensuring that Eddie remains an integrated part of the crew and can contribute his memory to reassuring us all that we have got the marks on the course correctly, and his considerable understanding of the geography of the Solent. As he says: “I’ve got 50% hearing loss so I wear hearing aids in both ears. We are looking into getting a Bluetooth helmet for me and a Bluetooth microphone for the skipper so that we can communicate with each other better, because at present they have to shout at me most of the time. Quite often the reason I often do the main is that I can’t hear the skipper he can tap me and say pull the main in or let it go so that works quite well but we are trying to develop getting this helmet with Bluetooth so that I can hear a lot more and we can communicate much better so we don’t have to shout at each other.
Whether disabled or not, what might have been is always a perplexing question, but as Eddie said: “I probably wouldn’t be as good if I could see but I don’t know, I might never have got into sailing if I could see.