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Sailing for freedom

Sailing for freedom

“The sport of sailing has given added meaning to the words freedom and fun for a person with diminished capabilities be they physical, intellectual or both.” These are words of inspiration that keep Sailability actively helping everyone who seek the freedom to sail. Here, we feature the stories of two sailors from the Gold Coast whose sailing experiences brought them a new sense of freedom.


Sailing is important in his life

Brendan was just three years old when he almost drowned and was left with Cerebal Palsy that badly affected his motor skills. After being in intensive care and on life support for a month, Brendan went home heavily medicated with his body rigid and suffering severe muscle spasms. Following many years of operations and painful physical therapy, Brendan began to show some improvement, although he would always be totally dependent on others for assistance with everyday tasks such as feeding, bathing, toileting, dressing and so on.

He attended school through the Cerebal Palsy League. He enjoyed school camps, swimming, wheelchair sports, outings and many other activities and was finally integrated into the local school system. After completing high school in 1999, Brendan joined a disability support service and it was here that he was first introduced to sailing for people with disabilities.

Shortly after attending Sailability Gold Coast, Brendan was asked to join the racing team and with training by some of the dedicated volunteers, entered his first regatta in 2003 at Lake Ainsworth, followed by further local and interstate regattas. Brendan then had the opportunity to purchase his own boat, which allowed him to sail solo and compete in race days on Sundays at Southport Yacht Club, Hollywell.

Brendan’s family say, “Sailing is the first activity Brendan has ever been able to accomplish on his own without assistance once he is in his boat. He looks forward to every day he attends Sailability Gold Coast, not only for the sailing but also socializing with the great group of people he has come to know. He absolutely loves the freedom he has being out on the water in his own boat and being completely in charge. If it wasn’t for the amazing group of volunteers at Sailability Gold Coast, their guidance and patience, Brendan would not have been able to reach his potential and be sailing on his own.”


Wheelchair-bound landlubber to solo sailor

Stefan was a 21-year old university student in England when he was driving his trusty Morris Minor along a road at “a good speed of 20 miles per hour” when a large lorry coming at speed towards him jack-knifed in the wet conditions. Stefan was trapped under the truck and suffered serious spinal cord and brain stem injuries. He was eventually discharged from hospital with no prospect of even getting out of bed on his own, let alone living independently.

Thus began a long and challenging journey struggling through rehabilitation of many years. But he was absolutely determined to become what people call “normal”.

He was 36 years old when he and his mother came to Australia. Years later, Stefan had been living independently for a long time and discovered Sailability Gold Coast. He transferred from going for a ride on Tuesdays to being coached on Thursdays using that same determination to learn to sail. For two to three years, Sailability Gold Coast sailors took him out in the dinghies to get him to manage the boat but it just wasn’t happening as everyone was hoping it would. This became a pattern, until one day, it was decided to “just send him out”. Of course Stefan was all for it! So Stefan just set off and sailed on his own—and came back on his own! Stefan was far too much a gentleman to shout, “I told you so!”

While the control of the sails is now the current challenge, in gentle to moderate winds, Stefan is sailing a proper course around our marker buoys with a pre-set jib and electric control of the main sail. He has gone from being a pretty quiet man to one who now laughs and gives as good as he gets. It is the freedom that comes with the achievement. And doesn’t he just love it!


Sailability Gold Coast program also encourages people with physical disabilities to sail solo in dinghies or as a crewmember on yachts. Visit or call 0407 979 666 for more information about their programs and how to be part of the team.


By Sailiability Gold Coast and Paul Dinniss

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