Sailability is an organisation that offers those with a disability, including those confined to a wheelchair, a chance to enjoy freedom they may never have before experienced – sailing on our beautiful waterways.
Bob Walsh, President of our local branch of the organisation, Sailability Port Macquarie, is very proud of the new pontoon that’s been established at McInherney Park, which allows more people than ever before to enjoy our river…
Hi Bob. How long have you been involved with Sailability in Port Macquarie – and what inspired you to join the group initially?
I am in my second year with Sailability Port Macquarie. Having worked with disadvantaged persons throughout my working career, joining Sailability provided a unique opportunity to serve the community and assist persons with a disability to enjoy freedom on the water.
What can you tell us about Sailability; what are the organisation’s aims?
Sailability Port Macquarie is a not-for-profit volunteer group whose mission is to offer to people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the sport of sailing on a regular basis. We use a fleet of specially-designed sailing dinghies to stage a sailing day each Wednesday on the Hastings River off McInherney Park. Each Wednesday we provide our services at no charge to over 50 people with disabilities drawn from various disability support units, local public and private schools, community disability service providers, aged care providers and various private individuals.
Sailability Port Macquarie received the Community Services Group of the year Award in 2015 from Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.
Sailability marked a wonderful achievement recently, with the opening of a pontoon/jetty on the river at McInherney Park. How was this pontoon made possible?
It was through the untiring efforts of members that the pontoon eventuated. This project has been made possible by the support of the following NSW State Government grant programs:
• Community Building Partnership Grants
• Sport & Recreation Disability Grants
• Boating Now – Transport for NSW.
What does this pontoon mean for Sailability in terms of accessibility for members?
Since commencing operations in 2012, it became apparent that we needed a permanent pontoon from which we could launch and retrieve our dinghies and safely transfer people in wheelchairs to and from our nine sailing dinghies. Growth in our client base stagnated due to our inability to accommodate additional clients each Wednesday. We found it necessary to restrict several of our larger client groups to fortnightly visits, and we were unable to promote our services to prospective new clients. The main cause of this stagnation was the limited capacity of the modular pontoon. The single C-Crane and the growing number of users in wheelchairs restricted the number of clients on any given day.
This bottleneck has been eliminated with our new gangway and pontoon. We estimate that the new pontoon with its two C-Cranes will increase our capacity by around sixty percent. With the new pontoon we have the opportunity of increasing the number of crew that sail with us each week. Such an increase will ensure we accommodate new crews and those crews who wish to increase their attendance on a weekly basis.
The community at large will benefit from this pontoon, which was handed over to Port Macquarie-astings Council on the 31 January 2018. Thus, the pontoon will enable others with a disability, as well as senior citizens and the general public to enjoy the Hastings River.
Tell us a bit about the individuals Sailability assists … Typically, what types of people access your services, and from how far away do they travel to meet with you?
In 2018, we operate nine dinghies with 75 volunteers. Each Wednesday, we provide our services at no charge to over 50 people with disabilities drawn from local public and private schools (primary and secondary), providers of disability services and aged care, and numerous private individuals. Clients (crew) mainly come from Kempsey, Wauchope, Camden Haven and Port Macquarie.
Census statistics confirm that there are approximately five thousand people with a “serious or profound disability” in the Port Macquarie electorate, where Sailability is the only group of its kind. Feedback from carers confirm the positive effects of participation in Sailability’s activities on the self-esteem and confidence of people with disabilities
What types of watercraft does Sailability operate?
We have a fleet of nine Access 303s, sailed by one or two people. The 303 has two sails and is steered with a joystick located in front of the sailors. A one metre keel (actually a weighted centerboard) offers outstanding stability. Seating is side by side, and sailors recline in a webbing “lazy chair”. Three inflatable recovery vessels provide a safety backup while sailing is in progress each Wednesday.
What skills/experiences does your organisation offer to participants?
Sailability Port Macquarie is a volunteer organisation whose mission is to offer people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the sport of sailing. “Freedom on The Water” is our aim, to ensure that each participant gains new skills, personal confidence and growth, enjoys social interaction and experiences the exhilaration and freedom of sailing.
What’s a story or two you can share that’s touched your heart during your involvement with the organisation?
Each participant brings with them a special personality that endears them to our volunteers, whose aim is to ensure that sailing is a safe, memorable and exciting experience.
In 2017, Colin, a wheel chair bound participant, through determination and skills progressed from a crew member with a disability to a “skipper” of one of Sailability’s nine sailing vessels. He now calls the shots and proudly skippers a vessel for other disabled colleagues each Wednesday. Colin attended the State Titles at Coomera Park, Forster, as a representative of Port Macquarie Sailability.
At the 2017 AGM of Sailability Port Macquarie, Colin was unanimously elected to the Executive Committee of the club, being one of the first disabled persons in NSW to hold such a position.
Where can we find out more info/access your services?
We invite members of our community to come and visit our operations at McInherney Park each Wednesday. We are always looking for new members, especially now that we have the physical resources to provide sailing to a greater number of participants. Our website is http://www.sailabilitynsw.org – select Port Macquarie from the list of clubs.
Thanks Bob. Interview by Jo Robinson.