HALIFAX – On the water they look like any other sailboats — it’s only up close that their racers can be seen controlling them very differently.
Rene Dallaire, for example, is using two sip and puff straws to control the sails and the rudder of his Martin 16 sailboat. Ron Newman’s controls look more like a joystick.
Both racers are participants with the High Liner Mobility Cup, a national regatta for sailors with disabilities.
“Once you’re in one of these boats, you’re on even keel with everybody else in the race,” said Debbie Morgan of Sail Able Nova Scotia.
Forty-two sailors from across Canada are in Halifax this week to compete in the event.
Dallaire, who suffered a spinal cord injury after a skiing accident in 1970, says he only discovered disabled sailing in 1994.
“Twenty-four years, I couldn’t do anything on my own. I was looking at sport as a spectator,” he said. “It was the first time I had a sport I could practice on my own.”
Moving from spectator to competitor does take some help. All the novice and some of the experienced sailors have sailing companions on board to give them advice during the race, and volunteers are on the docks waiting to help them on and off their boats.
“You’re probably looking at least 100 volunteers,” said Jenny Davey, the event coach. “If you’re looking on the docks there, you can see that each of the lifts to help the sailors into the boats has three people on every lift, and there’s four lifts.”
Dallaire said all that help doesn’t go unnoticed by the participants.
“if it wasn’t for all the volunteers that are helping around, we couldn’t sail. So it’s very important to have those people around.”
The competitions runs until Aug. 30.
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