Blind sailors brave the water in Kingston

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Blind sailors from around the world take part in the 2019 Blind Fleet Racing World Championships in Kingston – Sep 3, 2019

A unique championship is taking place off the shoreline of the Kingston Yacht Club — blind sailing — and competitors from around the world are competing against each other, with help from sighted teammates.

For the first time in Canada, the Kingston Yacht Club is the host to the 2019 Blind Fleet Racing World Championship.

“One of the very interesting things about sailing, it’s a sport that you use all of your senses,” says Rosemary Wilson, regatta chair for the yacht club. “I think our blind competitors have very well developed senses that deal with proprioception — where they are in space and reaction to the wind and hearing.”

One of those competitors is 59-year-old Chifumi Uchimura, who is from Japan.

Chifumi Uchimura, from Team Japan, assisted with tactical maneuvers. Global News Kingston

He lost his sight 17 years ago through a degenerative genetic eye disease.

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Through a translator, Uchimura says he enjoys sailing because he can feel the wind and waves. “That is something he enjoys now. And what he gets, from being blind from sailing, he has peers. He has friends on-board he can communicate with on the boat.”

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There are 14 teams competing from around the world, consisting of 56 competitors from Canada, the United States, Australia, Japan, France and Great Britain.

The visually impaired competitors are either the helmsman or the trimmer.

Each team of four consists of two blind competitors and two sighted teammates. All work together to race along a laid out course on Lake Ontario.

“The sighted competitors on each boat are the tacticians, giving important information, and the jib trimmer,” Wilson says.

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As for Uchimura, this championship is a rare opportunity to sail and compete with other blind competitors from around the world.

He says he is not intimidated by the sport. “I think it may be more fearful if I could see it!” he joked through his translator.

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The 2019 Blind Fleet Racing World Championship continues for another week until Sept. 9.

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