A NEW SAILING EXPERIENCE
Over the years I’ve seen many new designs of boat appear on the market created with disability in mind. Well-intentioned designers often struggling with three essential design factors;
Functionality: trying to design a boat to accommodate a wide range of disabilities
Competitive: the need to design something that sails well
Aesthetics: to design something that doesn’t look like a bath tub.
Some designers have pulled it off and fleets of their craft have grown accordingly, for the rest, victims of market forces, their labours of love slowly rot in sailing club boat parks around the country.
It’s a delightful irony that some of the most suitable boats for disabled people were never designed for them in the first place. The Sonar and the 2.4 metre are two such examples. Both becoming Paralympic classes in their own right. However, I think there may be a new addition to that “accidentally suitable” list, the Hobie Tandem Island.
I first saw the Hobie Tandem Island at the Southampton Boat Show in 2010. As a Challenger trimaran sailor myself, it’s similarities to my boat, along with its garish red colour, immediately catching my eye. But I was unprepared for, what could be seen as, several advantages over my 15ft glass fibre Challenger. Perhaps it is unfair to make direct comparisons with a well-proven class that has more than 300 boats sailing around the UK, particularly one which took me safely around the British Isles, but disabled sailors would be wise to at least have a look at the Hobie. The features I consider disabled sailors would find most important are as follows;
Constructed of injected-moulded polyethylene giving it huge strength, durability and lightness. Almost unbreakable.
It’s a trimaran giving it stability
Swing-away floats making it easy to assemble, easy to get in / out of the boat from a wheelchair and easy for towing.
Quick and easy fully-adjustable seating
Tandem, two-person, in-line seating so an instructor can sail with a disabled sailor or just go sailing with a friend
Un-stayed rig with mast-furled mainsail allowing quick and easy de-powering and stowing of the sail
Simple, uncomplicated control lines and steering
For those who can move their feet, the removable Hobie patented mirage scissor-action paddle system allows the boat to be propelled without wind power.
Boat can be paddled like a canoe, sailed by wind or propelled by foot paddle. Ideal for fishing, cruising or racing
Price: less than £3,000
Ordinarily it takes a lot to persuade me of the merits of a new class but when Grafham Water Sailability decided to test-sail the Hobie Tandem Island last month, I spoke with their Chair, Wendy Hopkins, herself a seasoned Challenger racer, to gauge her opinion.
“We were very impressed” enthused Wendy. “First out was Eddie, one of our completely blind sailors who had a sighted crew sat behind him. He was so enamoured with the boat, he placed an order for one on the spot. One of our volunteers, Annette Gray was next to have a sail and thought it ideal for kids with learning disabilities, explaining that the person in the front seat is almost unaware of the person behind them who could make adjustments as necessary”.
“What struck me immediately” continued Wendy, “was how easy it was to get in, the outriggers just fold to the side of the hull and I slid in backwards and a volunteer just lifted my legs in. With some minor adjustments, the seat was altered and it was both comfortable and secure. It wasn’t long before we were sailing across the reservoir and every time the wind dropped, or when tacking, we got peddling to keep the speed up.
“It was a beautiful day with a gentle breeze so I can’t comment on how the boat performs in more wind but it has so much potential for any club. When you’ve finished, the boat can be ready for towing in about ten minutes. It would be great for a touring/sailing holiday”.http://www.hobiecatcentre.co.uk
By Geoff Holt