This weekend saw the start of the International Federation of Disabled Sailing Event at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy and I was excited to be volunteering for it. I arrived on Saturday morning not really knowing what to expect as my usual job of safety cover on the water wasn’t needed as the organisers of the event provide their own safety boats. However, it turned out that I had a fantastic, varied weekend learning new skills and meeting new people.
First I was assigned to help the Dutch team. This involved preparing the lead for the keel of the boat. Thierry and Andre outlined what needed to be done and, despite having no knowledge of Dutch, their English was excellent and we were soon flying through the tasks.
After lunch we had to make the hanger ready for the Opening ceremony that evening. The canopy had to be attached to the ceiling to help with the acoustics whilst the speeches were being made and the flags from participating nations needed to be put up in alphabetical order. It was at that point that I realised that sorting countries alphabetically in your head wasn’t as easy as you’d imagine! Also several countries have at least two names ie America, therefore A or United States of America, so U. Great Britain or United Kingdom? Once I had got the logical way of thinking, it wasn’t too bad and the flags were soon up correctly.
When everything was in place, it was a quick change and freshen up before the Opening Ceremony began. A couple of speeches were made welcoming the athletes including one by Mr Graham Winter, the Mayor of Weymouth and Portland. After the speeches, we all enjoyed some great fish and chips!
Sunday morning came and this was to be the first day of racing so during the morning I was assigned to pontoon 3 helping the paralympion hopefuls prepare their boats for the afternoon.
It was there that I met David who had bought a brand new Skud 18 over from Australia for one of the Teams. I was intrigued as to how things worked having never seen a boat with the controls that this new Skud had. David very kindly invited me for a sail in the harbour – with me helming – after lunch. I jumped at the chance and after establishing that I had completed my volunteering duties, I met him down on the pontoons later that afternoon.
The Skud 18 is a 2 person keel boat where the helm sits on the specifically adapted seat and sails the boat using the controls in the cockpit. We sailed out into the harbour and, eager to learn from my experience, I asked about some of these controls. The one that puzzled me the most was one little switch on one of the levers. David invited me to press it, so I did. Suddenly I felt the whole seat tilt which surprised me as I didn’t expect it! But, once you have the hang of it, it allows the helm to move in sync with the boat whilst sailing round the course. We even got the spinnaker up as we headed downwind.
Whilst we were out in the harbour, the first Skud 18 race commenced so we sat at the windward mark and eagerly watched the sailors battle it out. It was a real privilege to be there as the GBR team of Nikki Birrell and Alex Rickham came 1st! An exciting end to a great weekend!