"Since my accident sailing was a very distant thought and only provided me with many great memories as I was lying in my bed at the hospital. Being on the water again was one of the most exciting things that has happened to me since my accident." This is a quote from CY test-pilot Danny McCoy at the helm of the Martin 16, a sport-boat for sailors with mobility impairments.
It seems strange, but the highlight of my 1995 sailing season happened with my feet planted firmly on the dock. The story opens in late September when Steve Alvey, the fleet captain of Calgary's Glenmore Sailing Club, invited me to test the Martin 16, a new 16-foot keelboat that takes into account the needs of youth and adult sailors with disabilities.
Since the start of his summer vacation in August, Alvey and his Dad had been touring across central Canada and the U.S. north-east to promote the Martin at yacht clubs and boat shows.
"My involvement with the boat began in the fall of 1994, when I helped to establish the Disabled Sailing Association of Alberta. Our fundraising efforts generated $100,000 from corporate sponsors for new boats and staff," says Alvey. "When we went shopping for new boats were a bit dissappointed with what was available. So this past January, we decided to build a boat from the "bulb-keel up" for quardriplegic sailors that would enable a quadriplegic to sail solo without outside assistance. Our consortium included private individuals who sponsored the tooling, Vancouver designer Don Martin, the Science Council of B.C. and the Disabled Sailing Association of B.C."
From a few boat-lengths away, the Martin 16 looks like a minature America's Cup yacht. With narrow beam, a plumb bow, bulb keel and an open transom, it has all the telltale signs of a pocket racing keelboat. But up close, the Martin is unlike any keelboat or dinghy that I have seen or sailed. For one, the boat is steered, like a small plane, with a joystick that is positioned between the helmsperson's legs. The pilot, so to speak, sits facing forward in a fully-adjustable, moulded fibreglass seat.
During my test sail in late September, I zoomed around Toronto Harbour with Alvey sitting back in the rumble seat and acting as my co-pilot. The helm was responsive, light and the boat sailed like it was running on steel wheels; with its narrow beam and modern, mini-IMS hull shape, the boat barely left a wake behind me. My first impression was that, although the Martin was designed to be sailed by a quad using a "sip-and-puff" interface which operates electronic sheeting and helm controls, this was a no-compromise, performance keelboat that would also be a great one design for thirty- to seventysomething club racers.
A test sail on Toronto Harbour
As we glided wing on wing with the jib flying neatly to windward on a club-foot boom, I concluded that CY should review the Martin. In my mind, I had already selected my test-pilot - one of my former crew, Danny McCoy and an ex-Canada's Cup bow-man, to boot.
So the following day, I invited Dan down to the club to go for a sail -- his first since he was paralyzed during a car accident on the way to his ranch in upper New York state, last Christmas.
Initially Dan was reluctant to take me up on my offer and had already declined literally dozens of previous invitations from his former sailing friends. "I am very self-conscious about getting back into sailing," he said. "How would I switch from side to side? How would I get on board?"
When I enthusiastically explained that the Martin was designed for sailors with mobility impairments, Dan finally agreed to come down to my club for a look at the boat. Bring your foul-weather gear, I added as I hung up the phone.
The day of our sail, as luck would have it, was very windy. As we safety-belted Dan into the skipper's chair, the waves were breaking over the club breakwall and, I'll admit it, I had butterflies. As a small crowd waited on the dock, we pushed the Martin off and into an oncoming puff. I can barely describe the giddy feeling I felt as Dan sheeted in the sails and pointed his bow through the club gap and headed out into the lake. He was "gone sailing" once again.
But as Dan tacked and gybed in the surf, I began to wonder if he was ever coming back -- he was having that much fun.
When he did finally return to the club, Danny was shaking his fist in the air in celebration, just as he had done on the foredeck when we raced together. His reaction afterwards, which I caught on tape, sums it up. "After my accident sailing was a very distant thought - it provided me with many great memories as I was lying in my bed at the hospital. Being on the water again was one of the most exciting things that has happened to me since my accident."
This was certainly the most satisfying afternoon I have spent sailing in a long time -- even though my boots never left the dock. As the waves washed across the bow of the Martin, I saw the world opening up to Dan again and I also know that we will see this sailor back on the water next summer.
To see if this boat is available, go to http://www.boatcan.com for listings!