Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The C. Thomas Clagatt, Jr. Memorial Regatta: From the Water

If there's anything difficult to get you're head around when sailing an adapted boat, it's how much the sailing stays the same. Beyond the tangles of spectre line and motorized seats, I can't say that there's much different sailing an adapted boat than any other boat. It's hard imagine that boats designed for sailors who have lost some degree of movement is just as athletic- but for me sailing a Skud 18 was something like trading in a stationary bike for an arm bike. The athleticism and concepts are the same- just the mechanics are different.

Scott Whitman and Brooke Thomson in a Skud 18
Photo courtesy of Thornton Cohen

Being in a Skud feels a little bit like riding a bike blindfolded. All the movements are just as intuitive but only with some things taken away. Luckily my skipper Scott Whitman who is currently campaigning in the Paralympics was able to walk me through it all. As the crew singlehandedly trims the main, jib, kite, along with hoisting and dousing- there was a lot Scott needed to talk me through. All the rigging was adapted seamlessly to control all the sails on a "dashboard" of lines, which made everything possible but was also overwhelming.

After that, the weirdest thing for me to get used to was the seat which is designed to hold a body without lower body movement. Scott steered using two levers, one for windward and one for leeward. Each lever also had a button to control his chair. More than once I had to take a deep breath of blind faith that it would all work out, and somehow it always did.

It was frightening how easily I forgot I had use of my legs while in the Skud. Each time I left the chair it felt unnatural. One mistake was giving into my fears of being strapped into the boat and passing on the seatbelt. I didn't take into account that the Skuds are so fast, that it would be a decision I would later regret. Even after four days of Skud sailing, I would sometimes remind Scott as we were planing at a hot angles, "just remember, I don't have a seatbelt!"

The biggest thing I took away from the Clagatt is how much sailing a Skud or any adapted boat is more of a psychological journey than physical. On the surface it's easy enough to understand that instead of hiking, the sailor moves a chair to the other rail; and instead of sore quads you're going to expect dead arms at the end of the day. However, it's harder to describe the sinking feeling of claustrophobia when you're expected to get strapped into the boat. Or talking to previous Paralympic Gold Medalist, Maureen McKinnon-Tuker on how the instinct to hike never totally goes away. Or how scary it is when a chair breaks. On top of that, the logistical obstacles these sailors deal with daily struck home form be while watching the 2.4 sailors getting hoisted in and out of their boats, the adapted vans and helpers of the athletes, and just overhearing casual conversations about traveling that involve ten times the logistics of a regular Olympic campaign. At the end of the day what these sailors at the Clagatt Regatta are doing is beyond amazing. And the most fun I've had on the water in a long time.

Don't just take it from me though. Listen to what Scott's regular crew, Julia Dorsett, has to say about adapted sailing in Skuds and her new 2.4.


 Sounds from Tuesday afternoon by US SAILING


  1. Brooke,
    Thanks for sailing with me, I had a lot of fun. You did a great job managing the 3 sails and the 12 lines in the cockpit. I hope you had fun.

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