Hi, my name is Hannah Shelmerdine, I’m 32 years old and I am a sailor.
I started sailing with Bolton Sailability in July 2016 after finding the club on the internet. I was looking for a hobby that would be challenging, meaningful, and give me a purpose. After contacting the club to ask a few questions about what’s involved and what support they provide for disabled people, I decided to go for a taster session.
I have profound cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair full-time. So, I did wonder how on earth I was ever going to be able to sail. I have no movement in my legs, can’t sit independently, I have limited use of my left hand, no use of my right and I’m visually impaired. How could someone like me participate in a sport?
Well, after my first sail I was hooked, I loved it! For the first time in my life I felt free of my disability and all its restrictions. I left my wheelchair behind and had time to collect my thoughts in beautiful and peaceful surroundings. Being out in the fresh air was just wonderful.
Before joining Bolton Sailability, I had very few friends and little structure in my life. I had nothing to do, nowhere to go and no one that I could really relate to. I felt lonely and isolated. Now, thanks to sailing, I have many friends and enjoy a very full and active social life. Since starting, I’ve participated in several races during Sailability sessions including last season’s Bolton Sailing Club Regatta against other disabled sailors, and I won! I am a competitive person by nature and thoroughly enjoy racing, so I’ve decided to pursue sailing at a competitive level.
Now, you may be asking yourself how I sail the boat – well, let me explain. I use a servo system which attaches to my body so I can control both the sails and the helm. This means I have total independence on the water. It is the only time I can ever be completely on my own. Being completely independent of others is a new and amazing experience for me, something I never thought I’d have.
During practice and training sessions I take direction verbally from a safety boat crew about the position of other boats on the water and the course direction, as I’m unable to see them. When I’m racing, I use a double hander with a crew which means the crew is able to give verbal direction about the course and other boats.
I’ll soon be getting a moulded seating system for my boat so I can be more comfortable out on the water. The new moulded seat will enable me to sit more upright in the boat and keep me stable. This means I will feel safer and can sail with more confidence and better concentration, as I’ll be thinking about sailing not falling over. It will also be easier on my crew, who will no longer have to haul me up every time the boat heals and we can race properly.
This summer, I’m looking forward to competing at Rutland Sailability Multiclass Regatta again (last year I finished fourth overall). Sailing at Rutland is great, it gives me an opportunity to meet like-minded people with common interests. I’ve worked hard in training to improve my skills ahead of the Rutland Regatta and I hope to finish higher than fourth in the rankings this year. I am also hoping to sail at the HANSA National Championships at Nottingham in July, and would love to make the most of any other sailing opportunities that come my way.
In joining Bolton Sailability, I’ve discovered that sailing is something I can do, it’s something I’m good at and it’s something I am able to progress in. Perhaps the most important outcome is that I am no longer isolated and feel part of a community. I have met some wonderful people, both Sailability members and club volunteers who have become very special friends. I now feel that I have something to aim for and that my life is purposeful.
Sailability is the Royal Yachting Association’s (RYA) national programme that supports disabled people to try sailing and take part regularly. For more information, visit RYA website.
In other news: Happy sailing to Hannah and all other sailors with disabilities heading out on the water this summer. In the meantime do look at our Information in your local area page to find some links to resource directories and activity lists.