Jan Harris: Why I love introducing other Deaf people to sailing

Posted on April 28, 2015

I have been involved with sailing for Deaf people for about 20 years, after being deafened myself, at 21 years of age.

I know how much I gained from learning to sail with my husband and family. It was a huge confidence boost for me – I had found a medium where deafness didn’t interfere, and it was something that I could do with the same degree of competence as hearing peers.

The Rona Sailing project, in conjunction with RYA Sailability had started sailing trips and I was invited along.

I found sailing a large yacht a very different experience to sailing a small family yacht. But I needn’t have worried because the hearing Skipper and afterguard qualified crew were all deaf aware and keen to get us involved, and we always sail with a Communicator/Interpreter.

My first deaf trip was across the channel, and we divided the crew into two Watches, one named Port, the other named Starboard, and did four hourly watches, alternating. Crossing the channel through the night was really exciting!

It is a real effort to sail at night time with deaf crew who all need to see to communicate. But safety is paramount, and everything is well thought and planned out. 

Crew do not need to have experience, everyone helps each other, there is always a great sense of camaraderie and everyone cooks and clears up and sails the boat in equal measures.

Steering a large yacht is the thrill of a lifetime, just charged with excitement! It is always fantastic fun, plus once you arrive, there is time ashore, for showers and pubs and shops etc.

I love the sea. The wind filling the sails, no engine on, just us and the wind to steer the direction of the boat, the peace and calm.

When the conditions are right, the sea sprays a very fine mist, and if the sun is in the right place, you can see little prisms of light, like miniature rainbows. I love to see Dolphins – it’s amazing that these beautiful creatures CHOOSE to come visit US, such a thrill.

Every time I sail with a newbie to sailing, I watch their confidence grow, and can see them grow too, if that makes sense. People come from all over the country, so deaf people meet new friends.

It also broadens their outlook on communication. Everyone on-board tries to communicate with everyone else – the interpreter is only able to do one job at a time so we all have to try harder – and I truly believe it helps people to understand different aspects of deafness, and encourages mutual acceptance.

Whilst on passage and with all sails set, people learn how to tie knots, and we have deaf awareness and hearing awareness sessions. Everyone gets to steer the boat, no one is left out, and all will go home with lots to talk about!

If you like the look of this, why not join us?

We currently have 5 free berths on our next trip, with bursaries available to Deaf youths aged 16 – 25 years old.

This is a wonderfully fun, exciting and challenging opportunity for all deaf people, and at a price that is affordable. The trip costs £195, inclusive of 3 meals per day and beverages, whilst on-board the yacht ‘Merrilyn’.

There are 16 people onboard including qualified training crew, all with mixed communications. An interpreter/communicator is provided. No sailing experience is required, or special clothing or equipment, it is all supplied.

To find out more, join the Deaf Sailing group on Facebook by clicking here.

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