Foyle Sailability named Parasport 'Club of the Month' for April
IN EIGHT short years, Foyle Sailability have navigated choppy waters to set up a thriving club which has now been named Parasport 'Club of the Month' for April.
The Derry based group was formed by a series of local sailors in 2013, all passionate about getting people with disabilities out on the water enjoying themselves. There was only one problem - they didn't have any equipment. They started out with adaptive dinghies borrowed from colleagues at Belfast Lough Sailability club. The club now owns three accessible boats and have just bought a Hawk 20 that can accommodate six participants: a sign of just how far they have come.
"We've come from absolutely nothing," said chairman, Garry Crothers "We depended heavily on Belfast Lough Sailability in the early days and they provided us with both rescue vessels and dinghies.
"They were very helpful in putting us on the right track around what funding was available and what boats to purchase. We've grown and grown and are now in a great position to provide a good service.
"The whole ethos was to get people with disabilities out on the water enjoying themselves, and we feel we've done that quite well."
Foyle provide low cost or free events with sessions at Foyle Port Marina every two weeks, tide and weather dependent in normal times. Secretary Ken Curry is among the club's founding members and speaks of the powerful impact of the sport on participants once initial barriers are overcome.
"Our participants can sail quite confidently and it's very stimulating when people get out on the water," said Ken, "It can be tough for wheelchair users to be hoisted out of their chair and into a dinghy for the first time, but when they do, it's a new type of freedom and we're there to guide them to sail the boat autonomously."
The club were quick to innovate by replacing regular events with online meetings as soon as COVID-19 restrictions were announced, recognising the impact this could have on their members.
Their hard work and early adaption to online sessions was recognised by Northern Ireland Sailability, the Royal Yachting Association and now by Parasport powered by Toyota as April's 'Club of the Month'.
Adapting to the virtual world has brought Foyle Sailability members closer together, with a WhatsApp group set up during lockdown to keep everyone connected and in good spirits. Despite not being able to sail for a year, the club has allowed members to continue learning and developing their sailing skills and know-how by going through RYA logbook by regular virtual meetings.
The logbook teaches all the practical and theoretical knowledge of sailing from tying knots in rope to river traffic rules – so members will all be experts by the time they get back on the water!
"The Zoom sessions are very important for our members," Ken explains. "Foyle Sailability is not only a physical outlet for them, but also a social one. The fact they couldn't meet their friends was a huge loss for them. For some of them it may be their only social outlet. It was important we try to keep that going on and it's all very light-hearted."
Sailors need look no further than Garry, club chairman, for inspiration, after he single-handedly sailed across the Atlantic after being stranded in the Caribbean when COVID-19 hit. Indeed, there wasn't a dry eye in the house when Garry returned home to Derry and told members the story of his 31-day journey.
"There was no way of getting other crew flown out, so I had to sail 4,000 miles by myself," he explained, "All of the members were on the harbour wall to wave at me as I came in and we raised a bit of money as a result of my journey."
Paul Cox, Parasport’s Head of Communications, explained why Foyle Sailability have been chosen as April’s 'Club of the Month'.
"We're delighted to celebrate Foyle Sailability and their success by naming them our Club of the Month.
"Their ability to inspire, educate and give joy to members of their community is exceptional and they have given their participants a lifelong motivation to improve their health and well-being.
"For disabled people thinking of joining a club, a supportive, welcoming environment is so important to break down barriers and that's exactly what Foyle Sailability provide.
"We look forward to following their progress as they add to their fleet and continue to make life-changing impacts in the communities they serve."
Parasport is developed by ParalympicsGB in partnership with Toyota as part of their commitment to making movement better for everyone. To discover inclusive local opportunities to become more active, visit parasport.org.uk.