Sunday, 16 February 2014

GUEST POST: Anya de Iongh on Adventure

I’ve known Róisín since I was born and I’m following her Mongol Derby preparation with much excitement!  I share her passion for adventure, excitement and challenge and I hope that this post will show that adventure comes in all shapes and sizes and is open to everyone, able bodied or not.

Before my health deteriorated a few years ago, sailing was a central piece of the jigsaw of my life.  Being on the water, socialising with sailors and everything about the sport defined me.  

Anya at Cowes in 2009
After my health deteriorated, however, sailing was outlawed by my doctors and the jigsaw that made up my life started to fall apart.  Physically, sailing wasn’t ideal, but I quickly realized there would be a serious risk to my sanity if I didn’t get on the water! 

"Is it so nice as all that?" asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.
"Nice? It's the only thing," said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing," he went on dreamily: "messing—about—in—boats; messing—"

The more I thought about it, the clearer it seemed: even crossing a road carries risk, so I would never be able to live a life free of risk.  I started thinking about how I could manage the risks associated with sailing.

Enter Chesil Sailability, a local group passionate about going sailing regardless of disabilities.  Inspired by the London 2012 Paralympics and born of a determination to create a legacy for local people with disabilities, Chesil Sailability is now coming up to being one year old.  For me, with some physical support and exploring Paralympic classes, Chesil Sailability meant that sailing was suddenly a reality again!  

Chesil Sailability sailors
One of my most memorable sails this summer was in September during a relapse.  I had spent the previous three days confined to bed with any trip out of bed taking an inordinate amount of effort and I was struggling from serious cabin fever. I hitched a lift to Portland and with the boat ready for me on the fully accessible pontoon, I was able to flop into the boat from my wheelchair.  I was cast off the pontoon and despite being unable to move my legs and with only one fully functional hand, I just pulled the main sail in gently and off I went.  Suddenly, didn't have to haul myself where I wanted to go in a zimmer frame and deciding to go a few meters was easy.  The relief and pleasure was indescribable.  There really is no medicine quite as good as being on the water on a sunny summer's evening! 
Anya back on the water
I’ve only ventured as far as the waters of Portland Harbour (where the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing was held), but other sailors have ventured far further…

Hilary Lister has become the first disabled woman to sail around Britain, using three straws in her mouth the control the boat (steering and two sails), as she is only able to move her head.  Sailing around the UK is an incredible feat for anyone, let alone with all the additional complications of her health.

Hilary on the water
Following in Hilary’s footsteps, a young girl called Natasha Lampart has used the same ‘sip-puff’ system, sipping and blowing on straws to control everything on the boat, to sail a Mini Transat (a 6.50m trans-Atlantic racing yacht) around the Isle of Wight and across the English Channel. 

Natasha in a pretty funky helmet!

Venturing further afield, in 2010 Geoff Holt sailed unassisted across the Atlantic despite being wheelchair bound after suffering a spinal cord injury many years ago.  He now has a wheel chair accessible powerboat called Wet Wheels, a regular sight at big sailing events, and which allows people with disabilities front row seats for on the water action, or just sharing the freedom of being afloat.

Geoff Holt
The most recent addition to this impressive list of adventurers is Gerry Hughes, who has just become the first deaf yachtsman to sail single-handed around the world. 

Gerry Hughes

Portland Harbour may sound tame in comparison, but Chesil Sailability has been an adventure in itself.  This year, our adventures include our first event, a weekend of competitive racing and trialling some new boats. You can follow our adventures on Facebook, Twitter and our website

Good luck with your adventures, Róisín!

Anya de Iongh is an active self-manager managing her long term health conditions and supports others to to do the same as a self-management coach for My Health My Way.  She is also involved in research and education, bringing a patient perspective to the agenda and in her spare time she is the PR Lead for Chesil Sailability.  She tweets as @anyadei and blogs at