Photos by Suki Cheung and Nikki Claringbold
As part of World Sailing’s inaugural Global Women’s Sailing Festival, aimed at introducing women and girls to the sport of sailing, Sailability Hong Kong hosted an event to encourage disabled women to get on the water.
Sailability Hong Kong specialises in bringing sailing to those who can’t otherwise access it, whether because of a physical disability, mental health issues, a learning disability or socioeconomic reasons. The team at Sailability are skilled at breaking down barriers and offering support, inspiration and encouragement to make sailing accessible to everyone.
With the Sailing Festival in town, Sailability Co-Founder Kay Rawbone recognised an opportunity to encourage disabled women sailors to experience the sport.
Thus, 27-28 May 2021, 20 ladies from the Association of Women with Disabilities Hong Kong (AWDHK) were given the opportunity to get out on the water with Sailability HK, out of their HHYC base.
Rawbone was heartened to see the drive and determination of wheelchair sailor Leung On Ki Angel who initiated the outing for the group. Angel encouraged 19 fellow wheelchair colleagues to attend. While apprehensive about the challenges involved, they were all eager to learn.
All Female Volunteers
For this event, Sailability welcomed a volunteer group comprised of mostly women. Kay noted that having women help with the delicate manoeuvring of the ladies in and out of the boats goes a long way toward giving these new sailors added confidence to enjoy their time on the water.
AWDHK organizer Leung On Ki Angel expressed her joy of being part of the Sailability sessions and sharing the experience with her colleagues. Having now sailed with Sailability for 18 months, she explained the importance of encouraging and nurturing new events outside of the group’s regular activities. She also explained that one of the biggest obstacles for wheelchair-bound attendees was reassuring them of the accessibility of sailing.
“Many participants were concerned about getting in and out of the boat, and their ability to cope once on the water. But with the help of the women volunteers, that intimidation was quickly overcome,” she said.
Angel added that while everyday activities can be constrained by being in the wheelchair, the ladies were able to experience the “freedom of being able to go anywhere, that can be achieved by sailing. It was very rewarding.”
With the support of Sailability, the participants’ faces changed from those of quiet apprehension to beaming smiles — a very rewarding experience. Exhausted and elated, the ladies, ranging in age from 40 to over 50, all expressed their desire to return to the water as soon as possible.
Commenting after their return to shore, the newfound sailors reported, “The volunteers and staff were so kind and helpful in getting us on the boat. It was such a fantastic experience.”
Sailing is unique in its ability to offer a level playing field in which disabled sailors can compete against able-bodied sailors, which can give greater confidence and independence to anyone experiencing a disability.
Knowing this, Sailability is dedicated to introducing more disabled people to the sport of sailing. They can also provide support for those wishing to participate in local, regional and international events.