Byline: Shane Scott
NEWPORT BEACH — More than 180 adults will be learning to jibe, tack and sail in Newport Harbor Oct. 19. And all of them, except for the skippers volunteering to teach them, will be blind or visually impaired.
More than 150 volunteers — including skippers, crews, cooks, and ushers — will assist the visually impaired throughout the day in this annual event hosted by American Legion Yacht Club. Starting at 9 a.m., attendees will enjoy a hot breakfast, followed soon after by a day of sailing.
More than 40 boats will be available for boarding, with sailors ready to guide participants on the water.
Robert Bray, a 14-year veteran volunteer in the event, and two volunteer crewmen will start off their cruise by putting gloves on participants. “They wonder why, and I tell them being on my crew means they’re going to make this boat move,” he explained.
Once they are outfitted with gloves, one participant will be guided to handle the tiller, while the other one or two will trim the sails. Before allowing participants to crank the winch during a jibe, he first has them hold onto the line with their hands.
That way, “they can feel how many pounds of pressure from the wind are pulling on the rope,” Bray said. Much of the time, the wind is too much for the new sailors and the lines will fly from their hands — the main reason why he provides gloves. After they feel that, Bray shows them how to use the winch.
When it comes time to steer, Bray makes sure participants are standing with the stick between their legs. “Step to your left,” he’ll tell them, watching the participant sidestep over, moving the tiller with them, causing the boat to turn.
“You can’t feel the force of the boat rotating when you’re sitting down,” Bray said. “When they’re standing up, they can really sense the centrifugal force. The expression they have when they make the boat turn — it’s amazing.”
After a few minutes of standing, Bray has participants sit down and steer with their hands while the other handles the trim — and he stands aside, watching. “The two blind people are actually running boat; we’re just supervising,” he said.
“It’s inspirational for me to take them out and see them handle something that they never thought they could do,” Bray said. “I want participants to know that ‘I’m your skipper, but you can do exactly what I am doing.’”
While visually impaired participants are out sailing, their Seeing Eye dogs will be at play. A “doggy compound” will be set up, where the four-legged companions can play — under the supervision of Girl Scout volunteers. The youth organization has been participating in the event for the past few years, said George Morgan of American Legion YC.
Event participants will sail until about 1 p.m., when they will make their way back to the dock for lunch and socializing. “For a lot of the guests, they won’t have seen some of the friends they’ve made here since last year’s event — so, it’s a good opportunity for them to socialize with one another,” Morgan said.
The event will wrap up around 4 p.m.
Boaters interested in volunteering themselves or their boats can call (949) 673-5002.