PEOPLE with disabilities are being encouraged to join a free local group which offers sailing trips and lessons on the water.
Testwood Lakes Sailability is based within the building of the 4th New Forest North (Eling) Sea Scouts headquarters in Totton and was launched in 2016 after many years of fundraising for a wheelchair accessible pontoon.
The purpose-built pontoon at Testwood Lakes is fitted with hoists to safely transfer wheelchair dependent sailors in and out of the boats.
The charity has three two-person purpose-built dinghies, which have a high level of buoyancy and stability specifically for sailors with disabilities. It also has a single occupancy dinghy.
Trustee Phil Rawdon told the A&T that the charity had completed 600 sails in 2018, with some regulars returning frequently. “We’re trying to widen people’s knowledge of our existence so that we can increase the number of sailors,” he said. “We really want to get more people sailing.
“Anyone with a disability aged over eight years old can join in, and there’s no upper age limit. We have a hoist for wheelchair users and the only restriction is the weight, but we’ve never reached that before.”
No prior experience of sailing is needed, as the group’s volunteers are trained. The sessions run from April until October, every Monday and Thursday from 10am.
Mr Rawdon said he hoped local care homes, day centres and special needs schools would be interested in joining the group, as well as individuals.
“Dinghy sailing really opens up new opportunities, new interests, is liberating and can awaken the senses,” he said.
“The sensation of the breeze on the face, excitement as the wind fills the sails taking the boats across the lakes, wildlife, jumping fish – all things that bring smiles to faces, joyful experiences, and old memories back for some.”
To find out more about sailing or becoming a volunteer, call chairman Eric Blyth on 023 8086 7438 or visit www.testwoodsailability.co.uk.