From the top of the Ridgeway I look down at the sea, sparkling in the sun. And I see Portland Harbour, inviting me to come and be part of it this afternoon.
Familiar faces welcome me into the huddle of sailors and volunteers, busily preparing for our sail. Warm, waterproof clothing is pulled on, life jackets adjusted to fit, disability needs accommodated.
I sign in, put on my wrist band, take my information card, and I am officially a sailor on a Chesil Sailability boat, leaving soon for another adventure.
I’m in a wheelchair, being pushed down the ramp to the pontoon. Depends on the state of the tide as to how crazy the angle is! Into the boat, sit down, and wait for the off. I’m in a Hawk with a couple of other sailors and our helm and crew. Out of the marina basin and into Portland Harbour, with the jib unfurled and both sails trimmed to the wind.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of being out on the water. And every time I go it’s different, because the experience is affected by the wind, the waves, the sun, the temperature, the tide, who else is in the boat, and the other boats in the harbour with us. From slow, barely moving, trying hard to catch any wind, to riding fast over waves, speeding across towards the other side. From huddling inside layers of clothing, to sprawling in the sun’s warmth. From steering wherever we fancy, to avoiding getting stuck on shallow sand banks. From interesting conversations, to the silence of a gentle afternoon.
It's belonging to a different world. A world of freedom from the constrictions of a disability, a world of feeling a valued participant, a world of being within the air, over the water and on the ground all at the same time, a world where there is time to absorb and relish all the now moments, one after the other.
It’s also the fun of taking the helm, pulling the jib sheets, minding the boom swinging across, watching the wind fill the sails and the telltales fly, listening to the instructions, “ready about”, feeling the boat rolling and pitching, pushing its way through the water.
We turn for home, steering in through the marina mouth and tying up alongside, so the boat is ready for the next flight of sailors. Checking out involves handing back my wrist band and saying what was the best part of the sail. One day I will be able to say, “seeing the dolphins playing in the harbour.” But until then, I shall be content to know I have been doing something I love, something I never dreamt I would ever do, and wouldn’t do now if it wasn’t for Chesil Sailability.