Rutland Sailability offers enjoyment and new experiences on Rutland Water
As Ratty says to Mole in Wind in the Willows, ‘there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’.
Already on board with this charming philosophy are the 200 members of Rutland Sailability.
Every Thursday and Saturday they can enjoy a few hours on and around Rutland Water, learning to sail or practising their skills, chatting and helping one another to have fun.
On Thursday last week, under a stormy summer sky, club chairman Andrew St John was aboard the ‘RS Venture’ with Allan Wall and volunteers Bev Jacques and Simon Faire.
As Andrew spoke about the club’s aims and activities, Allan kept the vessel under control using an electric joystick that he can move using his chin. Bev and Simon took care of the sails.
“The beauty of Rutland Sailability is that it gives people a chance of mobility and a sense of achievement,” said Andrew, a retired GP.
“They can learn to sail for themselves, or take part in sailing with others, and go as far as they want using our resources.
“The most important thing is that our members can have independence and enjoy themselves. Essential to us as a club is that it is enjoyable.”
Most significant for him, Andrew explained, is that sailability gives people the chance to feel independent and take control in a way they often cannot.
Allan moved up from London to live in King’s Cliffe fairly recently.
Although he had a successful career in banking, Allan described the difficulties he has faced in life because of his physical disabilities, including spending seven years trying to get a job but being knocked back.
He started sailing in 2009, having initially dismissed the idea of joining a sailability club - in part because he is unable to use his hands to sail. Thanks to adaptations, such as electronic steering, Allan is able to sail with Rutland Sailability and thoroughly enjoys time on the water.
“I had a cushion made for the seat to make it more comfortable, and I often book two 40-minute sessions or more back to back,” he said. “Otherwise, no sooner are you in the boat, it feels like it’s time to get out again.”
The 30 boats available on Thursday mornings are owned by Rutland Sailability and have been acquired over the 28 years the club has been running.
A boat such as RS Venture, which can sail at 10 knots (11.5mph), costs about £25,000. Fundraising is an important source of income for the charity, which costs about £45,000 a year to run.
Support comes from local Rotary clubs and businesses, and from memberships, which cost individuals between £22 and £55 per year with no additional charges for sailing.
“I think we’re the biggest sailability charity in the world,” said Andrew. “We have about 200 members, both disabled and able-bodied, and we run adult sailing and sailing for under 18s.
“Our youngest member is seven years old and our oldest is 92 - and still sailing.”
As people learn the ropes, they can be assessed and awarded Royal Yachting Association qualifications. Allan has RYA Level 2. Members can also take part in less formal, in-house training schemes in disability awareness, hoist operation, tractor and buggy driving, being ‘jetty master’ and other significant roles. There are also opportunities to take part in competitions.
“Our members are from all sorts of backgrounds,” said Andrew. “Some come with little or no experience of sailing, and others have had previous experience.”
The sailing season is from April to October and members meet at Rutland Sailing Club in Gibbet Lane, Edith Weston on Thursdays between 10am and 3pm. Saturday morning sailing is primarily for junior members. The club sails in all weathers, including rain, wind and snow.
“There’s no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing,” said Allan, who admits he finds sailing in high winds and stormy weather an added thrill.
To become a member, a volunteer member, or to help with fundraising, the club can be contacted through its website www.rutlandsailability.org.uk or by phoning 07434 880 909 on a Thursday between 10am and 3pm.
People can also email Jill, membership secretary, at email@example.com
There is the opportunity to try out a couple of sessions with the club before joining.