4 blind students, learning sailing, steer to confidence

September 30, 1992|By Deborah Overton | Deborah Overton,Staff Writer

Annette Harvey, who is blind in one eye, sometimes has difficulty maintaining her balance on land. But she's in control when she's on the water.

Annette, 14, was one of four students from the Maryland School for the Blind who took sailing lessons the last three weeks in a pilot program sponsored by the Downtown Sailing Club. The program teaches the blind how to sail as a way to gain self-confidence.

"I'm in control," Annette says, describing her feelings when she steered a 22-foot sailboat. "I loved it."

Kirk Walter, superintendent of the School for the Blind, recalls the students' initial reaction to sailing. "When the boats shift from side-to-side, they said, 'Whoa, what's happening? Am I going to be OK?'

"They were in an area they had never been before. They were hesitant getting on and off the boats," says Mr. Walter.

But, as their lessons progressed, the students grew confident in their abilities and in themselves, he says.

"I have more control than I had before," says David Wells, a student. "I could do more things. I learned more than I came on with."

Julia Silber, part owner of the Downtown Sailing Club, which provides the lessons and the boats, hopes to have a permanent program in place by spring. She got the idea for the program when she participated in the Sail for Sight Regatta in June.

The regatta benefits a foundation that fights blindness.

Participating in that event was Jim Dickson, a blind sailor who at

tempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in August but had to end the voyage when he developed equipment problems after sailing through a storm.

Mr. Dickson talked to Mrs. Silber about a program that would teach the blind how to sail and enable them to compete with sighted people in sailing competitions.

"It's a great chance for us to enjoy other people's company," says Mr. Dickson, who has been soliciting sponsors to help fund a permanent sailing program here.

He says it could cost as much as $9,000 a year to teach 20 to 30 students.

During their sailing lessons, which took place on three successive Wednesdays, the students captained two white sailboats, "Blaze" and "Wabbit," on 90-minute voyages across the Inner Harbor, using their newly learned skills and confidence.

Alex MacLeod, 19, who had a ride as a passenger on the Lady Maryland, a 96-foot yacht, earlier this month, says the experience was not as satisfying.

"You really didn't get a chance to know everything," he says.

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