Blind sailor to create overnight sensation

Wind to guide Collins from Annapolis to St. Mary's College

August 04, 2006|By BILL FREE | BILL FREE,SUN REPORTER

Ben Collins can't hide his glee this week as he awaits the biggest sailing moment of his Special Olympics career.

The Rockville resident will have a chance to compete for the first time in the Governor's Cup Yacht Race from the entrance of the Annapolis Harbor to the shores of St. Mary's College late the next morning.

That's right. Overnight.

Quite an undertaking for any sailor but even more challenging for one who is legally blind like Collins has been since he was 8 and came down with retinitis pigmentosa.

Collins, 39, said he has no idea what to expect in the race that be gins tonight at 6 and ends tomorrow.

His sailing experience has been limited to short two-hour trips.

"It's exciting." said Collins, who navigates by listening for the wind flapping the sails. "I've never been out all night before. I haven't even thought about what I'll be doing at 3 a.m. in the morning. I've been too caught up in the excitement of the race."

"I also sail by feel." said Collins who has been sailing eight years through the Maryland Special Olympics.

Collins is considered an accomplished sailor by his peers such as Jim Muldoon, who will be the captain of the yacht Donnybrook, which will have Collins and his partner, "Skipper' Todd Croteau, aboard.

Muldoon said Collins is a "natural' on the water.

"I'm fascinated by his ability to sail." said Muldoon, who has competed in the event 30 times and owns the record time of six hours and nine minutes recorded in 1994 when he captured his lone Governor's Cup. "He does it by instinct and probably takes aural commands. He feels the wind and the motion of the boat."

Collins found out only a week ago he would be sailing with Muldoon, and the two have never been out on the water together before.

No need to worry.

"We have a fully experienced crew to make sure everything goes smoothly." said Muldoon, who is chairman of the Board of Trustees of St. Mary's College.

Collins was delighted when he learned that his boat would be eligible for both the Special Olympics trophy and the Governor's Cup. A Special Olympics class has been added this year, with Special Olympics Maryland sailors partnered with other experienced racers.

"I've been waiting all week for this." he said.

Governor's Cup Yacht Race

When: Tonight at 6 through tomorrow morning

Where: Annapolis Harbor to St. Mary's College

At stake: Nearly 160 yachts will compete in 12 classes in the Chesapeake Bay's oldest and most prestigious overnight yacht race

New addition: A new Special Olympics class has been added to the competition

Silent auction: At the conclusion of the race there will be a silent auction to raise funds for Special Olympics Maryland's sailing programs

Party time: St. Mary's College will host a post-race party beginning at noon

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