I like to think of myself as a good sailor.
I like to think of myself as ambitious and driven.
I like to think that people can see past disability.
Over the past few months, I have come to realise that people are very quick to judge on first impressions alone.
Coming back from Rio, I launched head first into my dream of becoming the first disabled person to take on the Vendee Globe, and in doing so break some records and make history.
I knew going into this project that nothing was going to be easy; of course nothing this big or worthwhile ever is. I also knew that my lack of experience in offshore sailing might be a difficult barrier to overcome.
What I didn’t realise however, is that people weren’t so interested in my qualifications and abilities, but were more put off because of my lack of an arm.
Earlier in the summer, I went to a local sailing school on the East coast to discuss finishing off my Yacht Master qualifications. I left there in such a state of anger, I cannot tell you…
The Principle of the sailing school was nothing short of the rudest, most horrible man I have ever met. He basically took one look at me, and assumed that there was no way a disabled person could ever go sailing, let alone have the audacity to even leave the house. He was so loathed to even put me on the boat to actually go sailing, on the grounds that I wouldn’t be able to hold on, or even be able to sail! I’m pretty certain women may also banned on his boat unless they are making tea…
What pissed me off the most, was that he didn’t even bother to ask about my previous experience, he just took one look at me and decided that I couldn’t do it.
Sadly, he’s not the only one, this has happened to me a few times now.
There are however people who are willing to look past my disability, and a few of them deserve some thanking…
The first are the lovely Sirens ladies; Sue, Jennie and Katie.
They took a chance on me and my lack of experience when it came to offshore sailing, to the extent that they flew me to Antigua Race week to be their tactician without having even sailed with me. During the week, it became clear that no one really noticed that I was missing an arm, or more to the point really cared. I think crawling to the bow during a feisty race with a screwdriver in your teeth to fix a spinnaker pole pretty much means you are capable!
Paul Peggs also deserves a mention here; I met Paul on the delivery trip that we did with Hydra the Class 40. Having only met at the airport just a few hours before heading off into the North sea together, Paul really put me at ease, but at the same time allowed me to learn and supported me the entire trip. The first night I was pretty nervous, so he just clipped himself on and went to sleep on the floor right next to the helm, again he never once questioned my disability, and he just looked at me as a sailor who was taking an opportunity to learn from someone really experienced!!
I look forward to sailing more miles with Paul…
Finally, Giovanni Belgrano onboard the mighty Whooper. I was lucky enough to meet the lovely Gio during the Paneria British Classic week. I was doing the behind the scenes social media, and one of my roles saw me sailing on a different boat each day and filming live updates whilst racing.
I think at first Gio was nervous about having me onboard, and I was relegated to “ladies corner” on his boat. 1 hour into the race however, I think his mind had been changed. So much so that by the end of the day, he was bragging to the bar about me, which was amazing, and his was the only boat I did 2 days with!!
The other night, I was lucky enough to attend the Sail Aid UK benefit dinner hosted at the rather incredible HQ of Land Rover BAR.
What I didn’t know, was that one of my mentors, Philippe, had volunteered me to go on stage and be interviewed alongside Mike Golding. Now Mike is someone I am really inspired by, his story in the Vendee is quite simply amazing.
Standing there I told the room of my plans, that I would be the first disabled sailor to take on the race. I also told them that I wanted to prove that it could be done by a disabled person, and this itself got the loudest cheer of the night.
So this got me thinking, why do a room full of people like this cheer when you say something like that, but when it comes to me actually getting a place to go racing on these boats, why is that so hard?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty obvious that I am disabled. What I’m really asking, is that people just take a minute to look past that. I am a good sailor, I am strong, I am fit, and I’m a good team player, and even though this #singlehandedsinglehanded dream of mine is a solo effort, its the support behind me that gets me around the world!