About The Disabled Sailors Association
In 1978 Mike was severely injured and paralysed from the chest down and was confined to a wheelchair. As an active and determined man he used sport for rehabilitation; he became the national archery champion and represented GB in, Shot, Discus, Javelin and Triathlon, winning many medals and retiring as British record holder in all events.
Mike was then introduced to sailing and absolutely loved it. However, he soon discovered that organisations, even those that claimed to offer sailing for the disabled, were unable to accommodate his complex needs. He then set about adapting and developing boats that could be sailed by any disabled person, irrespective of their disability.
Since then, the Disabled Sailors Association (DSA) has grown considerably, designing and building their current catamaran, Spirit of Scott Bader, along with specially adapted single and twin seater dinghies, used by the DSA, on loan to individuals and Sailing Clubs based all over the UK and at their European base in Southern Spain.
The benefits of sailing
Mike Wood believes that the mental health of disabled people is greatly improved by participating in sports; many of the sailors have needs too complex to access other sports and sailing yachts can be life-changing, equalising and an enabling experience.
Beneficiaries leave the activities with new skills and are more aware of their own strengths and capabilities.
To date over 40,000 people have sailed their yachts and dinghies –On average, DSA provide around 2200 sailing places each year. Approximately 70% of the sailors are under the age of 25 and many of the adult sailors are veterans.
During their inclusive sailing experiences, people work together to perform tasks with real responsibilities and are immersed in intense and challenging experiences.
Spirit of Scott Bader catamaran
The catamaran can hold 12 people, the Skipper and assistant, up to 4 wheelchair users and 6 helpers. Trips range from local cruising of about three to four hours around Torbay, up to longer coastal and cross-channel passages, including overnight stays aboard for the more adventurous.
I mentioned to Mike that we had recently supported the Scuba Trust who provide scuba diving opportunities to disabled people, and to my surprise, he told me that the charity had taken him on a diving trip to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. Mike said it was amazing, and the sense of freedom he felt in the water was out of this world. It was wonderful to hear first-hand how a charity we had supported had made such a difference.
Mike is such an inspirational man, although he doesn’t sail as much himself, he makes it his priority to ensure that young people with disabilities can experience sailing.
Disabled people, perhaps more than most, need to find motivation, pride, a sense of achievement, adventure, and fun – but most of all a place to feel equal. All of this is extremely difficult to achieve when your body or mind does not fit societal expectations of what it could or should be.
Sailing in well-designed boats can provide this. Funding the new sails will allow the DSA to continue sailing their catamaran for up to 10 years.
To find out more about the Disabled Sailors Association, please visit their website www.disabledsailing.org