Story by Suzanne Rent
A unique program is getting people with physical and mental disabilities ut sailing in Shediac Bay in New Brunswick. Able Sail got its start in the summer of 1985 when seven skippers from the Pointe-du-Chêne Yacht Club and the Shediac Municipal Marina invited 14 youth with disabilities to go sailing on Shediac Bay on a C&C 30 owned by Gerry Doyle. By 1988, the program had 28 sailors with disabilities taking part and there were 239 sailing outings that season. In 1989, the program got its own boat, a Freedom Independence 21. From there, the program continued to grow. In the 2019 season, there were 334 outings and about 400 people are taking part in the program. Emilie Cormier is the director of promotions for Able Sail and has been with the program for 20 years. He’s been sailing himself for more than 50 years and says he loves giving back to the sport. “We always say when they leave the dock, they look at their wheelchair back on the dock and say, ‘I don’t need you today,’” Cormier says. “You should see the smiles on their faces.” Able Sail now has a few boats sailors can use, some of which include special chairs that can help the sailors tack properly, and a Martin 16 called the Michael Dunn purchased with a donation from the Windsor Foundation. The Michael Dunn is equipped with a sip and blow system that allows even those sailors without the use of their arms or hands to control the boat by blowing into or sipping out of straws. A motorized joystick allows other sailors with limited strength to control the boat. The program also provides employment for about eight sailors and instructors each season. The program is funded through grants from the provincial and federal government, as well as from sponsors. The annual Gordon MacRae Memorial Race was started in 1999 is held every year to raise funds for Able Sail. Gordon MacRae was a young sailor who went on Doyle’s boat back in 1985. Sadly, he passed away in 1988 at the age of 10. Boats from Pointe du-Chêne Yacht Club and the Shediac Bay Marina race in this white-sail event. Sailors in the program also take part in other races, like the Lobster Festival Cup Race each July in Shediac Bay. Some of the sailors who’ve taken part have gone on to race in events beyond New Brunswick. Alyssa Belliveau, who has competed at the Mobility Cup Regatta, including in the 2019 event in Ottawa where she placed 12th overall and sixth in two other races. Belliveau has raced in the Mobility Cup five times before, placing in the top five in some of those races. Belliveau also works with the Able Sail program in the summer. This upcoming sailing season, Cormier says the program will accept new sailors who have PTSD.
There are now Able Sail programs across the country, giving people with disabilities the chance to experience sailing and racing on our waters.
Cormier says the program is always looking for volunteers to take part.
To learn more, visit www.ablesail.ca