A blind, single-handed sailboat racer shows Bill Prince how anything can be overcome on a family cruise.
A few years ago, my family and I tied up to a yacht club dock one evening for a nice dinner and an overnight. We were en route to the next Great Lake north of home for a week or so, and this was our first port of call. Little did we know we’d cast off the following morning seeing the place in a new light.
The club bar was packed, even more so than usual for a busy summer weekend. But we don’t give up easily, so we managed to find two barstools for the three of us before dinner. This particular facility is on a great site with stunning views from the bar, model room, fireplace and dining room. These views seemed lost on a lot of people around us.
I looked at the bar TV and quickly realized why the place was abuzz. On it were action-packed photos of exhilarating sailboat racing from earlier in the day. Around me I detected accents from the North Sea and Down Under. We had just walked into the post-race fun at the international blind sailing championships, where non-sighted competitors from around the world had just finished single-handing their boats through an offshore course.
And I thought we were the ones who didn’t give up easily.
It was time for dinner, so we approached the host stand. Waiting there, I heard a ‘whack’ and a wail as my young son responded to being hit in the leg by a blind racer’s cane. The racer apologized and introduced himself as Ryan from Australia. Ryan from Australia was a welder and footballer, among other things, before an accident left him without eyesight. Now Ryan from Australia is just a plain great guy with an infectious smile, a passion for racing and a hell of an arm with that cane. We let him pass and he promptly whacked the fine mahogany model stand of a classic motoryacht on the way to the bar.
Dinner was dinner, and we stayed to watch the awards presentation on the yacht club lawn. I bought Ryan from Australia a beer. He’d come 9,000 miles to blindly and single-handedly race a boat against other blind skippers around a course he can only hear. And he won.
Darkness fell over the water and the fireworks began before an inky black sky and a bright moon. Fully aware of my status as a guest and not a member of this club, I stayed back on the lawn, not wanting to block anyone’s view of the brilliant pyro show going off in front of us. And then it hit me.
I found Ryan in the dim light. He was standing there facing the sound of the crackling explosions, with a perfect, unobstructed patch of grass right in front of him. “Ryan! It’s Bill! Bill with the kid you hit in the bar.” Ryan smiled and extended his free hand. I told him I design yachts for a living, and we talked about some of his favorite boats, both power and sail. He had heard about a number of yachts I’ve designed, including some Huckins, various sailboats and the “big one with the seaplane and two helipads.” I asked how he races so well. Ryan said, “there’s visually impaired and there’s blind. I can’t see shit. So I listen to everything.”
My empathetic smile was lost on him. I bought him another beer.
We all know people who can see just fine, and they own boats that never leave the dock. Why? Because they’re intimidated by what might go wrong. Getting to know the likes of Ryan inspired my able-bodied self to be that much more appreciative of my faculties and the beauty of the world around us as we set our course the next morning for the next Great Lake. So, as Carl Spackler says, I’ve got that going for me.
Plus, it’s good to be friends with a blind guy when you want to butt in front of someone to get a better view of the fireworks.