East Anglian blind veterans learn to sail in Levington

29 May 2018 14:00

Six of our blind veterans from East Anglia have been taking to the waves and learning a new skill during a sailing taster day, provided by The East Anglian Sailing Trust.

Through the use of audio navigation units, tactile charts and Discovery Pens, they were able to fully partake in the exciting day of sailing in Levington, near Ipswich. 

Blind veteran Roan Webb sailing

The blind veterans, who hail from Ipswich, Colchester, Ely and Southwold, fulfilled a variety of roles on the yacht, including: navigator, helmsman, mainsheet trimmer and grinder.

Ian Jewry, Trustee of The East Anglian Sailing Trust and Yachtmaster says:

"The audio navigation device includes a fluxgate compass which beeps when the boat goes off course, meaning a vision-impaired helmsman can steer the boat."

He continues: “The new kit we’re really excited about are the tactile charts and Discovery Pens. The raised areas on the charts show the positions of landmarks like buoys and sandbanks. When you put the Discovery Pen on that area, you hear further information, allowing someone who is vision impaired to fully partake in the planning of a route through touch and audio.”

Roan was one of the blind veterans to enjoy the trip. He says: “I went sailing for one day and enjoyed it so much that I asked to come back for a second. I had another fantastic day on the water and I’m thinking of taking this to the next level by becoming a member of a club.”

Blind veteran Roan Webb grinding on the boat
Roan grinding on deck

Roan joined the Royal Artillery in 1986 and was posted to Germany where he was stationed for four years until he was discharged as a Gunner in 1990 due to his sight loss.

Roan explains:

"I have something called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is believed to be a hereditary condition. I suffer at the lighter end of the spectrum whereas there are many of my peers who have lost almost all their sight. I haven’t yet, so I try to do as much as I possibly can while I still have the sight that I do today."

He continues: “Blind Veterans UK has helped me in numerous and varied ways. At first it was just great to meet the staff and other veterans supported by the charity and realise that I wasn’t alone. Then I started getting involved in lots of events and I haven’t looked back since. Blind Veterans UK have given me equipment which show that by making small adaptations, it’s possible to do things that I never thought I would have been able to do.”

Chris, from Southwold, was another of the blind veterans on the trip. He says:

"The best thing about the day was that it took me massively outside my comfort zone. Through working as a team with sighted sailors I could safely participate in the sailing of the vessel, far beyond what I had expected to be able to do."

Chris joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1971 and trained in the 212 Field Hospital based in Sheffield. He was discharged in 1974 as a Lance Corporal. Chris was registered blind in 2008 with no sight in one eye and 10% in the other.

Blind veteran Chris pulling on ropes

He continues: “I’m a Guide at Southwold Lighthouse, so it was particularly special for me today to sail towards the Sunk Centre Lightvessel, just outside Harwich.”