Maiden voyage for blind veteran

29 June 2018 17:00

How do you go sailing when you are severely sight impaired? It’s National Seafarers’ Week, so we caught up with blind veteran, Rod, who is about to find out, as he sets off on his maiden sea sailing trip this weekend…

Rod, who has age-related macular degeneration, has limited peripheral vision in both eyes and only 6 per cent central vision remaining in his right eye. His adventurous spirit means that he will not let his sight loss stop him from embarking on a new challenge and will set sail on Sunday July 1 to travel along the south coast of England. He will be joined by another vision-impaired (VI) sailor, along with three sighted crew, taking part in Sailability’s VI Sailing week.

Rod Matthews with his Golden Tench 'Biggest Catch 2015' Trophy
Rod with his Golden Tench 'Biggest Catch 2015' Trophy

“I know sailing has been done by other VI people,” said Rod. “I wanted to try it, to see if I can do it. I’m looking forward to it, to having the open sea around me. It’s a new adventure!”

In the early 1960s, Rod spent six years in the Army, initially in infantry, but admits that wasn’t the role for him. He became a cook, and managed to travel across the UK in this role. The Army has high standards in all areas, and being a chef was no exception. Rod cooked for many large banquets, and know the pressures of timing and excellence in preparation and presentation.

In 2000, Rod noticed that his sight was not as good as it once was. He joined Blind Veterans UK in 2014 and has received help and support in various areas, including long cane training and IT skills. Rod’s personal challenge in losing his sight was: “I had to prove to myself that I can do things, and I am doing these things. There are new technologies, useful items like magnifiers, and actions that I can take, like booking assistance for train travel.”

With help from his community support worker, he has booked assisted travel for his first solo train journey (which incorporates three train changes) from his home in Emsworth, Hampshire, down to Falmouth where he will be picked up by the Sailability team and taken on to Truro, Cornwall, for the start of the sailing week. Rod will be filming his journey and sailing trip so that other people with vision impairments can realise how easy it is to get help, and how much fun there is still to be had.

"I decided that I can either sit on the sofa and vegetate, or I can go out and try it. If I make a mistake, then it’s my mistake, because at least I will have tried"

Sailing is not Rod’s only activity this summer. He and his son have come up with the idea of doing the longest zip wire in Wales, whilst on a family holiday in July. He also has plans to attend the charity’s Fishing Week at our training and rehabilitation centre in Brighton, where he hopes to get his name back on the trophy for ‘biggest catch’. And, finally, he hopes to put his fishing skills to good use sea fishing in Llandudno, north Wales, in September.

“I may not be cooking anymore, but my adventurous nature is still there,” said Rod. “I’ve abseiled from the Grand Hotel in Brighton already since joining Blind Veterans UK. I know I can do these things… and so can others.”