Bluey can sail!

BY Jackie Kay (written 1998)


My friend Bluey is 55 years old. He was born with cerebral palsy and is classed as spastic quadriplegic, which means that he cannot use his arms or legs. Bluey also cannot talk at all. I worked, for four years, at the institution where he has lived in Sydney for the past 38 years. We have become great friends. Just to put you in the picture, Bluey can't do anything physical for himself. He sits in his wheelchair, needs someone to push him about, feed him, and take him to the toilet - he can't ask for help. Bluey communicates by sounds and facial expressions, sometimes people understand him - often they do not.

Imagine then, in April, 1995, putting Bluey in a little sailing boat, just 7 foot long, on his own. Chris Mitchell, the designer and manufacturer of the Access 2.3 sailing dinghy, strapped an electric toggle under Bluey's chin, and described to him the concept of sailing and how Bluey could steer the boat by pushing the toggle from side to side with his chin. We knew Bluey was intelligent, but we didn't know to what level his cognitive skills reached. The boat was put in the water and Bluey was sailing - Chris followed closely in another dinghy, giving instructions and ensuring that he was safe. No one with such severe physical disabilities had ever sailed solo before. Those of us on shore watched with tears in our eyes and joy in our hearts -- Bluey was sailing!

Imagine again, one month later, we go through the same process. This time Bluey's parents are there to watch. Bluey's boat was launched into the bay at Drummoyne. We call out to him to "sail over here into deep water" -- Bluey laughs, shakes his head and turns in the opposite direction. For the first time in his life he can decide where he wants to go, and get there on his own, he can make his own decisions on which direction to go in, to stay out sailing a bit longer or come back to shore. Bluey has freedom! His Mum and Dad stood on the shore; their tears were flowing.

We decided to form a sailing club for people with disabilities at Drummoyne. We formed Sailability Dobroyd. Bluey is the Commodore and attends every meeting. He now interacts in groups, is very verbal (in his fashion) on issues he feels strongly about and offers suggestions about the running of events. He was on the committee to organise the 1997 State Titles for Access Sailing Dinghies at Drummoyne.

Being involved with the Access dinghies has meant a lot more than just sailing to Bluey - as monumental as that is to him. He has a whole new life, new attitude, and new friends. Bluey is given the opportunity to socialise, interact with both other disabled people and able bods. Bluey has the confidence in his ability to speak his mind, his self-esteem has rocketed, and his motivation is on an ever-increasing spiral upwards. Bluey is proud of his achievements.

(sadly Bluey passed away in 2010)