Putting wind in their sails

Thursday, July 31, 2008

When Sailability Greater Tampa Bay first started, Sandy Ackley remembers she and another founder using a hand-pump lift to move people with disabilities into non-capsize sailboats. One of those people was a 220-pound man.

A lot has changed since then. When the nonprofit organization celebrated its 7th anniversary in June, it boasted not only an ADA-approved dock facility with an electronic lift but also a fleet of 13 boats adapted with joysticks, chin controls or sip-and-puffs. It has a roster of 22 Special Olympic sailors from four counties and 10 to 15 other regular sailors.

“We’re looking to get some of our Special Olympic sailors into full-tiller boats—that’s what we’re aiming toward now,” said Ackley, administrator and event coordinator.

Each year, Sailability Greater Tampa Bay offers a growing list of activities, including community sails.

On June 29, during its anniversary celebration, 55 people with disabilities registered to sail.

Sailability Greater Tampa Bay has struck a chord with people with disabilities, Ackley said, because it gives them a taste of freedom that, otherwise, they wouldn’t have.

“One gentleman-he says he’s taken out of his wheelchair only to go to bed or to see a doctor,” she said.

Those are the stories that make all the behind-the-scenes work worth it, Ackley said. As a nonprofit and volunteer-run organization, it’s not easy to buy equipment or fund activities.

“We write grants, we beg, we borrow,” she said. “I can’t say I steal, but I’ll bother.”

Bruce Bayes, a provider who sits on Sailability Greater Tampa Bay’s board of directors, says the organization has helped to unite the local sailing community.

“People who sail can be on the snooty side and to see them interacting with people with disabilities has been awesome to watch,”he said.