Sailing At Night, A Blind Sailor Perspective

By Urban Miyares, Co-Founder, Challenged America Program

There is definitely a difference between having a disability and being handicapped. Sailing at night is but one example. For the sighted, nighttime brings horror and uncertainty, a sudden realization of being handicapped. For me, with more than 40,000 nautical miles of sailing under my keel, half done after I went total blind more than three decades ago, nighttime sailing is sailing as usual, but with a disability.

sailing at night Challenged America Transpac

Those who have sailed with me continually ask me, or whisper to others, “How does he do it? He knows where everything is, he trims sails, steers better than most, even works fore deck, and he can call WIND pugs, and shifts, and tell when the boat is not going right or has kelp on the keel.”

Having sight can often be a terrible thing to have when sailing. Those with sight rely, almost entirely, on what they see visually, whether it is the telltales on the sail, a ripple in the water, what their, instruments and electronics reveal, etc. In addition, when nightfall arrives, many become hesitant sailors, focusing on their instrumentation, which is awful dangerous if your other senses are not in-tune to the environment and your vessel. In most instances, offshore and overnight races are won at night, as the more handicapped your crew becomes with nightfall, the slower your sailboat will go.

Good sailors need to be able to train their other senses so they are confident in what all their senses tell them, day or night, regardless of what they may or may not see.
A number of sailing programs, both learn-to-sail and those for professional sailors have done exercises on sailing blind by blindfolding crew members to force them to pay attention to their other senses. Although this might be a great exercise in sensitivity or awareness, it really accomplishes little as, being blindfolded, does not change the mind’s problem-solving capabilities as a sighted person. Once you take the blindfold off, you are sighted again and back to the sighted world. Additional training and practice is needed to hone the abilities of the other senses to support one’s sighted impressions, and be available when sight is minimized or lost. Continue reading