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


There seems to always be controversy when it comes to people with disabilities and sailing safety.  The “What happens if …?” and “How can they do it?” doubters abound, and our answer is always:  “Prepare, Prevent and Practice, Practice, Practice!”, according to Challenged America co-founder and the charity’s volunteer president  Urban Miyares, a sailor with more than five-decades of sailing experience. 

Sailors at the San Diego-based Challenged America Program come from around the nation and the world; of all ages, they have both hidden and obvious medical conditions.   Sailing on San Diego’s Big Bay, as well as offshore, , these sailors with disabilities, along with their loved ones, as well as professional sailing instructors, therapists and rehabilitation specialists, participate in the 36-year-old,  year-round, no-cost, volunteer-driven, therapeutic adaptive sailing program.   

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The 2012 Sailing Calendar

As always, planning a sailing calendar at Challenged America tends to be dependent upon funding and other resources, to include what boats we have, and the volunteers available.  Under consideration for the 2012 calendar are:

  1. San Diego to Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas ocean race (March, 2012).
  2. Martin 16 (Two-Day) Race to Chula Vista Yacht Club/Marina (April 21/22, 2012).
  3. Monthly or bi-Monthly Martin 16 Race Training and Races.
  4. Local Big Bay Races in “Casual” – the Santana 25.
  5. Newport-Ensenada, Border Run, and other offshore/coastal races.
  6. Multi-day cruise to Catalina.
  7. Class for sailing instructors: “Martin 16 Certification.”
  8. Captain (Basics 101) Training on Grand Banks 42 and Donzi, by The Maritime Institute.
  9. Power Squadron, Offshore Sailing Safety and First Aid Educational Programs.
  10. Sailing Camps for those with disabilities and/or having: Diabetes; Spinal Cord Injury/Disease, Epilepsy, mobility and communications challenges, Learning Disabilities, Developmental Disabilities, and youth with disabilities.
  11. Day-On-The-Big-Bay cruises, whale watching and other educational excursions aboard the motor yacht “Challenged America”- a Grand Banks 42.

Is there another special program you’d like to see and can participate in and help? Let us know.

Fall schedule

It being September, Challenged America will now shift to a Fall-Winter Sailing Scheduling – not due to the weather, but due to vacations ending and work schedules of our many volunteers.

Special training, meetings and events will only be listed on the monthly calendar, with the following Sailing Schedule becoming the norm.

  •  Open Martin 16 Sailing: Each and every Friday, noon, except Holidays. Reservations required 4 days (by Monday of that week) in advance so qualified volunteers can be arranged for vessel preparation and companion/instructor assistance.
  • Capri 22 Sailing: Request reservations at least 4 days in advance.
  • Special Sailing: Learn-to-sail, companion and instructor sailor training, and Martin 16 certification can be arranged 7-days per week, given a qualified volunteer(s) is/are available.

See our calendar

Please contact the Challenged America office for more information and to make your request.