floor sit

This post was originally intended to go up the last week in March, but life — being what it is — had other plans.

Every time I sail I discover something new about this sport I’ve quickly fallen in love with and how it’ll all play out in this dream of mine. Last Thursday evening I went out again with B and my friend S on B’s J35, and while it was pretty cold (San Francisco definitely ain’t Fiji) — especially on our way back into the harbor with the wind and the setting sun chasing us down — it was the best time I’ve had sailing yet.

It’s interesting, but I’ve noticed that if it’s the least bit chilly Bay Area sailors don’t seem to want any part of it. Don’t get me wrong, as a quadriplegic I don’t dig the cold either — my lack of circulation is not adept at keeping me warm. But it was a spectacularly clear evening with the wind blowing stiffly at around 12 kn, and so cold or no cold as far as I was concerned there was no better place to be.

The weather, however, being what it was brought up some valuable questions about my comfort. Not just in regards to the temperature, but what that means for me as a disabled passenger on a boat. As I’ve mentioned before, how comfortable I am is largely determined by how I’m sitting. This really can’t be overstated. Proper seating is the central preoccupation of my disabled life. It needs solving in my wheelchair and now it needs solving when I sail. It all springs from there. If this problem can’t be solved a long-distance sail is out of the question.

Try and try again

The last time I sailed in this J I stayed in my acoustic chair which in this particular boat fits perfectly in the cockpit. Again, this worked great and was rather comfortable while the boat was level, but if the boat was to heel for any extended period of time (which is normal over a long distance tack) the lack of upper back support of this chair would lend to some pretty severe neck pain. Not cool.

My idea this time was to ditch the chair altogether and put my cushion on the floor of the cockpit and use the side of the boat as back support. Because I was sitting so low my back was supported up to the top of my shoulders and this was perfect for keeping me comfortable and secure. For added safety we tied down the cushions so they wouldn’t slide and fashioned me a chest strap to keep me from falling over when we heeled.

While this method is better than sitting in the wheelchair if the boat is steeply heeling, it’s not the answer for any trip over an hour and a half. The main issue with this J is the width of the cockpit. I’m 6’2″ and the only way for me to fit properly in this space is to keep my legs bent at about a 45° angle. Sitting like this puts a lot of pressure on my butt (in particular my problematic left ischial bone) and makes it impossible for me to do any weight shifts. These shifts are absolutely crucial if I want to avoid pressure sores. Going too much beyond an hour without doing any can create lasting problems, and I want to spend time sailing not recovering from pressure sores.

It’s obvious that with my disability my mobility on a boat is limited; I’m not going to be able to move around like the rest of the crew and I can accept this. On a boat large enough, however, I imagine my mobility would be freed up dramatically and that’s certainly something to keep in mind where the trip is concerned.

I’m all about being flexible and adapting myself to a world where things aren’t designed with my particular needs in mind — this is something one must do when they want to push themselves beyond the ordinary. But what I don’t want to sacrifice, though, is my comfort as that’s directly related to my enjoyment of both the process and the outcome of a voyage. I expect my butt will take some hits and there will be significant recovery time to follow, but that’s always been part of the game and the collateral damage I’m willing to accept if it gets me something greater.

That said, I do believe in workarounds and that’s what all this sailing is about — discovering what works and doesn’t work and developing solutions to those that don’t. It’s also about having a great time, but as far as I can tell that seems to be a given and not much work to be done there.

2 comments on “my nautical drawing board

  • At dinner last Saturday, C mentioned BAADS’ gimballed captain’s chair on the keelboat Tashi. (http://baads.org) Their newest keelboat, the Orion, is large enough to put a wheelchair aboard, but I’m not sure if it would have to be the acoustic chair or not. (I like that term, incidentally!) Worth trying?

    I’m beating my beleaguered brain up over how to create handi access on my 29′ Ranger. I’ll put the question you pose here into the hopper. Something (other than a hairball) might come out; you never know. The trick, as you commented, is coming up with something suitably portable and adjustable.

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