Equality on the water | Sailability Townsville

Small sailboat on the water

There’s nowhere better to cool off in Townsville’s ever-present heat than on the water.

The ability to just jump on a boat and enjoy the beautiful environment is one that some of us may take for granted. Sailability Townsville is offering members of the community who may not have previously had the opportunity to get out on the water.

Sailability Townsville group is a localised version of the wider Sailability organisation, a volunteer-based not for profit which aims to enrich the lives of people of all abilities through sailing.

The mission for the Townsville group can be condensed to two clear aims – to remove barriers and to support and encourage inclusion.

“Sailing for all, it’s so simple. I think that’s the key to it – inclusion,” explains Vice President Richard Cordukes.

The barriers to an activity like sailing can, for people living with a disability, seem insurmountable. That’s where Sailability comes in.

“To try and create a dream like this, in your own mind, is incredibly difficult,” says Richard.

“Right, I want to go sailing. Where do I get a boat, where do I get someone to help, where do I get this?”

“So, we give them (the sailors) that confidence, that beautiful recreation, the great feeling of being out on the water; the confidence to come down here and get in a boat.”

“All the obstacles that may well be there: we remove those. We stick ‘em in a boat and away they go out in the water.”

A former Paralympian and world record holder, Richard is all too familiar with the benefits offered by physical activity.

“It’s self-confidence, self-esteem, the ability to simply move around in the community,” he say.

Sailability is able to offer all this and more.

Two men in wheelchairs on boat pier

Sailability Townsville Vice President Richard Cordukes and President Peter Gurr

It isn’t just on the water that Sailability Townsville opens up opportunities.

“It’s a little bit different, the Townsville Sailability. We’re all people with disabilities that are actually within the group,” explains current president Peter Gurr.

In Sailability’s own words, they are a club formed by people with disabilities for people with and without disabilities.

“You’ve got myself in a wheelchair: I’ve got Multiple Sclerosis,” says Peter.

“Richard has got a spinal injury; you’ve got Kim, our treasurer. She’s deaf. And then you’ve got a few others within the group that are sailors, that are actually skippers. And they’ve got different disabilities as well,” he says.

This gives the group a unique perspective and collective experience with which to create an inclusive environment for sailors.

It can be a demanding task, with many hands needed to get the boats on the water. Thankfully, the core volunteer group are always willing to pitch in to get the job done, whether that be boat maintenance or fundraising.

Since we had the opportunity to meet with the Sailability Townsville volunteers, they have held their ‘official’ launch and a crucial element to the group’s success, a hoist, has finally been used on the pontoon.

The hoist is designed to assist sailors with a physical disability while getting in and out of the boat which will allow a safe environment for many more to enjoy the unique freedom that comes with spending time on the water.

“Once we get a hoist here, you won’t keep me out of it,” says Peter.

“I’ll just want to skipper the same as when I was sailing as a kid. It’s just one of those things that gets into your blood.”

Peter Gurr

Secretary Marion Rowley initially heard about Sailability through some other groups she was a member of and thought it would be a good opportunity for her daughter, who has a disability, to enjoy something new.

While there were other activities on offer, Marion did not want her daughter limited by her disability in terms of the activities she pursued.

“She’s got her limitations, but there are so many things that she can do,” explains Marion.

Sailability offered what Marion describes as a ‘normal’ activity.

“You do what you want, and going sailing is normal,” she says.

“Whether you’ve got use of your legs or not, or you can speak or not.”

“You get out there and it’s you and the wind.”

It has now become a huge part of Marion’s life.

 “I joined not realizing just how much I would end up actually learning; to be a skipper and doing all sorts of other things that I hadn’t planned to do,” she says.

The dedicated crew at Sailability Townsville look forward to seeing their group grow and even more people enjoying the sailing experience, taking the skills they learn to the highest level.

“It can only grow. With the support that we have, the passion that our committee have… I’m confident we will train a Paralympian,” says Richard.