Teaching sailing to blind or vision-impaired students. Who's done it?? Tips?

nolatom

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New Orleans
This will be new to me, in a lifetime of sailing including teaching a good bit.  Our community sailing center will help the lighthouse for the blind folks in getting classroom and on the water experience, this spring.

First comers will be the staff, to help orient them to basics--parts of the boat, points of sail, how to steer, how to read the wind.  They can pass this along.

\Then comes the orientation and sailing lessons for the folks.  I'm thinking that teaching about wind, feeling the wind, may be the base of teaching, blind people can feel the wind on faces and heads same as sighted folks can, and it's our fuel.  Maybe i should try. sailing blindfolded and find out what clues I'm missing, and which ones I still have.  Closest I've come is sailing at night.

I'm excited about this, and a bit nervous too, probably a good sign.

Do we have any vision-impaired sailors here on SA?  Or have taught it Any wisdom on this will be most welcome.  We'll be in the Freedom 20 keelboats, nice easily-moved hull, self-tacking jibs (hate them cause I can't teach jibsheet handling, but I can see their usefulness for differently-abled sailors).  Torqueedo assist when needed.  Fully battened compression-batten main, which i like when there's wind, but hate in light air, they won't "change tacks" on a beat in light air, I have to jerk the boom to windward to get the battens to grudgingly invert for the new tack.  So I'd really like to have at least 10-knot breeze.  But that's beyond my control.  

I have an old fine-ended model keelboat sloop/cutter on a bookshelf, it has two jibs but I'm thinking that letting them feelin the hull, deck, spars, sails, might be useful to do as a first orientation thing.

Anyway, I want to be open-minded about this, so I can learn too.

 

nolatom

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bpw

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I used to teach blind folks to kayak, the two things I learned were:

1. Most important is ask them what works for them, your not going to be able to figure out the best way to teach someone who can't see the first time out, but they have dealt with this a zillion times and can teach you how to teach them your knowledge.  Your likely going to be learning more than them.

2. They tended to have way better awareness of where their bodies are in space and in relation to things around them than the rest of us, I would suggest a change to body position or how to hold the paddle and they would nail it way better than the sighted people.  This actually made teaching easier in a lot of ways.

It was always super fun, those were my favorite trips of the year.

 

bgytr

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As a kid student we had regular blindfolded sailing sessions.  As I became an instructor in later teen years we continued the blindfolded sessions with students.  Amazing how well it works in giving kids the feel.  They will get it with time, amazing how quickly some will pick it up, and just as amazing how you won't expect which kids will be natural and which kids won't.

 

AnotherSailor

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SF Bay
That is really cool! No experience with teaching blind/visually impaired students sailing, but I have taught them in other situations. It was humbling and I did learn a lot about the technologies available to them. You have to find a fine line between helping and allowing independence and treat them just as you would any another student. I kept hitting myself in the head for constantly using language such as "you see what I mean." 

 

Sail4beer

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 Vince Morvello won the Ensign National regatta in the early 2000’s and was a top tier competitor in all the other regattas at the time. He could smell the lifts and the feel his boat speed like no one I know. I have no advice to give, but best of luck to all the future sailors!

 

Laurent

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What size boats are we talking about? Dinghies with one valid instructor and a blind crew? Or cruisers?

The sailing blind folded trick works well on dinghies, because they are so reactive and you can sail from the seat of your pants. Litterally.

Many-many moons ago, a friend of mine was sailing instructor on cruisers, and he had a blind student come multiple times. So what I tell you here is only second hand...

The blind student came with his own hand held compass. If I remember well what I was told, he could "flip the cover" and feel the needle by hand; I assume the course number was inscribed around the compass in Brail and he could figure out what was the heading. The compass had a battery and it could also be set up with a target heading and it would ring with a low tone or a high tone if you were heading too low, or too high. This way, the blind sailor could steer.

Now the "pull-my-leg" part... I do not know if this is true, but my buddy told me that the blind sailor could adjust the spinnaker. He would stand in front of the mast, and whistle towards the spinnaker, and figure out if it was too trimed in... I know, hardly believable. But I know also that blind people develop a sense of hearing much better than us seeers... The reason why blind people tap their white stick on the ground while walking down the street is not only to know the nature of the ground, and let you know they are coming, but the "feel" for the sound coming back to them is also telling them what is surrounding them. If you tap the stick while walking along a wall, it will not sound the same than if you are walking in an open space... So whistling in a spinnaker to figure out if it is too trimmed in might actually be feasible...

 

mxm

New member
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Am a totally blind sailor, have been sailing competitively for about 35 years.  Currently racing a heavily modified Mt Gay 30.

One teaching trick I noted as quite effective for introducing the general concept of what happens on a yacht was a model yacht placed in a gimbled rotating frame and a fan to 'generate the wind'.  Was quite effective at demonstrating heel and how that would alter based on strength of air flow and change in direction of flow.  Also helped as a mechanism for demonstrating the different basic components of a boat.

One thing you will find is that, being a relatively controlled environment, a yacht is a place that blind people can easily adapt to.  Of course when it isn't quite as controlled as is ideal, well then it gets a little more challenging but for the most part, controls and places where lines etc should be remain relatively static meaning they can be found without sight so long as the person looking hasn't lost their sense of orientation.

No one answer as to how a blind sailor judges their direction.  I work off a combination of boat heel and sense of wind flow and strength across my forhead and ears but everyone's slightly different.  Trimming main again a lot based on heel and flow of wind, headsail tension on the sheet.  Kites, well other than stopping them from flapping or winding the boat out, can't trim them to save myself.

You'll find big differences in approach for totally blind versus partially sighted people.  There'll be people who can't get a license but otherwise can see more than well enough to trim.  In some respects the trickiest are those who can see a very small amount and they'll try to use what they have when they're probably better off not doing so.

Don't sweat any political correctness with respect to sight, most blind people who'll do things like go out on boats really don't take themselves that seriously and are rather hard to offend.
 

 

Wess

Super Anarchist
This will be new to me, in a lifetime of sailing including teaching a good bit.  Our community sailing center will help the lighthouse for the blind folks in getting classroom and on the water experience, this spring.

First comers will be the staff, to help orient them to basics--parts of the boat, points of sail, how to steer, how to read the wind.  They can pass this along.

\Then comes the orientation and sailing lessons for the folks.  I'm thinking that teaching about wind, feeling the wind, may be the base of teaching, blind people can feel the wind on faces and heads same as sighted folks can, and it's our fuel.  Maybe i should try. sailing blindfolded and find out what clues I'm missing, and which ones I still have.  Closest I've come is sailing at night.

I'm excited about this, and a bit nervous too, probably a good sign.

Do we have any vision-impaired sailors here on SA?  Or have taught it Any wisdom on this will be most welcome.  We'll be in the Freedom 20 keelboats, nice easily-moved hull, self-tacking jibs (hate them cause I can't teach jibsheet handling, but I can see their usefulness for differently-abled sailors).  Torqueedo assist when needed.  Fully battened compression-batten main, which i like when there's wind, but hate in light air, they won't "change tacks" on a beat in light air, I have to jerk the boom to windward to get the battens to grudgingly invert for the new tack.  So I'd really like to have at least 10-knot breeze.  But that's beyond my control.  

I have an old fine-ended model keelboat sloop/cutter on a bookshelf, it has two jibs but I'm thinking that letting them feelin the hull, deck, spars, sails, might be useful to do as a first orientation thing.

Anyway, I want to be open-minded about this, so I can learn too.
Short answer is yes and it can be done but don’t want to go into details here. It’s highly specific to the individual. Get me via PM if you want to chat. 

 

Sail4beer

Super Anarchist
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Toms River,NJ
Don't sweat any political correctness with respect to sight, most blind people who'll do things like go out on boats really don't take themselves that seriously and are rather hard to offend.
No shit. Had some “blind”people on my boat and they could feel the shifts before they got there and weren’t too worried about the rest of the crew. Steered better than the sighted people too.

 

nolatom

Super Anarchist
3,480
492
New Orleans
Am a totally blind sailor, have been sailing competitively for about 35 years.  Currently racing a heavily modified Mt Gay 30.

One teaching trick I noted as quite effective for introducing the general concept of what happens on a yacht was a model yacht placed in a gimbled rotating frame and a fan to 'generate the wind'.  Was quite effective at demonstrating heel and how that would alter based on strength of air flow and change in direction of flow.  Also helped as a mechanism for demonstrating the different basic components of a boat.

One thing you will find is that, being a relatively controlled environment, a yacht is a place that blind people can easily adapt to.  Of course when it isn't quite as controlled as is ideal, well then it gets a little more challenging but for the most part, controls and places where lines etc should be remain relatively static meaning they can be found without sight so long as the person looking hasn't lost their sense of orientation.

No one answer as to how a blind sailor judges their direction.  I work off a combination of boat heel and sense of wind flow and strength across my forhead and ears but everyone's slightly different.  Trimming main again a lot based on heel and flow of wind, headsail tension on the sheet.  Kites, well other than stopping them from flapping or winding the boat out, can't trim them to save myself.

You'll find big differences in approach for totally blind versus partially sighted people.  There'll be people who can't get a license but otherwise can see more than well enough to trim.  In some respects the trickiest are those who can see a very small amount and they'll try to use what they have when they're probably better off not doing so.

Don't sweat any political correctness with respect to sht, most blind people who'll do things like go out on boats really don't take themselves that seriously and are rather hard to offend.
 
This is really helpful to hear and think about mxm, thanks.  We won't be on "yachts" at first, maybe not at all , and I'll have to remember the part about feeling the wind with your head.  So rainy days wearing a hood may be less than ideal for sussing out wind angle and velocity.  Tiller steering not wheel, mainsheets trim at mid-boom on a cam cleat, which I'm guessing is good because it gives room for two sailors to handle two different things.

What I don't know is most everything except I do know how to teach sailing, but so far just sighted people.  The rest will probably involve me learning as much as the students "teach" me.  An earlier comment about "don't tell them how to work X , ask instead what works for them", I'll have to remember and try not run my mouth too much or too long.

And thanks for your last paragraph, glad to have some slack to say the wrong thing unintentionally from time to time.

 
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Campylobacter

Member
108
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Canada
Haven’t taught sailing to the blind, but have taught skiing. All who never had vision, so didn’t have any frames of reference in their memory banks to aid the coaching. 

Can share a few things that might be transferable.

a) They’re processing a lot, so maybe best to keep things as simple early on as possible (eg. Less terminology and “proper seamanship,” etc) until they get their sea legs and build some competence and confidence. They don’t need to know port and starboard, they need left and right.

The other part of that is what we find normal having all our senses can quickly become overwhelming and anxiety inducing for others. Personally speaking, lost most of my hearing late in life and I still get incredibly agitated, frustrated and angry when there just too much noise interfering with my basic ability to comprehend and react. So, slow - it -down. 

b) if they’ve taken the step to sail, they’ve likely been active in other parts of their lives. Take the time to probe what the rest of their individual lives looks like. This will give you ideas for analogies and relatable language you can create to help get across core concepts.

This will also empower them by giving them something they already understand to latch onto and turn into action. For example one girl I taught did martial arts, so I approached the coaching from the standpoint of martial arts “chi” and stances, etc. Another played hockey, so the analogies were all skating and stick handling related. 

c) Simple drills can go a long way. In sailing remember tall ship training where we drilled like crazy to build competence quickly, starting with very basic things and then building in difficulty. And these don’t have to be used for just sailing - you can use them for familiarizing them to the boat/space, knots, etc. A few things about drills for this kind of audience are:

- keep them fun, light and airy; as per point a), they’re already processing a lot, so don’t add stress by projecting your own expectations or frustrations into it,

- know when to move on to either the next level, or to something completely different that changes the energy if it’s just to much for that group, on that day,

- remember that for every stick, their needs to be a carrot, for this kind of group learning these kinds of skills, make it a worthwhile carrot…

d) Acknowledge their changing learning curve by adapting your coaching as their skills develop. At some point things won’t seem that hard anymore and it will be you who needs to take things to the next level. Don’t be afraid to lead them from a “step” to a “leap.” 
 

In skiing this was typically the first time on the chairlift. Getting on and off was terror inducing the first few times. And then they started to get it and could go on bigger hills. That one action changed their ability to access so much more and served as a giant leap. 

Good luck. 

 
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mal5033

Anarchist
I also taught skiing to the blind for many years. I learned to question them about their vision (or lack of). I found that there is a range of blindness, not everyone is totally blind. Some can see a little bit, some can differentiate between light and dark. Some have just enough vision to be helpful at times (for example being able to see a downed skier or other possible hazard). Also it was different to relate stuff to someone who had never seen what you are talking about. We spent a fair amount of time touching skis and equipment (especially ski edges). Remember, the thing you perceive as being so difficult is just their reality. They deal with big challenges often in their lives. Sailing will just be another one.

We buddied up with skiers and gradually gave them more freedom. I have never taught sailing to the blind but I assume it would be similar on a boat. I think I would start them on the helm (with a buddy of course).  I would save trimming for a light air day when they could hold a sheet (no winch or snatch block) and feel the pressure. That would go a long way to helping their understanding of the forces involved.

You will find working with them (or any "challenged" individual) to be very rewarding. When you see it click for them, it will make your day!

Good luck!

 

nolatom

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New Orleans
Thanks to all for the thoughtfulness and advice/ideas.

Well, we get a bit more time before we meet with the Lighthouse staff, with whom we meet and sail to give them an overview-- postponed from tomorrow due to weather:

https://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?CityName=New+Orleans&state=LA&site=LIX&textField1=30.0658&textField2=-89.9314&e=0

Powerful cold front overnight, then 25-30 out of the North gusting 40, which is "onshore" for New Orleans in our big but shallow lake, and makes a wicked short wave-period "square chop".  Gale warnings tonight through tomorrow afternoon.  Uh, not a good intro day  ;-) 

Maybe that's the first lesson??--the weather is boss, and we are not.

 
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nolatom

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New Orleans
Well, two months later everyones' schedule, and the weather, coincided to make a beautiful Saturday morning on the South shore of Lake Pontchartrain, at the Community Sailing Center, and in our "sailable" marina, for the Lighthouse for the Blind staff and students, and our staff, to meet, sail, and learn from each other. 

I'd thought this get-together might be just their staff and ours, to get oriented with kids to come later, but to my pleasant surprise, it was two Lighthouse staff and ten or so kids of middle-school age, say 11 to 14. There were small simple sailboat models on the table for each to play with, and I had brought along a larger old-school J-Boat type model with double jibs that has sat in my living room bookshelf for decades.  They liked the cloth sails, and a boom that moved, while the little models were paper. 

I think our staff (two permanent, and me the part-timer) did the briefing well, "enough but not too much", sails, keels, masts, booms, tillers, sheets, halyards, cockpit, port, starboard, sails pulling, pushing, reaching, . Then our entourage wended our way through the drysail dock where a bunch of Tulane sailing teamers were getting the big 420 fleet ready for the upcoming Collegiate Nationals, and down to the floats and the Freedom 20s, and rigged up three of them. 

These kids are courageous, climbing onto sailboats with no lifelines, everything new to them, but bright and curious.  Our boat had three students, and one Lighthouse staffer, she'd sailed some, and me.  We let them literally get the feel of it, mast, deck, tiller, mainsheet, cam cleats, roller jib with club foot traveler.  And how to make the Torqueedo auxiliary go ahead and astern.   

We sailed the marina (good orientation as to why we tack and jibe), and then out onto the Lake, with lovely onshore say 9 to 14-knot breeze (thank you weather Gods, the feel of the wind is how we, and especially they, discern lateral movement), a little lumpy but comfortable, and the three sloops plus a scat boat in case needed.  Mostly reaching, but enough tacking and jibing to round things out.  Big

How many times did I say "see", instead of feel, or understand??  Lots.  How offended were they?  Apparently none, they're accustomed to it.  The oldest of the three wanted to steer a complete circle.  Why not?  These boats turn on a dime, and the rapid changes of course and feel of the wind, and the jolt of the jibe, are way more discernable than the minor tweaks we usually make on a given point of sail.

Almost two hours out on the water, then quick debriefing, beginning with "Did everyone have fun?".  From ten voices: "YES!!" Then "tell us something you learned today", and wow they really had picked up a lot.   Maybe i should ask myself the same question?  Yes, I learned a lot, with much more to learn, they know things I haven't even thought of.

 
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