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I received the following piece today from Dean Sandberg, President of Windrider. This write-up, with analysis, should be given to Erwin Jansen of European Hydrosail. Erwin is the primary Windrider dealer in Europe.

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An opportunity for Disabled Sailing
by Erwin Jansen

Last year’s news that sailing was not to be part of the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo came as a huge disappointment for the sport worldwide. The main reason given by the International Paralympic Committee was that only team-sports widely and regularly practiced in a minimum of 24 countries and three IPC regions will be considered for inclusion in the Paralympic Games, and for individual sports a minimum of 32 countries in three IPC regions are required. Currently Para Sailing does not meet these requirements.

“Why isn’t disabled sailing more popular around the world in general, and on an elite level in particular? We need to understand the reasons for this, before we can find solutions.”

Sailing offers disabled people opportunities to participate in a sport, with many varied levels of disabilities competing on equal terms. In that regard it is a unique sport, and it should be very popular. Then why isn’t disabled sailing more popular around the world in general, and on an elite level in particular? We need to understand the reasons for this, before we can address the situation.

Note the absence of emerging nations during the Rio Paralympics sailing events…
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In developed countries there are numerous initiatives to offer sailing to disabled people, be it on a grassroots level such as the Sailability clubs, but also on an elite level, by nations supporting athletes competing in international events, and businesses sponsoring equipment. The problem is that in developing nations this is not happening. There are three main factors for this obvious divide.

First there is the way disabled sailing is organized. On a grassroots level it is up to local communities and individual initiatives to start and run a program. For the most part there is very little communication and interaction between these clubs, even within one country. On the elite level the independent IFDS was the governing body, but unfortunately they failed to recognize and fix the problems in time, which has resulted in the IPC dropping sailing from the Paralympics.

World Sailing (former ISAF), upon realizing that things were not working out and recognizing that disabled sailing is an important part of sailing in general, took its responsibility and took control away from the IFDS. It set up a new governing body, called Para World Sailing, and will be managed directly under World Sailing. That way disabled sailing can take advantage of the organization, infrastructure, experience and budget of World Sailing. Furthermore the Member Nation Authorities are expected to take more control on a local grassroots level, so that disabled sailing is no longer separate from other sailing activities and only accessible to rich countries. Just last week Para World Sailing published its roadmap for the years to come: http://www.sailing.org/tools/documents/ParaWorldSailingStrategicPlan-[21530].pdf

The second reason why disabled sailing is a rare activity in developing nations is the lack of facilities. If we look at the Olympic sailing classes, all these boats can be launched from a beach. This is not the case for most disabled sailing equipment, which still relies heavily on boats with a keel for stability. Without marinas equipped with cranes it is hard to launch any of the current Paralympic class boats and most of the boats being used for club activities today. A good example of this is the country of Thailand. With a population of over 65 million people, an estimated 15,000 beaches, and where sailing is a popular sport, it only has 5 marinas in the entire country. During the Rio Olympics it was represented in four sailing classes, but no Thai sailor participated in the Paralympics, for the simple reason that there currently is no disabled sailing program there, neither on the grassroots, nor on the elite level.

The solution to this problem is simple. Start using equipment that can be launched from a beach, both for grassroots and competitive sailing. Multi-hulls, and especially trimarans, where one sits in the center hull, are easily launched from a beach, and still offer the stability required to allow sailors with a wide variety of disabilities to sail.

Lastly it comes down to money, or to put it better, the lack thereof. Setting up and running a regular sailing program is already a struggle for many countries. And especially for disabled sailing this becomes even harder. There is a need for specialized gear, trained volunteers, both on shore and on the water, and safety boats on the water at all times. In general, equipment specifically designed for disabled use is overpriced, due to a lack of competition, and old-fashioned, due to a lack of development. Currently the market for grassroots disabled sailing is dominated by a single equipment manufacturer. Through its initiatives like Sailability a lot more disabled people than ever before now have the opportunity to experience sailing, but at the same this also makes it difficult for other manufacturers and products to enter this segment of the sport, and to have a natural evolution of the equipment used, as was seen with the recent development of sailing in general. Apart from the current cost to set up and run a grassroots sailing activity, when it comes to the elite level of the sport, it becomes even harder. The current three boats with a Paralympic status are nothing like those used for grassroots sailing, and are all expensive to purchase and cumbersome to ship. Furthermore due to the small market for these boats, manufacturers cannot make boats available for free during major events, as is now common in regular sailing. This means that nations competing in international events will have to ship own boats across the world to participate.

This certainly is the hardest challenge to overcome. However, when looking at the sport of Para Sailing as a whole, and when grassroots disabled sailing, elite disabled sailing, and regular sailing are brought closer together, the costs can be reduced significantly. If disabled sailors were to use the same equipment already in use by able-bodied sailors, and can use the same boat(s) for grassroots club activities as on an elite level, it would be much easier for emerging nations to set up new programs, and accelerate existing ones. If this new equipment further meets the requirements in regard to needing less facilities to launch, while at the same time it is cheap to purchase and maintain, then we can expect enormous reductions in costs, and a rapid expansion of the sport.

It is clear that (Para) World sailing recognizes the above, as they have started the process of evaluating new equipment in the spring of 2016, in order to see how selected boats compare to the existing Paralympic classes. Participating in the trials were 3 keelboats, being the Hansa Liberty, Hansa 303 and the RS Venture keel, alongside two multi-hulls, being the Weta Trimaran and WindRider AS Trimaran. Observations from the two evaluation days can be read here: https://www.windrider.com/wp/windrider-as1-at-the-paralympic-trials

At the time of writing this article, World Sailing published on its website that Para World Sailing has made a decision on the equipment to be used for future Paralympic sailing, being the Norlin 2.4m one-person keelboat class, the two-person Hansa 303 keelboat class and the Weta Trimaran one-person multi-hull class. This article has a section added at the end to address this proposal.

It should be noted that the author of this article lives in Thailand, and was actively involved with the promotion of the WindRider AS. As such this article may be discarded by some as being biased, specifically by parties that have a strong financial interest in how the sport of disabled sailing is currently set up. The reason for this article however, is to bring transparency to the process of selecting new equipment, and to start a public discussion on what is best for the sport as a whole and the individual disabled sailor in particular, while at the same time trying to find ways to get developing countries to take up disabled sailing as well, and can quickly compete on an equal level.

“The WindRider AS is the only boat that combines performance, accessibility, affordability and sustainability.”

WindRider believes it can make a very positive contribution to the sport of disabled sailing on all levels. It has taken the original WindRider philosophy of ‘Sailing Simplified’ a step further, and designed a new version of the popular WindRider 17 Trimaran, with increased accessibility and performance. This new WindRider AS combines the thrill, attractiveness and performance of sailing a fast open multihull with the accessibility and safety of current Paralympic classes, and all at a much lower cost than any alternative. A brochure can be downloaded here:
http://www.asia-hydrosail.com/WindRider-AS/WindRider-AS-flyer.pdf

The WindRider AS comes in three versions, but it is simple to switch between versions. The standard WindRider AS is the grassroots version. It seats up to 4 people, and with hand- and foot-steering in both forward and aft cockpit is it accessible to people with a very wide range of disabilities. Furthermore its polyethylene hulls, sturdy aluminum beams and a fully flat floor make it easy to add individual customized adaptations or seats. The WindRider AS1 and AS2 versions have additional equipment that allows racing at the highest level, either solo (AS1) from the forward cockpit, or with two (AS2), with the helmsman in the aft cockpit.

Compared to the AS, the AS1 and AS2 versions will see several improvements in regard to performance, control- and trim options, as well as additional safety features. A single WindRider can be used for daily recreational activities and club racing, and with an affordable upgrade kit, the same boat can compete on the highest level in regional, national and international events.

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The WindRider AS’s durability and extremely low maintenance will result in much lower running costs. Its draft of less than 50 cm allows for racing very close to shore, making it more exciting for spectators to follow. It also opens up many new urban sailing areas, which cannot be used by boats with keels. Launching can be done from nearly any ramp or beach, reducing the burden on event organizers, and allowing countries which lack facilities, such as marinas, to start a program with minimum investment. Due to its seating arrangements inside the main hull and the overhead boom, there is no risk for the crew to get hurt during maneuvers, and it also levels the playing field between different types and severities of disabilities, as well as gender. Combined with the wide platform, making it extremely hard to capsize, the WindRider is famous for its safety.

“A major benefit is that the WindRider is almost 100% recyclable. Now that World Sailing has also recognized the desire to be more sustainable, the WindRider is not only the perfect choice, it’s the only choice.”

The polyethylene hulls are nearly indestructible, and over time the material does not lose its stiffness. A 10-year old hull is as good as a brand new one, thus eliminating the need to regularly purchase new equipment to stay competitive. There is no wood or fiber material present in the boat anywhere (apart from the carbon-fiber reacher bowsprit), thus general maintenance is reduced to the occasional power-wash. WindRider complies with strict wage-, environmental- and safety-requirements. In addition, no resins are used, so workers and the environment are not exposed to dangerous chemicals during manufacturing. Another benefit is that the boats are almost completely recyclable. Now that World Sailing has also recognized the desire to be more sustainable, the WindRider is not only the perfect choice, it’s the only choice.

There are over 1,500 original WindRiders 17’s in use around the world, and on every continent, except Antarctica. A portion of these are already used by individual disabled sailors and adaptive sailing programs. Any existing WindRider 17 build from 2007 onwards can be upgraded to the AS type for a few hundred dollars. Older upgraded boats fitted with new sails will be as competitive as a brand new boat, because the polyethylene hulls do not lose their stiffness, nor will they gain weight over time. New WindRider AS’s (AS1 & AS2 after removing the reacher) can also join existing WindRider 17 events, as current class rules already make seating inside the main hull mandatory. Boats can be shipped in bulk (up to 15 in a large container) or individually in a crate. Thanks to the rotomolding process for the hulls, WindRider has the ability to quickly scale up production to over 150 boats per month, without any additional tooling necessary. This means it can take on the task to ship boats to new markets without delay. The IPC will make a preliminary decision at the end of 2017, whether or not disabled sailing deserves a place at the 2024 Paralympics. So it is important that enough new countries are active by that time.

Using a simpler version of a boat for grassroots sailing, and the same boat with added features for Paralympic class events, makes the path from recreational sailing to becoming an athlete all the easier. A summary of the advantages of the WindRider AS program can be found here: http://www.asia-hydrosail.com/WindRider-AS/WindRider-AS-Program.pdf

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Some people may be wary of sailing a trimaran at first, but it is no harder than sailing a small keelboat. For true novices and children there is also the WindRider Tango. This smaller version of the WindRider AS is suited for people of all ages and abilities, and with a retail price of under $ 3,000, it costs only a fraction of the entry-level equipment in use today.

Current and potential para-class equipment suppliers will fight tooth and nail to keep their status, or get added. And several individual disabled sailors, who are currently active in a para class, have voiced their opinion on how to move forward as well. A recently published proposal was making the case for keeping the Skud 18 and 2.4m classes, and adding the Weta as a third class. The full proposal can be read here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxvlrctJw5pNT1RrcnRKOWptblU/view

In short, this proposal details how the 2.4m is a fairly popular one-person class already, and should be maintained as a class. The proposal then puts forward the suggestion to add the Weta as an additional one-person class. This boat meets the requirements of being able to be launched from the beach, being less expensive, and a current pool of used boats already exists. Furthermore it is an exciting boat to sail and to watch, so this should allow the class to grow rapidly. Because the 2.4m targets minimally disabled people as a one-person class, and the Weta would be even more restrictive, the Skud 18 would need to stay in as the two-person class, which caters to severe levels of disability. In order to satisfy the major requirement of the IPC to expand the sport to enough nations, the proposal called for older boats to be donated to poorer nations.

In reality the above will not solve the current problems. It will create a distinct gap between the developed nations who can afford new boats and facilities, and developing countries that are left to use discarded boats and lack the infrastructure needed to use two out of the three classes. Furthermore in these nations it will exclude many types of disabilities from participating in the sport. This goes against everything the Olympics and Paralympics stand for. Any proposal should be inclusive, not exclusive. There are several other major drawbacks to just adding the Weta, such as serious safety concerns, the limitation of IPC’s current allocation of 80 athletes spread over all classes, and the further increase in cost for nations already active in elite-level disabled sailing. Please read the following white paper where these and many more issues are addressed in detail: http://www.asia-hydrosail.com/WindRider-AS/Future-of-Paralympic-Sailing-with-WindRider.pdf

But there is a solution that is so much simpler and cheaper. We propose to move forward with two boats and three Paralympic classes, settling on two classes well before the 2024 Paralympics. The first boat is the WindRider AS, in the AS2 version as a two-person multi-hull class, and in the AS1 version as the one-person multi-hull class. This will cater to sailors with the largest variety of disabilities while drastically reducing cost compared to the current 2.4m and Skud18 classes separately. It also allows emerging nations to participate and compete on an equal elite-level, and to use the same boat in the basic AS form for grassroots activities, or to join any of the many existing Windrider events for able-bodied sailors. The 2.4m will keep its Paralympic status for now, and is given the opportunity to grow. By 2020 it can be compared in regard to popularity to the one-person WindRider AS1 class. Should the 2.4m fail to expand to enough emerging nations during this time, the sailors will make the transition to the one-person multihull class. This is a zero-cost move, because the boats are already available and the class exists, plus it wouldn’t exclude any of the current 2.4m sailors because of a particular disability. During the Paralympics you’d then have 48 sailors from 24 countries competing in the two-person multihull class, and 32 sailors from 32 countries competing in either the one-person keelboat class or the one-person multi-hull class.

Three days ago Para World Sailing published its preliminary decision: www.sailing.org/news/41233.php The manufacturers who were given the opportunity to participate in the equipment evaluation process in two separate countries have made a large effort to do so. It is thus shameful that the equipment manufacturers that were not chosen have so far not been informed of this decision, either personally or in writing. Until the time of almost finishing writing this article, this news had not been communicated.

The timing does allow us to take a quick look at this proposal. Compared to the current line up of the 2.4m, the Skud 18 and the Sonar, this proposal to have the 2.4m, Hansa 303 and Weta as three classes, is more affordable. It takes out the 2 most expensive boats. However, it doesn’t address several issues explained earlier in this article. The 2.4m and Hansa 303 cannot be launched from the beach, so only countries with certain facilities will benefit. Furthermore the Hansa 303 is a grassroots sailing boat. It lacks any kind of performance. This proposal is asking most of the current high-performance Skud 18 and Sonar sailors to make the transition to the Hansa 303, because the other two classes are too restrictive in the types of disabilities they can accommodate. The WindRider AS1 / AS2 however offers everything the Weta is offering, without the restrictions, and with so many more advantages. All at less than half the cost of the combination of the Hansa 303 and Weta.

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WindRider is in the position to contribute to a rapid growth of disabled sailing in two distinct ways. First, it can commit to supplying the boats for free for major events, such as world championships and the Paralympics. This will drastically reduce the burden on nations now having to ship own boats to these events. It also ensures a truly one-design class, where everyone has the same new equipment, and the results come down to individual talent, not resources. Second, WindRider will supply boats to current MNA’s and disabled sailing organization at a reduced rate, like it has been doing for many years already. And it will go even further by offering additional discounts to MNA’s and clubs in those countries that do not yet have a disabled sailing program.

Large portions of the current problems with disabled sailing are a result of the dominance of a single equipment manufacturer. It is the expectation that WindRider’s proposal will not result in WindRider dominating the sport, but instead will force other manufacturers to adopt a more universal design as well, and take a good hard look at its products, so that the disabled sailing community can take advantage of a much larger choice of modern, durable and certainly more affordable equipment in the future. It’s time to move forward…

— Erwin Jansen