What is it?
Sailing is the art of using the power of wind to move a boat. Paralympic sailing is similar to Olympic sailing, but the boats are adapted so that athletes with disabilities can sail them.
Who can participate in sailing at the Paralympics?
Sailing is open to athletes in the categories of amputee, cerebral palsy, visually impaired, wheelchair and les autres.
An athlete may have the classification MD, which indicates ‘minimum disability.’ Other athletes are assigned points between 1 and 7 based on their ability to carry out tasks related to sailing. Athletes with 1 point have the lowest level of ability and athletes with 7 points have the highest level of ability.
- One-Person Keelboat (2.4mR): only athletes classified as MD may compete;
- Two-Person Keelboat (SKUD18): one of the crew must have a 1 or 2 point disability;
- Three-Person Keelboat (Sonar): the total crew is allowed a maximum of 14 points
How is it played?
There are 3 different classes or types of boat used depending on the number of sailors:
- The 2.4mR is a single-person boat with a mainsail and a jib.
- The SKUD 18 is a two-person boat with a mainsail, jib and spinnaker.
- The Sonar is a three-person boat with a mainsail and a jib.
- The boats are designed to increase stability and have open cockpits to give sailors more space. Equipment is also adapted to suit each disability group.
- All classes are mixed, which means that men and women compete together/against each other.
- One female competitor must participate in each two-person and three-person team.
- All races are held in ‘fleet racing’ format. This means all boats in the class race each other over the same course.
- Each event consists of a series of 11 races.
- In each race, points are awarded as follows: 1 point for the winner, 2 points for second, etc.
- Competitors can discard or lose their worst score.
- The final race in the series is called the medal race, and points are doubled: 2 points for the winner, 4 points for second, etc.
- The winner is the competitor who has least points.
- In the event of two competitors having the same number of points after the final, then the winner is the competitor who finishes in the higher placed position in the medal race.
In 1984 Geoff Holt was a fit 18-year-old who had just sailed across the Atlantic for the third time. But then his life changed totally. He had an accident when he was on a beach called Cane Garden Bay in the British Virgin Islands. He dived into shallow water and broke his neck. Since that day he has had to use a wheelchair, but that has not stopped him from achieving his remarkable goals.
It took Geoff a long time to re-build his life. He didn’t just want to go sailing again though: he wanted to do extraordinary things that nobody else had done before. Thus, in 2007 he became the first quadriplegic yachtsman to sail alone around Great Britain. This was a 2,325 kilometre journey, in a 4.5-metre boat. He described it as one of his greatest achievements - like climbing his own personal Mt Everest.
Then, in 2010, Geoff became the first quadriplegic sailor to sail across the Atlantic, in a boat named Impossible Dream. The journey took years to plan, and even then was not trouble-free: there were mechanical problems, contaminated fuel, and also a lack of wind. But 28 days after leaving the Canary Islands he arrived in Cane Garden Bay. Remember the name? That’s right - it was the place where he had suffered his accident two decades before.
Geoff has achieved many other things as well. He was one of the founding members of the Sailability scheme, which helps people with any type of disability to enjoy sailing. In 2006 he became the first wheelchair user to get a powerboat licence, and in 2008 he published his autobiography, Walking On Water.
When asked why he does these things, Geoff summed himself up with these words: "It's about demonstrating that disability need not be a barrier to achieving something positive in your life."