Sailing can be a “technical sport”, but it can also be “invigorating”


Renee Smith overlooks a yacht tucked away at the back of a Sydney marina and admits to having had “a little sport in my life”.

That is, until the scientist, 31, discovered sailing two years ago.

“I just remember getting out, they hoisted the sails, turned off the engine, then I felt the boat lift up and take off with the breeze and it was that liberation movement,” Renee recalls of her first passage to sail.

If you like the idea of ​​traveling at exhilarating speeds with the feel of the spray on your face and the wind blowing your hair, head to the nearest body of water and get yourself some wind transport right away.

Renée uses a wheelchair but does not use it when sailing. Instead, she relies on the strength of her upper body to move around the yacht.

She was competing equestrian, but following a spinal cord injury 10 years ago, Renee started competing as a para-equestrian.

She was considering competing in the Paralympic Games when a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis meant that a sport change was needed.

Renee credits her transition to yachting to Sailors with disABILITIES, a non-profit organization that offers people with disabilities or those who have had a difficult experience the chance to sail.

Photo of a woman sitting on the side of a sailboat in Elizabeth Bay.
Renee says taking on the challenges of sailing can be invigorating.(Daily ABC: Sophie Kesteven)

Since then she has volunteered with them, traveling to Coffs Harbor, Newcastle and Hobart to help with sailing programs.

“It’s a physically demanding sport, so you need to be in good physical shape to move around the boat and pull on the ropes,” says Renee.

“And when we go out racing it’s a thing all day [so] it really helps with my fitness.

“I was a huge workaholic until I found the sail.”

She says it’s also a pretty technical sport and she had to learn to read the wind and the weather and how it affects the yacht.

“There was also a lot to learn about how to manage my body on the yacht and the best places to sit… but the challenge of trying to learn something new can also be quite invigorating,” she says. .

His advice to people who are considering sailing is to “go for it”.

“It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but… the sailing community in general is quite welcoming because everyone is passionate about the sport and loves what they do and loves to share,” said Renee.

Is sailing for you?

You must love the wind and the water – a lot – and it would help to know how to swim.

Sailboats tilt with the wind and the more wind there is, the less horizontal the deck will be, so you need to be sure of your ability to move.

You can sail alone, but most sailors like to have one or more companions.

The crew on a yacht is a great way to meet people.

Most clubs encourage new members and there is usually a boat looking for crew on race days.

Advantages of sailing:

  • Capacities of endurance and concentration.

  • Increased upper body strength.

  • Better knowledge of weather conditions and wind patterns such as fronts, pressures and changes in wind direction.

  • Ideal for socializing.

Material needed to navigate:

  • Sailing gloves will protect your hands from rope burns and help you grip.

  • Rubber soled shoes will help you grab the bridge.

  • Spray jacket, hat, sunscreen and a good pair of Sun glasses will help protect you from the elements.

  • Even if you are a good swimmer, you should wear a safety jacket.

Common sailing injuries:

  • Sailing can cause sprains and strains in any part of the body, because the position of the body often has to change very quickly.

  • Injuries impact with ropes and parts of the boat can occur.

  • Ankle injuries can be common if you use ankle straps.

We thank Dr Tracy Kolbe-Alexander of the School of Health and Wellbeing at the University of South Queensland, and Nardine Presland of Exercise and Sports Science Australia, for their expert input.

This is only general information. For detailed personalized advice, you should consult a qualified physician who is familiar with your medical history.

This story, which was originally written by Maryke Steffens and published by ABC Health and Wellbeing, was updated in 2019.

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