“There are no obstacles on the water.”

August 3, 2023


Able Sail hoists the sails on an inclusive summer boating opportunity at Fort Whyte Alive

It’s a choppy, cloudy day on the lake at Fort Whyte Alive—which might not seem like the ideal conditions for sailing. Yet, people are lining up to take a ride across the pond on one of two 16-foot boats specially designed for sailors with disabilities.

From his wheelchair, Winnipegger Ken Shachtay watches as ILRC Able Sail staff help visitors into the rigs, push off from the dock and head into the deep. While he’ll stay on shore today, Shachtay has taken a spin or two before, and he says being in the sailboat for him is “total freedom.”

“Total,” he reiterates. “You’re just at ease, you’ve got no worries. It’s beautiful.”

The ILRC Able Sail program offers inclusive sailing tours throughout July and August for Manitobans of all ages and accessibility needs and is coordinated by the Independent Living Resource Centre—an organization supported by United Way Winnipeg donors.

The ILRC opened its doors in 1984 as a place to encourage and promote the self-determination, self-help, integration, and full participation of all people with disabilities in the community.

With more than 175,000 Manitobans—or one in 6—currently living with a disability, Able Sail is one way the ILRC does just that.

“We have the training, equipment, and dedication to make sure that sailing is a safe, inclusive, and dynamic experience for all,” Able Sail says about its program. “Regardless of age, ability, financial situation, or experience, ILRC Able Sail believes that the freedom of sailing is for everyone.” 

“Regardless of age, ability, financial situation, or experience, ILRC Able Sail believes that the freedom of sailing is for everyone.”

ILRC Able Sail runs throughout July and August and maintains two Martin 16 boats, which are built to be non-tippable and non-sinkable with multi-adjustable seating and a companion seat. Volunteers are trained to safely work with people of all abilities, helping them put on lifejackets and get into the sailboats, then taking them out on a 60-minute ride across the lake. 

ILRC maintains this program for the unique opportunity it offers—there is nothing quite like it—and ILRC’s partnerships with organizations like United Way Winnipeg make experiences like this possible.

Doug Lockhart has helped train ILRC Able Sail crew for nearly 20 years. He said for many who live with a disability, today’s world is filled with obstacles—but the one place people can leave all those challenges behind is in the sailboat.

“There are no obstacles on the water,” he said.

Doug Lockhart, Project Development and Training Coordinator.

Shachtay, who chairs the ILRC’s board of directors, has Multiple Sclerosis and has used a wheelchair for decades. He’s active in his community and isn’t one for sitting still—he’s even taken his scooter on road trips, traveling 90 kilometres on his own to Lockport.

“I’ve always pushed the limits, just to see whether I could do it,” he said. “I’m not a person who says, What if?”

Shachtay said the biggest misconception he would love for people to overcome is the idea that people with disabilities can’t.

“There’s a perception that you can’t do a lot of things,” he said. “(But) you can get out, you can do anything … You can do almost anything a person without a disability can do.”

As Shachtay watches another person excitedly get suited up and head down the long dock to the boat for their first sail, he says it’s fun to have seen so many Winnipeggers over the years experience the thrill of their maiden voyage.

He encourages anyone who wants to feel what sailing is all about to come down to Fort Whyte and connect with Able Sail. If someone’s feeling a little nervous? He gives them the same advice he gives himself—just try.

“You have to try it,” he said. “And if you don’t like it, they’ll turn around and bring you right back.

“But I don’t think that’s ever happened.”

For more information on the ILRC Able Sail program, please visit www.ilrc.mb.ca.


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