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Sailor set to inspire us all with solo challenge

by Lee Mylchreest on 12 Aug 2011
Dennis Howard - inspiring .. .
There are some stories that are so engaging they are quite inspirational. The story of Dennis Howard is one of them. Dennis is a humble man who is about to take on one of the greatest challenges in the world - to sail around the world solo in a 20ft boat. The difference is that Dennis Howard, 62-year-old San Diego resident, has only 7% vision and is legally blind.

When he found out that he was gradually going blind he was already an experienced sailor, but thought that his diagnosis would mean the end of his sailing.

On a recent visit to Howard's boat in San Diego, Jeff Glor from local TV station's 'Early Show' asked Howard how much he can see.

Howard replied, 'The way I like to describe it is that, if you cover your right eye, that one is blind completely, and then if you can imagine looking through a small drinking straw with the left, that's what I see.'

A eye-sight saving operation by a surgeon stopped his eyesight deteriorating any further, and, five years later, he still has the same 7% vision.

Now that he is sure his eyesight is remaining constant, he's ready for his next challenge, sailing his 20ft boat, Avalo, a diminutive of the Buddhist representation of Compassion, Avalokitishvara, around the world solo.

He has planned the journey to take two years, but, as all cruising sailors know, the two years could expand. Intending to depart San Diego on 11th November, Dennis will go south to Mexico before crossing his first ocean, the Pacific.

After purchasing Avalo in 2010, he has extensively refurbished and upgraded her hull, rigging, sails and ground tackle. She has a new transponder, new navigational equipment.

With much help from friends, there is also a new paint job, dodger and bimini, with solar panels attached to a stern rail platform. She sports not only an electric but also a wind vane autopilot, VHF and HF radios, a GPS system; propane stove top, and a Fusion sound system.

Before departing he intends to acquire an AIS system, a small electric outboard and a satellite phone, and he is still considering a wind generator.

So while the planning is impeccable, it is still a daunting task for even a fully sighted sailor. Interviewer Glor asked Dennis, 'Sailing is not easy when you have 20/20 vision, in a 20-foot boat around the world. What makes you think you can do it in the condition you're in?'

'I know if I can walk across a busy street out here, that I can sail this boat out here in the ocean,' Howard replied.

Some friends have told Howard not to go because it's too dangerous. He says he needs to -- not for himself, but for others.

'My primary hope out of this is that, with the level of my disability, by me doing something like this, even the idea of me deciding to do something like this, I think, could inspire people,' he said. 'People who have disabilities who give up before they need to, they can get out of the house.'

Well, Dennis, I don't have a disability, but you've inspired me, too.

For more information about Howard's trip, visit

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