The Kiwi Gold Sailing team continues to receive great support – from without and within.
The team was formed last year to assist two of New Zealand’s outstanding sailing talents, David Barnes and Rick Dodson, to achieve their goal of winning a medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,
Between them, David and Rick represented New Zealand in nine America’s Cups (winning twice) and have won eight world championships (not to mention a long list of national titles).
But, 13 years ago they were both diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and it appeared that their competitive sailing days were over.
No so. True to their roots, they have tackled their new circumstances as a challenge, arguably the biggest of their lives, and have set their sights on more international success – racing together in the Paralympic class Sonar.
Kiwi Gold Sailing has two of the Bruce Kirby-designed 23ft keel boats and they are the back bone of the programme that is aimed at delivering a medal in Brazil.
NZL1 has been funded by New Zealand sailing great Neville Crichton, through his Great Wall Cars company (which also provides support funding and vehicles).
NZL2 has been provided by a syndicate comprising long-time New Zealand sailing supporter Peter Cornes, Auckland waterfront legend John Street and Kiwi Gold Sailing itself (although Kiwi Gold still has to raise $50,000 of its commitment).
The ultimate objective is to have the two yachts working up against one another, crewed mostly by sailors with a disability. To that end, the current priority is identifying the right sailors to join the Auckland-based programme.
The Sonar is a three-person, two-sail keel boat that is crewed by a helmsperson, a mainsheet hand and a for’ard hand.
There is no shortage of qualified volunteers but, it is not simply a matter of choosing the best and then developing them as a crew.
An appointed, qualified doctor has to assess and grade the degree of a sailor’s disability and mark it according to internationally-developed points scale. The crew and gradings are rechecked by an official doctor at the venues of all lead-up Sonar regattas. The maximum points total per crew is 14 so, getting the right three people in a boat is a bit of a juggling act.
The most leeway is probably in the for’ard hand position. The required skills – trimming the headsail and poling it out for downwind legs – can, if necessary, readily be taught.
The most important crew criteria, however, can’t.
Kiwi Gold Sailing manager Mike Clark explains: 'That’s attitude and, if you haven’t got the right kind, don’t even bother to apply'.
While the process is trialling of would-be crew proceeds, Rick (helm) and David (mainsheet), sailing NZL1, don’t lack for top rate opposition. An impressive list of their former team-mates (in the New Zealand Challenge and in Team New Zealand) make sure that the build-up work is world class.
That list includes Matthew Mason, Robbie Naismith, Tony Rae, Robbie Salthouse, Tony Rae, Richard Meacham and James Dagg.
Other well known yachties that have been giving valuable time are Harry Dodson (Rick’s cousin) and his son Stewart, Tim Snedden, Ross Guiniven, Dallas Bennett and Simon Dickey, through their companies Benefitz and Frontend Design not only assist with general design and printing needs, but also help out on the water, as does the RNZYS Youth Team.
After learning-curve outings in Sonar regattas in Melbourne (Australia), Kinsale (Ireland), Rochester (USA) last year, Kiwi Gold Sailing has now stepped up the anti as it seeks 'a top 7' finish in the Sonar world championships, in Nova Scotia (Canada) in August. That would qualify New Zealand for entry in the Sonar class in Rio.
There will be one more similar opportunity – in the Sail Melbourne regatta in December, Andrew May
, a disabled sailor from Diamond Bay (near Christchurch) is now full time with the team and will be part of the Kiwi Gold Sailing contingent going to Halifax for the Sonar Worlds.
The 36-year-old Andrew has been sailing since childhood and won the1995 national championships in the double-hander Phoenix. That was the year before a car accident left him a quadriplegic.
This was when sailing became more a lifeline than a sport to the then 18-year-old. He readily admits that he does not know where he would be now without having sailing to turn to. Sailing, he says, provides a release from the confines of his wheelchair, a freedom he would otherwise be denied.
Today, Andrew is a Paralympic sailing veteran having raced in the Atlanta (Georgia) games in 1996 and then the Sydney games in 2000. He easily qualified for the Beijing Paralympics but was unable to secure the funding required to take part in all of the required pre-Olympic events in Europe.
So, Kiwi Gold Sailing is giving not just David and Rick another shot, but Andrew too.
The boys, with help from Steve Cranch, the invaluable 'Curly' Salthouse and new sponsor Southern Spars, have been carrying out modifications to their Sonars. Can’t tell you too much just now (or we’d have to shoot you) but, the two-boat programme certainly helps in evaluating the changes and in ensuring that they are, in fact, improvements. Major events coming up.-
2014: 16 – 24 August – Sonar World Championships, Halifax, Nova Scotia
23 – 25 November – Lake Wanaka training camp
2 – 9 December – Sonar series as part of the Sail Melbourne regatta
2015: 28 – 31 January - MOCR Regatta, Miami, Florida
Finally, we can always do with more help and if you know someone with a bit of spare time on their hands who can assist, on or off the water, please put them in touch with Celia Tel:021 320 310 email firstname.lastname@example.org