Sail Port Stephens is welcoming Sailability and Special Olympics sailors for the first time, contesting the Port Stephens Cup Regatta at Grahamstown Dam, near Newcastle, this weekend (11-12 March).
Jason Elwes, secretary for the Grahamstown Dam Sailing Club and treasurer for the Sailability program, is expecting up to 20 boats for the first sponsored event in Sail Port Stephens’ extended “Indian Summer” of sailing.
“As an interclub event we’ll have six Hansa 303s and at least four 2.3s from our club, plus several boats from Canberra, probably another two from Dobroyd in Sydney and another from Forster,” he said. “The Special Olympics people will also bring boats from the ACT and Sydney to join the local fleet.”
Their competition is open to anyone with an intellectual disability, regardless of whether they have been assessed by Special Olympics officials. Nor do sailors require a Sailability Silver Card or membership of the Hansa Association to compete in the regatta.
Conditions on the freshwater reservoir can be challenging, especially when a westerly breeze stirs up a steep chop in the shallow water near the club. Maximum depth in the dam is just 30 feet.
“To launch our boats, with the ballasted centreboards, we need at least one metre of depth to launch, so we constantly have to move our launching pontoon as the water levels ebbs and rises,” Elwes adds.
Wheelchair bound after a fall 23 years ago, Elwes will be sailing either a Hansa 2.3 or 303 in the regatta.
“I was introduced to the sport 10 years ago, having never sailed … it just came to me naturally,” he says. “I began doing the State and National titles in the Hansa boats then stepped up on the Paralympic pathway to the three-handed Sonar class. I didn’t quite make it at that level but once I got into it, I wondered why I hadn’t started when I was a kid.”
Entry fee is $10 per boat per entry, with details at Sailability Port Stephens’ Facebook page.
The 10th anniversary Sail Port Stephens, from 3-9 April, also features the NSW IRC Championships, Australian Sport Boat Association nationals, Super 12 NSW titles, Port Stephens Trophy (PHS) and Commodores Cup.