Sailing is often considered one of the most exclusive sports in the world. When people think of sailing, they think of well-dressed people going to ritzy yacht clubs, sailing their expensive boats. Dissatisfied with sailing’s reputation, there has been a growing movement to make the sport more accessible. Dedicated to making sailing more viable to all people, RS has been a leading figure in the inclusivity movement since its founding, creating boats for people of all ages and skill level, at a price point that is far more obtainable than their competitors. RS’ desire to build a community of inclusivity extends beyond creating budget-friendly dinghies; designing and building the RS Venture Connect SCS.
The RS Venture Connect SCS makes it possible for almost anyone to go sailing. There are many boats that have been modified for para sailing, however, the RS Venture Connect SCS brings a new level of designed-in features, engineered adaptability with simple plug and play options including sip/puff electronic control to configure the boat for most disabilities.
RS’ commitment to supporting and growing the para sailing community is seen in their response to IPC’s decision to not reinstate sailing into the program of events for the 2028 Paralympic Games. “RS Sailing will continue to support the growth of inclusive sailing globally by maximizing activity within the RS Venture Connect Class,” RS stated in a response released this February. “In many ways, not being included in the Paralympic Games opens up some exciting opportunities for the sport of sailing as far as developing innovative competition formats that can be delivered through a truly international events series.”
RS Sailing has and always will continue to be a champion of inclusive sailing, and the experience we have gained in 25+ years of building racing classes that engage a wider community that, purely the sailors, will be put to good use in growing inclusive sailing for sailors with a disability. Sailing is an amazingly liberating experience. The award-winning RS Venture Connect, with its Seated Control System (SCS) makes it possible for almost anyone to go sailing – and that means a lot to us.
We met with four individuals who are equally as committed to making it possible for anyone to go sailing. Their use of the RS Venture Connect allows individuals with a wide range of disabilities to get out on the water and experience the thrill of sailing.
Christian Buhl runs California Inclusive Sailing (CIS), a program that began in 2015, based in Newport Beach, California. A grassroots volunteer-based charity that promotes inclusive outdoor recreation the California Inclusive Sailing motto is, “Harness the wind, soak in the sunshine and lift your spirits.” They embody that motto throughout their day-to-day activities. In the last year alone, CIS has been able to work with veterans from local VA Hospitals, Special Olympians, visually impaired individuals, and people with various levels of disabilities. One of the highlights of Christian’s time with CIS came last spring when one of his boats entered the Newport to Ensenada Race.
Sailing from Newport to Dana Point, Christian sailed the 17-mile race with JP Van Houden, who has battled Parkinson’s Disease for 20-plus years. The race was a challenging one, with 30 knot breeze and 6-8 foot seas. “We definitely weren’t sure if we were going to finish the race,” Christian said. “We went out there reefed and had to sail upwind for thirty minutes just to get to the start line.” Their perseverance paid off however, and they managed to finish the race in just over two hours, winning the Portsmouth Perpetual Trophy. Describing how the race felt onboard 4U Christian chuckled, “we got completely drenched, sailed on a starboard gybe the entire time and surfed across the finish line, proudly flying a spinnaker featuring a wheelchair symbol.” He gives the boat a lot of credit for their success, “the ability to adjust the boat to the conditions was amazing and the center seat option made it easy for JP to sail, plus the auto draining meant that the boat stayed dry, or as dry as it could given the conditions.” 4U’s success just proved to many what Christian and those at CIS have always known and promoted, anyone can sail.
That same sentiment holds true for Chuck Tantillo, who has been working with disabled sailors in the Kansas City area since fall 2021. An avid sailor growing up, Chuck learned how to sail from his dad. Around the same time, he began volunteering at the Capper Foundation, whose mission is to build abilities in and empower people of all ages living with disabilities. Speaking on this experience Chuck said, “I was so impressed and inspired by their attitudes – they were just like any other kid, hyper-focused on figuring out what they could do.” Several decades later, after years in the corporate world, Chuck decided to return to his roots and combine his passions from his youth. After testing out different boats, Chuck decided on the RS Venture Connect. Part of his reasoning was the clear thought that was put into making the RS Venture Connect, “there are a lot of boats that have been modified for disabled sailors,” Chuck says. “But this is the first that we’ve used that is clearly purpose built.”
Chuck’s RS Venture Connect was delivered in September 2021; since then he has been able to work with multiple disables skippers and sail in five different races. For Chuck, the next step is to continue to grow the program and awareness for adaptive sailing. “I live in a part of the country where it’s unusual for even able-bodied people to go sailing, which makes it both more challenging and rewarding to work with disabled individuals, many of them who never thought they would have the opportunity to participate in a sport like sailing.” The design of the RS Venture Connect SCS is really what makes it possible. By leading all of the lines to the control line console Chuck is able to stand behind the skipper and coach them without touching a line. “It is such a gratifying experience when we get back to the dock and the person I’m sailing with says, ‘I forgot about my wheelchair’ or ‘I didn’t feel like I was disabled.’ The RS Venture Connect SCS makes it possible for disabled sailors to go out against able bodied sailors and beat them.
Chuck is not the only one bringing adaptive sailing to the Kansas City area. A group of sailors at the Jacomo Sailing Center are using the RS Venture Connect to introduce disabled individuals to sailing. Jim Haddock is the Jacomo Sailing Center’s Equipment Manager and the person responsible for maintaining the RS Venture and ensure that it is going fast. When asked to describe how they use the boat Jim said, “Our goal is to give people lessons; we do take people for rides, but our main priority is getting more people into the sport, and potentially even getting them to compete.” Arguably the greatest catalyst behind the Jacomo Sailing Center’s adaptive sailing program is Mike Fredholm. A quadriplegic for most of his life, Mike has never let his disability slow him down. He has traveled and sailed in events around the world.
For Jim and Mike, the biggest asset to increasing adaptive sailing in the area is the RS Venture Connect. “The real magic of the boat is the seating and positioning,” Mike said. “As a quadriplegic I don’t have much trunk control/strength, so the seat placement, along with having all of the lines run back to the tiller is a huge benefit.” RS created the RS Venture Connect as a purpose-built, adaptive sailing boat. Instead of building a boat that has the option to become an adaptive boat, the RS Venture Connect is designed with para sailing in mind. That is not to say however, that the boat cannot be enjoyed by all. “What I really like is that, with only one other person I can go for an afternoon sail, learn the boat, learn how to sail,” Mike said. “The RS Venture Connect SCS allows me the same experience as any other person and allows us to be part of the larger sailing community; sailing is one of the few things that you can bring able bodied people together with disabled people and they are really on a level playing field.”
In a sport where exclusivity has too long been the name of the game, they are proving that there is more similarities than one might expect, “I like sailing because it brings together curious people that aren’t afraid of a little bit of hardship and being disabled is frequently about hardships and being curious,” Mike said. Over the years, there are several other parallels that Mike has found between the two communities; “people are often nervous around disabled people, but the average person is usually apprehensive around sailors as well, but you spend enough time together and you become far less nervous.” And for Mike, Jim, Christian and Chuck – as well as the entire RS Sailing team – that is the main goal, to create a community where no one is nervous, and everyone feels welcome to come and sail.