Hanscom member uses his sight, skills to give back

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Foster
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
Back in 1979, a one of a kind program was born in Newton, Mass., that over the years would change the lives of many, including one Hanscom employee.

SailBlind was established by the Carroll Center for the Blind and is the first organized sailing program in the United States specifically created to provide instructional and competitive sailing to blind and visually impaired persons. Harry Berman, project support for the Joint STARS program, has been volunteering as a sighted guide with SailBlind for 12 years. Although Berman was unable to follow his dream of sailing until after college, he's making up for any lost time now.

"I grew up in Nantasket Beach, Mass., and started watching boats sailing on both the ocean and bay when I was very young," said Berman. "Unfortunately, my family owned a summer-time restaurant, and consequently, from the age of 10 through college, I spent all my summer time working there and never really had time to pursue my dream of sailing. I finally started sailing after college at the Boston Sailing Center where I starting racing and even brought some of the club's boats back from the Bahamas, where they were brought for rental during the winter months. I have been sailing ever since."

Berman became interested in SailBlind after he first heard about the program and was intrigued by the notion of a blind person being able to sail.

"After my first visit to the SailBlind program, meeting and talking with the blind sailors and hearing from them about the 'feel' of the wind, I was hooked," Berman said. "I knew I would enjoy sailing with them -- not only teaching them what I have learned about sailing over the years, but actually learning from them things I never even imagined about."

According to Berman, the main objectives of SailBlind are to provide blind people with access to sailing, introduce them to basic and advanced skills of sailing and promote opportunities for developing these skills, give them additional confidence in sport and other areas of their lives, provide the chance to take part in community clubs, enhance awareness among the sighted population of blind people's sailing capabilities and to provide opportunities for sighted people to become directly involved in assisting blind people in achieving their full potential.

Berman is one of two sighted guides that accompany the sailors on each of the boats. One guide is the race tactician and also provides guidance on the appropriate trim of the jib, or foresail, to the visually impaired sailor who is controlling that sail. The second sighted guide provides directions on keeping the boat at the proper point of sail to the sailor who is driving the boat.
SailBlind teams practice at Courageous Sailing Center in Charlestown, Mass., and while there are 20 sailors involved in the recreational portion of the program, there are approximately 15 members more interested in the competitive side of the house.

"This summer our two boats medaled in the National Blind Sailing Championships in Newport," said Berman. "After weekly practicing for the last three summers, they are anxious and ready to prove their skills and compete against their peers from around the world in the 2013 Blind Sailing World Championship in Japan this coming May."

SailBlind competed in their first international regatta in New Zealand back in 1992, as well as the seven subsequent Blind Sailing World Championships held all over the world.

Berman may have only been intrigued by the program at first, but it did not take long for him to grasp the importance of giving back to the community, while doing something he loved so much.

"After talking with some of the blind sailors, I understood that the skills they pick up from sailing transcended the sport itself. They were really only blind from a visual perspective," Berman said. "I could see that it provided confidence in not just the sailing but also all other aspects of their lives. After my first sail and experiencing the incredible highs and lows as a team that racing provides and seeing that out on the boat we were all essentially equal members of that team, I realized that sailing in the SailBlind program was something I had to do."

For both the visually impaired sailors and those that sail with them, being out on the water is more than just a hobby; it is their true passion and one in which they all take great joy and pride.

"The results sought are all around enjoyment and satisfaction, building bridges between the sighted and blind and sharing the joys of one of the most popular recreational activities in this country," Berman said.

For more information, or to donate to SailBlind, visit www.Carroll.org/fundraising, click on the "Network for Good" link, then specify SailBlind in the Designation box, along with the word Hanscom to show base support.