Blind sailors set off around the world

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The Independent US

As a dozen or so friends and well-wishers cheered and clapped, Scott Duncan and Pamela Habek edged their boat from its pier in San Francisco and set off to circumnavigate the world - an intrepid enough challenge for any sailor but especially daunting for two who are legally blind.

As a dozen or so friends and well-wishers cheered and clapped, Scott Duncan and Pamela Habek edged their boat from its pier in San Francisco and set off to circumnavigate the world - an intrepid enough challenge for any sailor but especially daunting for two who are legally blind.

Before they left at about noon on Monday, Mr Duncan and Ms Habek estimated that their trip will take them two years - first taking them down the US west coast towards Panama, then across the Pacific and Indian oceans. Their biggest fear for the trip, they said, was that a huge tanker would be bearing down on them and they would not be able to see it.

To overcome their visual shortcomings - both have some sight but are registered blind - the couple's boat, Tournesol, is fitted with an array of navigational aids including a Global Positioning System and a 10-power video magnifier that they can use for reading charts. Should their worst fears come true and they are struck by another vessel, they have prepared a "ditch kit", which contains supplies for five days, a first-aid kit and a radio transmitter. Their boat, 32 feet long and 10 feet wide, also has a motorised dinghy and a life raft.

In a message posted on Blindsailing.com, their website, Mr Duncan, 38, a recreational sailor for the past 25 years, explained what was pushing him to make the expedition. "I would probably have undertaken this goal if I were fully sighted," he wrote. "I grew up near the beach in Santa Monica and I have always loved the water. I was a swimmer in school, and I later became a certified diver. I have always dreamed about sailing around the world, and I am a person who deeply believes that we should all pursue our dreams." Ms Habek wrote: "I am participating in this voyage to reach out to blind children everywhere that feel all alone and live by the limitations set by others."

Mr Duncan used to teach at a camp for blind children and he said that he wanted to make a statement on their behalf. "Next time you see a blind person, think, well, they're different, but I don't necessarily need to do something for them," he told The San Francisco Chronicle. Ms Habek said she had "qualms" about the trip. "I think about things like thunder and lightning, and about the idea that there's no one on the bridge of a tanker," she said.

Carl Augusto, the president of the American Foundation for the Blind, said he was not aware of such a journey ever before being undertaken. It is one of about 25 sponsors that are helping to pay the $300,000 (£165,000) cost of the trip.

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