Disabled Sailing Association of Ontario

Rick Hansen shows his Sunbird to Brent Foote

Accessible Sailing in Canada

At the 1986 Vancouver Expo, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher donated a British-made Sunbird sailboat to Rick Hansen in honour of his “Man in Motion” world tour. In 1988, Rick presented the boat to Sam Sullivan, who subsequently used it to help found the Disabled Sailing Association of BC (DSA). Within a few short years, DSA had a total of 16 specially adapted Sunbird sailboats in three British Columbia Chapters; Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.

A breakthrough came in 1993, when Sip 'n’ Puff controls were added to one of the Sunbirds. This technology opened the world of sailing to “high quads”; those with little or no upper body mobility. Through pneumatic switches they can control the boat. Although the Sunbird remained functional, the equipment and safety modifications required for Sip ‘n’ Puff technology affected the performance of the boat and prompted DSA to search for an alternative.

Today, at the heart of the program, is the Martin 16 sailboat; a vessel designed and built in Vancouver that is becoming the standard for disabled sailors everywhere. The Martin 16 is unsinkable, maneuverable and fast. It can be easily equipped with the Sip 'n' Puff system, which allow even quadriplegics to sail the Martin 16 unimpeded.

Accessible Sailing in the Province of Ontario

It all started with Danny McCoy and Steve Alvey on a non-stop road trip late October of 1998 to Lake George, New York to pick up a Martin16 sailboat. They drove through the night and talked and talked to keep themselves awake. During this trip they talked about the dream of building a disabled sailing program in Ontario. And why not start it by hosting the biggest regatta for disabled people in the world. At that time Mobility Cup was the largest disabled sailing championship in the world.

The first Mobility Cup was in 1992. At that time the event was predominantly held in Vancouver. In those days the championship alternated between Calgary and Vancouver. Mobility Cup had never been hosted in eastern Canada.

To make the concept a reality, the next step was Danny flew to Vancouver to meet with Sam Sullivan to discuss the possibilities. Danny learned that the whole purpose of Mobility Cup is to seed and create new programs, so the mandate next was to build a program - because if you want to host Mobility Cup you have to have a program.

In 1999 DSAO's flagship program QQDSP was immediately created to offer affordable access to sailing on Toronto’s waterfront for more than 100,000+ disabled people in the Greater Toronto Area with mobility impairments.

In 1999 Mobility Cup was brought to eastern Canada for the first time, hosted by DSAO and held at National Yacht Club. The excitement and enthusiasm that this event generated within the Toronto disabled community sparked the desire for programs where disabled Ontarians could sail.

The realization that our lakes serve as a great healer and equalizer inspires people with mobility impairments to leave their wheelchairs and enjoy the freedom of wind, sun and spray.