EAST started life in 1992 with the aim of providing cruising opportunities for those with visual impairments, the first cruise following in 1993. With the success of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics gold medallist Kevin Curtis became involved with EAST and introduced Squib keelboat sailing, starting what would become fleet of these sporty keelboats. These fine little boats performed very well over the years, and remain very popular with sailing clubs all over the country however there were a few shortcomings when sailing with disabled sailors.
To overcome these shortcomings a different class of Keelboat was introduced to the EAST fleet between 2006 and 2020, this is the Sonar. While some Squibs are retained for training, the Sonar is the boat we now use for our sailing sessions.
EAST Squibs underway
Mandeville underway during a sailing session
Boarding Sonars at Levington
One of our sailors at the helm of Tantrum in 2023.
The Sonar was initiated as a commission from the members of the Noroton Yacht Club of Darien, Connecticut in the United States and was designed in Canada by Bruce Kirby in 1980. Built mainly from fibreglass, the boat has a wooden trim, a fractional sloop rig with aluminum spars, including a tapered boom, a raked stem, a reverse transom, an internally mounted spade-type rudder controlled by a tiller with an extension and a fixed fin keel. It displaces 2,100 lb (953 kg) and carries 930 lb (422 kg) of lead ballast. Around 860 of these boats have been built.
Why did EAST choose the Sonar?
The Sonar is slightly larger than the Squib with a higher seating position for the crew of six and has a small cuddy cabin for stowage; apparently this can also be fitted with two berths though this arrangement has never been explored at EAST! The Sonar also has the advantage of being easier to hoist sailors in and out of the boats from the pontoon which is a great bonus here at EAST. The heavy lead ballast allows for greater stability in the water. The Sonar also has a great Paralympic pedigree with Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis, Tony Downs, and Ian Harrison winning a gold medal at the Atlanta Paralympic Games in 1996 while sailing a Sonar. Dr Kevin Curtis is now Vice President of EAST. This was the year sailing was introduced into the Paralympic Games as a demonstration sport; however in 2000 it was formally included at the Sydney Paralympics and Sonars were still in use at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.
We currently sail with a fleet of five Sonars the first of which was purchased in 2006 and named Echo, Mirage and Dorsal followed in 2017, with Tantrum, Mandeville joining the fleet in 2020; some of our boats have been used by the GB Paralympic Team during Paralympic events. Today Paralympian Dr Kevin Curtis is the EAST Vice President.
(L) Team GB celebrate winning gold at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996. (R) Kevin Curtis seated right during the award ceremony.
The story of "Dorsal"
Dorsal underway on the River Orwell in the sunshine
Alan Hazelwood's first boating memory was staying with his uncle in Ramsgate when he looked out of window and saw the yachts sailing nearby and said "I want one of those"; he was around 5 at the time. Alan got his first boat in his early 30s and never looked back! In his later life he had to sell his last boat when his beloved wife Doreen had a serious stroke that paralysed her right side. Alan was her sole carer for 10 years before she sadly passed away and was left not knowing what he should do. Alan's Son-in-law Richard Harrison was volunteering at EAST and suggested he should come along for a sail, Alan said "but I’m not disabled", to which Richard said I’ll race you down the garden, at which point Alan replied "Fair Point"!
Alan then began his long association with EAST sailing every Tuesday. He wanted to leave EAST some money to buy a Sonar in his will but Richard suggested why not buy one now so he could sail in it too! They both conducted thorough research, and found a suitable Sonar on the South coast which was for sale. Alan purchased the boat and arranged transport to Levington.
After lots of ideas Richard made the suggestion that they combine his wife’s name Doreen and his daughter’s name Sally; hence the name "Dorsal" was given to Alan’s bequeathed boat to EAST. He had many happy hours sailing in Dorsal, before he sadly passed away in 2022 at the grand age of 94.