Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB) was established in 1991 to teach the physically and developmentally disabled the joys of sailing. They operate out of Sandy Point National Park in the Chesapeake Bay and run the organization from an office in Annapolis, Maryland. The program is modeled after one originated by the National Ocean Access Project in Rhode Island and is affiliated with Disability Sports USA.
Don Backe, who has lost the use of his legs and partial use of his arms after an automobile accident in 1987, is the executive director of CRAB. An avid sailor, he was drawn to the program and became involved in its leadership. He is a strong advocate for the disabled and brings his love of sailing and enthusiasm to the position.
Four sailboats, specifically modified for the disabled, make up a fleet known as the Freedom Independence 20. The boats are custom-designed for stability and include features that enable the mobility-impaired to operate the boats more adeptly. The vessels have two seats that pivot with both lap and chest belts for safety. The masts are freestanding, the jibs are designed to be self-tacking and the mainsails are lazy-jacked for ease of navigation and to reduce the physical stress of sailing.
The docks at Sandy Point National Park have boarding ramps that are modified to be wheelchair accessible. Sailing lessons covering basic navigation and seamanship are free and offered one Sunday each month from April through October. The Sail Free program is open to any aspiring sailors interested in learning to sail. In addition, CRAB also organizes a number of racing events.
CRAB relies primarily on volunteers to teach sailing, maintain the boats, and to carry out the daily operations of the organization. Many of the volunteers are themselves disabled. Funds are provided by the donations of and sale of used boats, gifts by individuals and corporations, club memberships and rentals and charters of their sloops.
On April 18, 2012, a young sailor named Matt Rutherford, crossed the finish line at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge after a 25,000-mile non-stop trip around the Americas. His accomplishment raised over $100,000 for CRAB. He had learned about the organization while working aboard a ship named Godspeed and made a decision to use his sailing skills to help support their program.
Like Matt Rutherford and Don Backe, all those who donate their time and energy to promote sailing are motivated to demonstrate that sailing offers independence, freedom and the knowledge that there is no limit to what you can do if you are determined to do it.