Last month, Duane Farrar and Amy Bower were part of a team that won a major sailing competition held in Chicago. If you happened to catch some of the action, you might think it was your standard boat race. After all, it was run like a standard regatta.
But Farrar and Bower are both legally blind. And their team, the Wind Whisperers, defeated 14 other blind and visually impaired sailing crews in the 2015 Blind Sailing World and International Championship.
“Winning the world championship was meaningful to me because it’s a culmination of almost two decades of hard work,” Farrar says. “It’s special because I did it with my team.”
Pulling Together as a Team
The Wind Whisperers has four members, and each person has a job. Farrar steers the boat, and Bower controls the ropes. The other two people on the crew are their sighted guides, Denis Bell and Solomon Marini. They’re also skilled sailors. Every team raced on 23-foot and 28-foot one-design boats with no modifications.
“Because I can’t see, I have to really pay attention to the way the boat feels, gauge where the wind is coming from, and listen to the sails,” he says.
That connection with the wind is what gives his team its name.
In blind sailing, teamwork is critical, and everyone needs to listen and trust each other. Bower describes their boat as “quiet and calm.” “We try not to yell even when the waves and flapping sails can get very noisy.”
Bower says the team has developed a shorthand language because they have to speak clearly and concisely. She and Farrar will often repeat the directions to make sure they received it correctly.
The team practices as much as they can. But it’s not easy to get the four of them together since they live in different areas.
Farrar lives in Boston and can more easily practice with the sighted guides. Bower lives and works on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as an oceanographer. She says most of the team practices happen when they are racing in competitions.
Finding Their Sea Legs
Bower learned the basics of sailing as a young adult and was fully sighted. She raced on her college sailing team at Tufts University. She lost her vision later in life, but she has remained active with sailing, cross-country skiing and tandem bicycling.
“I love to be outdoors,” Bower says. “I’m a problem solver, and sailing requires a lot of problem solving skills like where to put your weight to keep the boat level or how to make the boat move faster.”
It was Bower who first introduced Farrar to sailing when she and her husband organized a sailing workshop for the blind on the Charles River in Boston.
Unlike Bower, Farrar was already legally blind when he first learned sailing. Before that, he was a competitive athlete who played high school football, track and field, and college intramural sports.
“I love sailing for the sheer joy of being on the water,” Farrar says. “It gives me independence and freedom.”
(Farrar and Bower are both thankful for the SailBlind Program offered through the Carroll Center for the Blind. The program provides sailing lessons and guides for recreation and competition.)
Despite their visual impairments, Farrar and Bower have found ways to enjoy sports and achieve their goals — and that includes becoming champions.
“You have to make your own opportunities,” Farrar says. “You have to be your own advocate, and you can’t take no for an answer.”
Photos: Chris Albanis, Chicago Yacht Club (sailing), courtesy Duane Farrar (headshots)