Frensham Pond Sailability member Talan Skeels-Piggins has achieved a remarkable and inspirational feat at the annual Round The Island race.
Talan, who is paralysed from the chest down following a motorcycle accident in 2003, purchased a 27ft yacht, Mercurian, in November 2021 with the target of entering her in the race.
He only just made it!
Mercurian needed extensive repairs and was not put back on the water until June 17 – just eight days before the round-the-island race – with the engineers putting the engine together late on the Thursday evening before the race on the Saturday.
Talan, and his crew of three, set sail from Portsmouth Harbour at 6.10am for the start line off Cowes, with more than 1,100 other yachts entering the event.
It was the first time Talan had sailed the yacht, and the first time his crew had been on it.
Not only did they start the race at the front of the Purple Group (the last group to start) but finished in an excellent seventh place in his class and 169th overall on handicap.
The splendid result for Mercurian highlights the achievements of her skipper Talan, and his inspirational sailing.
At the same time, a team of four Sailability volunteers took part in the race in the 26-foot yacht Duet.
There were in the same Purple Group but started at the back with only three other yachts behind them.
Over the next ten hours and 30 minutes, Duet nibbled away at the competition and ended ahead of 18 yachts to finish in 24th place in their class and 372nd overall on handicap.
For them, the sail around the Needles was the highlight of a memorable race.
The race itself was a real challenge and both crews experienced a great variety of British weather conditions – strong gusts around the Needles, confused seas, high snappy and rolling waves and various changes of wind directions added to the tension and excitement.
Mercurian managed to hoist her spinnaker though it wasn’t up for long as a squall came through, rendering it impossible to control.
Wind conditions for Duet, some way behind, were different and the spinnaker was never hoisted.
There was consistent close racing with boats in the same group but also with other groups higher in the pecking order.
Total concentration was the name of the game throughout the day with both crews really enjoying the experience.
Sailability is regularly based at Frensham Pond, operating on Thursdays and Saturday mornings between April and October. It provides opportunities for those with disabilities to learn to sail and to develop their skills.
As a charity, it depends on the help of volunteers and is urgently seeking to recruit some more people to help provide these invaluable opportunities.
As this race shows, there are always opportunities for sailors and volunteers to enjoy sailing in different places as well as Frensham Pond.
For more information about Frensham Pond Sailability, see the website www.frenshampondsailability.org.uk or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
By Michael Buttler