A couple of years ago a development started on the Tyrolean lake Achensee that won’t be stopped too easily: Inclusive sailing is on the rise.
Hiking, climbing, mountain-biking, sledging, snowboarding, skiing, skiing, skiing … skiing – Tirol is famous as leisure paradise for active people. What most people do not connect with this little alpine state though is sailing. This so even though sailing in Tyrol does have tradition.
For passionate sailors the place to be is lake Achensee in the north of the small town of Jenbach. From early summer until autumn the 133 meter deep lake attracts sailors with it’s thermal winds and breathtaking scenery. Due to the intense turquoise water colours in some corners, the lake might even remind you of the Caribbean – better ignore the fact that the (sweet-)water barely ever reaches the 20° mark and that the lake’s shores are situated at an altitude of 926 meters above sea level.¹ From Lasers to 49ers you can see various boat types being operated on the lake. During the last couple of years though a further boat type has established itself on the water.
Easy to sail but a challenge to race²
I’m talking about 2.4mR boats which can easily be sailed by disabled athletes. Depending on individual needs, those boats are very adaptable to their sailors. Athletes with spinal cord injuries, who utilize wheelchairs in everyday life, use hand-steering. Athletes with amputations or other limitations of the upper extremities use foot steering to manoeuvre the boat. What makes 2.4mR sailing so special however is that it is probably one of the most inclusive sports being practised these days. No matter what kind of dis-ability the athletes have, in a boat race they all start in the same field. Mental strength, tactics and knowledge of wind and gear are, so I was told, weigh more important than physical qualities.
Formula 1 without motor
Entering a 2.4mR boat for the first time is a special experience. You sit in some kind of cockpit with all control elements in front of you. The boom, where the lower part of the sail is fixed to, swings just a couple of centimetres above your head. Sailing this boat is nothing for hydrophobics as the boat is built very close to the water. Sitting in the cockpit your head is probably located no further than half a meter from the water surface, the legs (in case you have) maybe even below. As soon as the wind swells the sails and the boat starts to gather way, different sounds start to emerge. Beside the wind and the chinking of the rig you can hear a steady rippling of water. Like in the waiting room of your homoeopath.
It becomes even more interesting when the wind really starts to kick in. The chinking becomes louder and the boat travels at surprisingly high speed. Now and then water swashes into the boat and it starts to heel. This means the boat gets into an inclined position and leans toward the water surface. I do admit that this is a little scary at the beginning but it’s also pretty prickling. What helps to know is that 2.4mR boats are unsinkable and cannot overturn. So more than getting completely soaked can’t happen.
As entertaining as free sailing may be, the real properties of this sport only come to light in competitions. During races you try to always keep an eye on wind and opponents. Also you want to use the sport’s rules to your advantage to outrival the others and be the first to pass the finishline. Chess on the water. This is the true addictive potential for sailing fans. Some years ago those fans sadly had to swallow a bitter pill as since Rio 2016 sailing is not paralympic any more. Hopefully things change after the games of Paris 2024.
But back to Tirol
On lake Achensee inclusive sailing was revitalized by sailing enthusiast Reini Glanz together with the sailing club TWV. What started as a small project to make use of older accessible boats, has until today let to the biggest fleet of 2.4mR boats of Austria. This success did not come without a reason however: From the clubs president, Michael Warminger, to Reini Glanz and every single member as well as active athlete -everybody has done his or her part to make this development possible. Today it’s impossible to imagine the TWV without wheelchairs or their users.
Talking about the TWV: The clubs facilities have earned themselves a closer look. The plot, leased from church, is situated right at the lake and accommodates all the necessary infrastructure for sailing. The „Prälatenhaus“, a baroque building from the 18th century, is the core of the area.³ The huge lawn in front of the building invites on sunny days to relax and get some tan. And in case it becomes too hot, you can always jump into the lake to refresh yourself. So cold! For the physical well being is taken care of in the cafeteria … coffee, sweets or hearty meals – no one has to starve at the TWV.
Despite the „Prälatenhaus“ not being a 100% accessible, wheelchair users can reach all the important spaces easily. Cafeteria, office and parlour are all to be found in the ground floor without steps. There is even an accessible toilet with a little disadvantage for male wheelchair users – it is located in the women’s restrooms. There are worse things in life.
To everybody who can’t wait to give it a try, I recommend to grab the phone or hack the keyboard. Contact persons are Martina Eder (firstname.lastname@example.org), president of the wheelchair-sports-club RSCTU, and of course the 2.4mR coach Reini Glanz himself (email@example.com; Tel: +43 6767553430).
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