Sloop makes sailing and racing possible for people of limited mobility
A delivery trip in deepwater, when a boat is transported to its new owner by a pickup crew that is just learning how she behaves at sea, can be exciting and sometimes scary. Sudden storms, unexpected gear failures, quirky shipmates — all have provided the sea stories that sailors love to tell.
But the delivery from Miami to Galveston this summer of the Starship, a newly refitted Gulfstar 50 Sailmaster sloop, didn’t produce any harrowing tales.
“It was a nice trip, but not much of a sail,” crew member Laurence Wall said. “Once we rounded the Keys into the Gulf, the wind was on the nose, a light westerly the whole way. We hardly touched a sail till we got to Galveston Bay.”
But nothing went wrong, and the fishing was good. The crew had sushi with almost every meal, Wall said.
Vagaries of wind and weather aside, the ease of this delivery was due in part to the unusual ease of the boat. She is a fast sailboat, but she also is equipped to be easy to use. That’s the key to her story, and her new life.
As Mike Janota, skipper on her delivery, tells it, her previous owner was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer and given only about one year to live. A man of some means, he set about his “bucket list,” with cost as no object.
The man’s list included sailing around the Gulf of Mexico, so he bought a boat. Large at 50 feet, but manageable, with comfortable accommodations and a good turn of speed off the wind, Starship nearly filled the bill.
After the initial cost of about $200,000, he proceeded to re-rig her entirely, with electric motor-driven winches for sheets and anchor, roller-furling gear on both mainsail and jib, and state-of-the-art navigation systems. Her 135 horsepower Perkins engine is fully able, as it did on Janota’s delivery trip, to cross the Gulf against adverse winds. The improvements cost another $240,000 or so, but no one was counting.
As luck would have it, though, new tests and a second opinion pronounced the owner’s cancer to be at an early stage, completely operable and not terminal. The bucket list lost its urgency, and he decided to sell Starship.
He took the boat to Miami and put her up for sale. But at the price it would take to recoup his investment, the boat found no takers. Finally, his tax attorney offered a solution: donate the boat to a nonprofit, and deduct it from his tax bill.
Janota and David Gaston didn’t hesitate to accept the donation on behalf of Turning Point, a nonprofit operating out of Sea Scout Base Galveston on Offatts Bayou. Headed by Gaston, who himself is wheelchair-bound, Turning Point offers, through adaptive sailing, the experience of sailing and racing to people of limited mobility.
“It didn’t take much adaptation to fit this boat for mobility-impaired sailors,” Janota said. After his experience with her delivery trip, he and Gaston made plans to sail Starship offshore with a mostly wheelchair-bound crew.
“That’s never been done before,” Janota said.