SAIL TO PREVAIL by Bill Ramos My older brother Dicky taught me to sail many years ago. We had old photographs with me in a little lifejacket about 6 years old on my family's wooden Beetle catboat with my mother in the background looking understandably nervous. Learning how to sail at a early age was one of the advantages of growing up on the water in our beautiful New England seaport town of Bristol, RI. For his whole life, Dicky has loved sailing. He raced at the Bristol Yacht Club, worked a few summers for Pearson Yachts, and then did service in the US Navy off the coast of South Vietnam in the early 1970's. Returning to Bristol to practice dentistry with our father, he bought a Cape Dory Typhoon 19', then a Pearson 26' and a Pearson 35' - both beautiful Bill Shaw designs. Almost every weekend April through October, and every summer vacation Dicky and his family would be on water. I have worked for Shannon Boat Company also here in Bristol, RI for the last 35 years. The best part of my job has been spent on the water, whether sea trialing a new Shannon or helping an owner on a delivery. While just about every day on a boat is a good day, last summer I spent some of my most memorable time on the water in a while. About 20 years ago Dicky was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and he soon after had to stop sailing. His illness forced him to retire from the practice of dentistry about 10 years ago. He now is immobile and confined to a wheel chair. Dicky has gracefully accepted the physical limitations of his condition with no complaints and has retained his mental acuity and sense of humor. ﷯Two summers ago, Dicky told me he was interested in the Wednesday night sailing series at Sail to Prevail in Newport, RI but needed an experienced sailor to accompany him. Sail to Prevail was founded in 1982 as a non-profit organization to help developmental disabled children and adults. As the name indicates, Sail to Prevail focuses on a series of sailing programs like a summer camp for kids recovering from cancer that gets them out on a fleet of sail boats. Thanks to generous benefactors and a dedicated group of fund raisers headed by CEO Paul Callahan (who is disabled and learned to sail at Sail to Prevail), they have a fleet of specially equipped Independence 20' sloops designed by Gary Mull and built by Catalina Yachts. The program operates out of Fort Adams on Newport harbor. I agreed to go with Dicky for the racing program but with deep apprehension. I could not imagine how Dicky at over 250 pounds could get moved out of his wheel chair and into the boat safely and worried that if the boat flipped I was either going to drown trying to save him, or watch him drown even with life jackets. That first afternoon about 5PM the staff of Sail to Prevail met us and with obvious experience used lifts to get Dicky and the other disabled sailors from their wheelchairs into the cockpits of the Independence sloops. While Dicky has lost the use of his legs, he still retains some of his upper body strength and could help to get himself into the specially designed helmsmen's seat. You really don't want to think about it too much, but it takes a lot of effort to pull teeth, so Dicky always has had arms like Popeye the Sailorman. A member of Sail to Prevail went along on each boat, and a high school student and nationally ranked junior racer from Portsmouth, RI named Tyler Fleig was selected for our boat. Also accompanying us was Maria Luz, Dicky's wonderful full-time caregiver. Maria is from the mountains of Columbia and dresses with a Latin American flair, so it is not a hardship for Dicky to have someone helping him who looks great in booty shorts and a tank top. Maria had never sailed but was the driving force in getting Dicky to go to Sail to Prevail as she knew how much sailing once meant to Dicky and thought this was an activity he could do and enjoy. Tyler immediately put everyone at ease and let us all know that Dicky was the captain and Tyler was there in an advisory capacity only. As we approached the start line I realized I had drastically underestimated the skill level of the other skippers and did not anticipate the fierce competition. There were three other boats too close to us for comfort at the favored end of the line crossing with us as the starting horn sounded. We instantly were racing full bore with Dicky steering and making all the command decisions while Tyler provided us excellent tactical input, racing rules advice, sail trim help, etc. We earned second and fourth place finishes with Tyler's help. As we headed back exhausted yet exhilarated I was relieved that we had lived and ecstatic to see the smiles on the faces of Dicky and Maria. We went to dinner, and over drinks rehashed the good, bad and the ugly of each race like racing sailors do. Over the rest of the summer we returned to race every week, always asking for Tyler as our Sail to Prevail crew. I found out that some of the other skippers were accomplished sailors living with disabilities who raced in both national and international events but who never talked about what cruel twist of fate had put them in a wheel chair. There was the heartbreakingly Hollywood handsome young Marine I guess injured in combat overseas who, in some mysterious fashion, always had only beautiful women for crew on his boat. . There was the older gentleman who drove himself each week in a car with hand controls. There was a female teacher who raced with, what I imagine to be the same dedication she gave to her students. Like in all Wednesday night race fleets, there was the king of the fleet who won most of the races. Dicky, Tyler, Maria and I enjoyed a great sense of achievement when we beat the "king" and won a race, but we had even more satisfaction when someone protested us rounding a mark - we bad. When we came in last place, in good humor we told Maria that it was all her fault but we would still let her race with us next week - maybe. One of the other highlights of the summer was Dicky and Tyler teaching Maria to sail on our way in and out of the harbor. It is a magical moment when someone like Maria new to being on the water realizes that "if I steer this way the wind in the sails will make the boat go that way.” Just as important a high point was the absolute splendor of summer evenings in Newport, with beautiful sunsets and amazing boat traffic from 125' motor yachts to racing catamarans to classic America's Cup 12 meter sailboats to families just like Dicky's on their Pearson 35's enjoying their summer vacation on the water. Every week all summer the Sail to Prevail Wednesday night races were the highlight for us. When I could not go once, Dicky's son Jon went along and loved it. During the races on the last week we could feel the first chill of the approach of autumn. As we sailed back into harbor I knew I would always remember these Sail to Prevail race nights spent on the water with Dicky, Maria, and Tyler. Talking to Walt Schulz about Dick’s great experience with Sail to Prevail it was no great leap to pick up on an issue that we had discussed many times before. “How could we expand on the sailing experience for disabled people beyond only an hour or so on a boat.” There was no boat anywhere that could accomplish this formative, yet important task. After a few twists and turns, Walt came up with the solution- the “Warrior 32”. After running the concept and drawings past people with firsthand experience dealing with the needs and requirements of the disabled and making some changes, I’m convinced that we have finally cracked the cypher that has kept so many special people away from the beneficial joys of sailing. Bill Ramos

<BACK