MR. BACKE: Can everyone hear me? Well, someone wave to me if you can't hear me. I have a tendency to lose volume as time goes on.
My name is Don Backe. I am the executive director and cofounder of a sailing program on Chesapeake Bay called Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating.
MS. [JAN] TUCK [BOARD CHAIR]: Don, we have a lip reader on the Board. If you could say --
MR. [J.R.] HARDING [BOARD MEMBER]: She's moving.
MS. TUCK: Or, actually, she's coming down. MR. BACKE: Oh, okay.
MS. TUCK: So, if you could wait just a minute.
MR. BACKE: All right.
MS. TUCK: Let her get down there.
MR. BACKE: That's fine. The rest of them, if they can hear me, I'm fine.
Anyway, Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating, we go by the acronym CRAB, and I am the big crab or the head crab. But my interest has been basically in sailing craft and basically in the smaller sailing craft. And my participation in this committee represented that interest, and my interjections came from that perspective. And I think you need to know that.
Some things need to be said about sailing craft which are different about these large vessels. I'm delighted to go on a large princess-style ship because it is just hunky dory compared to the challenges we face with smaller craft and sailing craft.
Sailing craft, in a way, are quite a challenge for people with mobility impairments particularly because balance is important. And, if you think about it, sailing craft are asked to do things that your power craft are not.
For instance, one of the absolute facts of sailing craft, especially monohulls -- that's sailing -- single-hulled sailing watercraft -- is that they heel. So, in fact, if they're small, the minute you step on them, they're out of ADA. They're bobbing up and down at the dock. They're perilous just getting on them, especially if the day is rough. So the dynamics are very challenging to people with mobility impairments.
I have -- my first 52 years of my life I was able-bodied, and it's only been the last 17 that I have been in a chair. But I was fortunate to sail in, you know, passenger vessels, freighters, to the Orient, to overseas, and so I have a lot of experience as an able-bodied person on large vessels.
Also, I ocean raced during that same time period in sailing racing craft like the Annapolis-Newport race and things like that which took me offshore in boats in the 50-foot range.
Once you become a chair member, you need to think about some things about these sailing dynamics. It is very important for people who are considering this whole accessibility question to realize that a sailing craft has its engine on the outside. The sails which drive the craft are -- the propulsive forces come from the outside, and they are up on the top of the boat.
The things which could -- here's an analogy to help you see it. If you think of an engine as crankshafts and camshafts and things that are whirling around, that's what's going on on the deck of a sailing vessel when it's sailing.
The sheets are sweeping the deck, the booms are going across. There is a lot of implicit hazard in all of the dynamics of the engine, of the sailing engine that's driving the craft.
So it's very important for people with disabilities and people who do not have them to understand that these dynamics considerably imperil people who do not have good balance, can't see them coming or hear the preamble noises that an experienced person on a sailing craft would know.
You hear a little creak, you know that the boat is just about to do a flying jibe. And a flying jibe is the kind of thing that takes your head off when the boom goes swinging by. And so there's a lot of danger here. So my voice is uttered on behalf of not allowing people who don't know much about sailing in the first place to think they're going to a safe place.
You know, that's one thing about ADA is there's a security in it. When you go into a building and you're a mobility impaired or a disabled person, you trust that, you know, that your interests are going to be served somewhat. You know there's refinements and there's details that are, you know, problematic a little bit, but in these little boats, you could die if your judgment errs.
So there's a common sense dimension to the smaller boats. And I don't want to get into this argument about where the line is drawn on what is small sailing craft and whatever.
But we kind of came up with a number, 80 feet. Anything below 80 feet, the problems of the motion and the quickness of the motion and the arc and everything else is -- really requires a purpose-built boat.
There are a lot of ways to solve accessibility for mobility impairments if you sacrifice a lot of the economics and the space things that, you know, have viable economic concern for commercial vessels. If you wanted to give up a lot of the moneymaking aspects of the thing and you said this boat is purposely built for disabilities, you can do it on a small boat all the way down.
Our boats, our program boats are 20 feet long. They're monohulls. They're keel monohulls; they can't sink. They can be knocked down. I mean, these boats, in a strong wind, have had this mast knocked flat in the water, but you are pinned in a seat with a lap and chest belt and the boat won't sink. So you're safe.
It's pretty hairy and pretty scary, and if you're not an experienced sailor, you think it's the end of the world, but it isn't. You're going to live, the boat is going to float, and it's going to come back up.
So those are some factors that everybody should know about the bottom end of small craft, especially sailing craft. The boat is jumping up and down, and you're applying ADA. You know, there's 12:1 or 50:1, it's just you can't do it. This is ridiculous.
The other thing I think that people should think about is the disability -- the continuum -- what I call the disability continuum.
Every disability has a continuum. I mean, I have friends who were blind from birth, totally blind. I have friends who are legally blind. They can see somewhat, and they navigate around. They're not able to drive, but they're legally blind.
And then, of course, once there's a line there somewhere where it says you're legally, and then all the rest of the population which wear glasses or the people who have perfect vision are the other end of the continuum. So you've got -- just in terms of vision, there's a continuum. This is true about every single disability, mobility impairment, hearing. People in wheelchairs, you go -- you take the situation of a quadriplegic versus a paraplegic versus a person who needs the wheelchair some of the time, can walk to it from their car or take it from the back of their car and lower it down and get into it, and then there are people who can't do any of that stuff. And then there are people who, you know, need assistance to breathe; you know, they're carrying around their breathing device.
So there's a continuum on spinal cord injuries or mobility impairments, and there is in hearing. So that should always be kept in mind. So that really argues against single shot solutions.
And when you get into small craft, the human adaptive capacity is much more called upon. And it usually calls for assistive care or some kind of willingness on the part of the people around.
So our program heavily utilizes volunteers and therapists to assist getting people on and off our boats and stuff like that. Our clientele find joy in the experience, and they are cared for very much. The ratio of caregivers, et cetera, is very high in these smaller craft. That should be borne in mind.
That's another reason why, at some point, the unknowing person with a disability who comes along on a boat-for-hire should be able to get onto it. There must be a reasonable size where they're going to be -- without a lot of education, without a lot of caretakers, they should be able to get on a boat and expect to go somewhere like most people, but the boat's got to be big enough so that they're not hurled around.
I have been at sea when I was able-bodied where it was so rough in a 450-foot freighter that we went to bed. It just wasn't worth getting thrown around. And I was -- you know, I was in top shape, running 25 miles a week, 50 pushups and all that stuff, and I just gave up. This 5,000-ton craft was being thrown around like a puppy dog.
So, you know, there's peril in it for able-bodied people who are skilled. The captain in this particular boat, a Swedish vessel, he just climbed in his bathtub and slept in his bathtub.
So even large craft under severe conditions require judgment and common sense. And, of course, on big ships, or even in the smaller ships, the captain is responsible for what happens. And if the captain doesn't know what they're doing or doesn't understand the needs of people with disabilities, they should not be going on these bouncy little vessels because they're going to get hurt. That's something you need to keep in mind.
There are some other things that should be considered is that mono -- the idea of monohulls versus multihulls. Monohulls are built in all sailing monohulls, which are single-hulled sailboats, basically heel. On one tack, they're heeling this way. Any time the wind is ahead of the beam, the vessel is called upon to heel in response to the forces, and I won't get into the physics of it.
Multihulls, which consist of catamarans and trimarans, three-hulled and two-hulled vessels, do not heel much. They heel very little, and they can be designed to heel. If they're not real sporting ones, they almost don't heel at all. They can be made very stable.
So the multihull has a lot to suggest itself for people with mobility impairments and for -- particularly for wheelchairs, because they have large, flat decks. For the length of the vessel, they're usually beadier. They have flat areas, and they don't heel. The motion can be severe if the waves are, but still nothing like a monohull.
And then, finally, I think something should be realized is that the numbers we're talking about, the number of people who participate in this are surprisingly small.
I was a sailor before I became disabled, and I got immediately into disabled sailing right out of the hospital, but I was surprised at the number of people who partook in this thing I loved so much that I wanted to see people with disabilities share their joy that I found in it. And I found real, genuine rehabilitative inspiration in returning to sailing after getting out of the hospital. It was magical. And I don't want to get into that story either.
But the number of --
MS. TUCK: You want to wrap it up?
MR. BACKE: I'm sorry?
MS. TUCK: You want to wrap it up? Your time.
MR. BACKE: Okay. Thank you. I just call your attention to that because the numbers are not great in terms of the ratio of people who use boats and the people who are mobility impaired and with disabilities who actually use them. So there is an economic problem in spending a lot of money and then not finding people using them. That's really all I have to say. Thank you.
MS. TUCK: Thank you.
Doug? Just a minute, Don.
MR. [DOUG] ANDERSON [BOARD MEMBER]: Don, I had one quick question for you. You had indicated that you were thinking that there was a line at approximately 80 feet for sailing craft where you thought it was more conducive for people with disabilities. Does that have to do with the stability or features of such a craft?
MR. BACKE: It has to do with the stability, and it has to do with the width of the decks, the side decks, you know, from around the cabin, and also the angle of the shrouds and stays and sheets and stuff. In a bigger craft, you can actually get your -- you can have boom gallows, and you can actually get the travelers and stuff up high.
MR. ANDERSON: Okay.
MR. BACKE: On a smaller boat, you wouldn't. So that's the reason.
MR. ANDERSON: Okay.
MS. TUCK: Great.
MR. ANDERSON: Thank you.
MS. TUCK: Anybody else. Thank you. Pam? Hang on just a second, Don.
MS. [PAMELA] DORWARTH [BOARD MEMBER]: Again, in my area, we have a sailing squadron, and it's a team for anybody that's disabled. And we have a lot of paraplegics that are on that team, and those sailing vessels are accommodated. I guess we'd have to check into them to see if they meet some kind of criteria. Are you aware of those?
MR. BACKE: I've been to most of the programs around the country. There are programs in all four corners of the nation, including the middle of the nation. We're really talking -- you're talking about purpose-built boats, and I think that, as I say, a purpose-built boat can transcend all of this because the people around a purpose-built boat have a lot of experience with people with disabilities. They know the perils.
What I'm really concerned about is the people who are basically dealing with the able-bodied population --
MS. DORWARTH: Okay.
MR. BACKE: -- not understanding the needs --
MS. DORWARTH: Right.
MR. BACKE: -- of people with disabilities and putting them in peril just through ignorance.
MS. DORWARTH: Right.
MR. BACKE: No malice at all, but they just don't understand what these people can and can't do. And not only that, a lot of the people with the disability don't understand --
MS. DORWARTH: Understand. Right.
MR. BACKE: -- the peril that they're getting into in this gyrating, jumping vehicle that is so much fun. There are people who just laugh, you know, on the television; you know, they're just, I want some of that. But, unless they're tied down, they're going to be catapulted into the sea and eaten by the fishes.
MS. DORWARTH: So it needs to be designated.
MR. BACKE: Yeah.
MS. DORWARTH: Yeah.
MR. BACKE: The purpose-built and the programs that serve the population, they basically understand the challenges --
MS. DORWARTH: Right.
MR. BACKE: -- and the people are well taken care of. I'm just kind of worried about this kind of assumption, the bland assumption where you can just go anywhere and not be aware of the perils both ways.
MS. TUCK: Thank you, Don.
MR. BACKE: Yeah.