| Wojtek Radwanski |
ABOARD THE KAPITAN BORCHARDT, Spain (AFP) – Standing at the helm of a three-masted schooner, Alina Koralewska is having no trouble at all staying the course to Barcelona despite being able to see neither compass nor stars.
The 59-year-old Pole is blind and is steering the “Kapitan Borchardt” on the Mediterranean Sea with the help of a talking global positioning programme.
“Course 248, left six degrees, left four degrees,” the electronic voice feeds into her headset, telling her when to turn the helm and by how much.
“I love sailing at night. The sound of the waves, the smell of the sea,” says Koralewska, a psychologist and masseuse from the Polish city of Opole.
“I asked the deck officer to warn all the fishing boats that I was steering. So far I’ve managed to not ram into any of them,” she says.
Koralewska boarded the Polish schooner at the Spanish seaport of Alicante along with around 30 others from Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — half of them blind or visually impaired.
The six-day trip took them to Ibiza, then Majorca before anchoring in Barcelona. It is the brainchild of the Polish foundation Imago Maris, which provides visually impaired individuals with the chance to experience the sea and meet people from around the world.
“Blind people are often withdrawn. Here they open up to others, they feel part of a group. We notice the change sometimes at the end of the trip,” says Maciej Sodkiewicz, captain of the schooner and vice-president of Imago Maris.
“The blind crewmembers are required to be 100 per cent involved,” says the professional sailor whose mother is almost blind “but lives a normal life, prepares dinner for the whole family and keeps the house in order”.
“It’s a good school of life. Our youngest sailor, Kuba, learnt how to peel potatoes here. It’s the housekeeper who does it back home.”
More than just a series of chores, the journey is also a dream come true.
“You have the feeling of freedom. It shows you that you can do whatever you set your sights on,” says Andrei Skirins, a tall, hefty Latvian who manages a chain of gyms.
“Ever since I lost my sight, I’ve been dreaming of going sailing. I derive a lot of satisfaction and energy from it and I learn a lot.”
All aboard say they would do it again.