There’s one very special boat among the 94 yachts sailing to Hobart on Thursday, with some remarkable people on board.
faceboat Sailors with disABILITIES is a 16-metre Lyons 54 carrying a crew of 16. Its newest recruit is Grace Kennedy, 19, who was born with spina bifida and spent her life wheelchair-bound.
When she gets on the boat on Thursday morning, she’ll leave her wheelchair on the dock as she tackles the tough 1160km blue water ocean race.
It’s a huge leap of faith for the young woman from the NSW South Coast, who is being mentored by Albert Lee, a double amputee sailing veteran with four Rolex Sydney to Hobart races, as well as circumnavigating Australia with Sailors with disABILITIES, to his name.
Sailors with disABILITIES (SWD) was founded in 1994 by David Pescud to help disabled and disadvantaged young people gain more confidence to tackle life’s challenges.
They’ve competed in 16 Sydney to Hobart races since then and, remarkably, won the PHS division in the deadly 1998 Hobart, which devastated much of the fleet.
This race will be Pescud’s 21st, sailing as navigator, with Kirk Watson, who is blind, at the helm in his 9th race. The crew has plenty of experience, but Grace is one of five first timers taking part.
Pescud chose Grace for the Hobart because “she’s engaged with life”.
He’s watched her blossom, gaining both strength and confidence during a year of training for the race.
“On the water she leaves her disability behind and becomes the real person. Not the Grace with spina bifida but Grace the strong, young sailor with fire in her belly,” Pescud said.
Grace now understands what Pescud meant about sailing being the great leveller: “In the middle of the night everyone’s blind and in a howling gale everyone’s deaf. And I can most identify with the bit where he says that in huge seas everyone’s scuttling around on their bum!”
SWD is based in Sydney and runs three yachts that in 2013, enabled 3000 young people to take part in its program. The charity’s ambition to help more is limited only by its funding.
They currently have one corporate partner, Xylem Water Solutions, and seek more, as well as private philanthropy.
To raise funds to compete in this year’s Sydney to Hobart, SWD launched ‘Face Boat’. For $25, tax deductible, donors will have their photo on the hull of the yacht for 12 months.
So while you’ll get your face wet sailing the high seas, you won’t get seasick.
There’s room for nearly 3800 photos on the hull, so SWD hope to raises nearly $100,000 from the program. Currently, close to 600 people have signed up.
“We wanted to do something that’s easy and fun and lots of people could support,” said SWD spokesperson Donna Pilling. “And for $25, it’s quite accessible. A whole family or the staff from a business can be involved.”
At Grace Kennedy’s school, Vincentia High, where she plans to complete her HSC next year, 20 classmates raised $500 to support her in the Hobart race.
Waiting at Constitution Dock to greet Grace will be 11 of her supporters, including her mum Nicki, dad Phil and teacher Sandy Clark, who first brought Grace to Sydney to catch the eye of SWD.
Business Insider will be following Grace and faceboat Sailors with disABILITIES as it races to Hobart, posting regular updates here.
If you’d like to support SWD with sponsorship or tax deductible donations, contact them on 8079 5997.
Sign up to get your face on the boat here.
Follow SWD on Twitter @SwDsydney.