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Disabled Sailing on a Wharram

By James Wharram

About a year ago I had a new artificial knee joint fitted to my starboard leg, for recovery I've been pushing with local walks and along Cornwall's rugged coastal path to get back into ‘leaping on board’ condition! Last week I proudly pushed uphill along Lemon Street, the granite paved main street of our local city, Truro. Then an hour later, a simple stand-up from our low Japanese style seating, and a screaming pain struck my starboard knee.

For a week I had my knee lashed up and have been hobbling around as best I can! Now the lady readers of this column may snort and say "typical man!" However Emma, who now runs the Wharram dispatch office says knee damage pain is worse than childbirth (twins in her case)!! She should know, she once busted a knee playing rugby! Emma, a former 'would be' Ocean sailor and now a Cornish gig rower is a tough woman! This confession of my physical/mental weakness is to introduce the subject of ‘Disabled Sailing’ and the remarkable story of Bruno and his Tehini 'Spartan'.

Tehini on land, Bruno looking on from wheelchair
Spartan, adapted for wheelchair sailing, is launched in Durban. Note the deck cover with roll up sides and canvas toilet/shower, which Bruno can use with his wheelchair.
Tehini adapted interior
On his adapted Tehini Bruno can swing into his navigation station, bunk space and saloon, using nothing but arm power! The centre deck/platform is a level base he can move around on by wheelchair and they built a canvas toilet/shower unit on this deck (can be dismantled in severe weather).

Recently visiting our office was a sailor from South Africa, a rugged individual struggling against hard odds, with an incredible story to tell. Bruno is actually English, part Danish, but his upbringing was in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Bruno is a keen sailor, surfer and motor cycling enthusiast. Then following a motorcycle accident 10 years ago, Bruno became paralysed from the waist down and is now confined to a wheelchair.

I have a fellow Catamaran designer/builder friend in Cornwall, Darren Newton, who some years ago built a 60 ft Catamaran for Mike Browne, another sailor paralysed due to an accident. The boat was named "Impossible Dream" (See http://www.impossibledream.org.uk/idream.html). It was / is a fantastic and beautiful boat with a built-in ‘race track’ to run a wheel chair around the deck, hydraulic boarding ramp and state of the art electronics everywhere. Mike Browne sailed the Atlantic in the boat, sailing ‘single handed’ with the personal care of a trained nurse and was rightly held up as an example of a man who would not give up. The only problem with "Impossible Dream" was that it cost 1 million pounds upwards!!

People having lunch under deck shelter
Note the yellow tank for fuel and the grey canvas toilet/shower enclosure.
Tehini roll up deck shelter
The deckshelter has roll up transparent sides, so windage can be reduced in heavy weather.

Bruno did not have a million pounds, but he did want to sail. He has spent many years in Thailand and Indonesia, surfing (also whilst disabled). So at first he thought of having a boat built out there. But then he and his partner Charlotte obtained a 51ft Wharram Tehini in South Africa. Together they adapted the boat, its platform and interior, for Bruno's needs.

Bruno has family in Cornwall and visited our office recently. We were impressed with his ingenuity, having adapted his car and motorbike to disabled driving himself, with the minimum cost and complexity. His self-adapted 2nd hand car cost him £600, whereas his commercial bought wheelchair cost £2000! He also showed us photos of how he can surf.

Bruno at the helm
Bruno on motorbike with Charlotte and dog

He has already proved his abilities in sailing the boat, by voyaging from South Africa to Kenya and back.

He is now planning to sail back to Britain. Bruno is not trying to sail single-handed, his English partner Charlotte is a superb woman, together they make an efficient team. For example, she goes up the mast to do mast head work, while Bruno winches her up. They stressed how important it is for them to be sensible and seamanlike, like they always reduce sail at night, so they do not need to do emergency reefing in the dark.

Tehini under sail
Bird's eye view of Tehini deck

I recently watched an episode of ‘Top Gear’, where I saw young ex-service men that had been disabled in Iraq and Afghanistan, training to take part in the Dakar Rally, finding ways to drive and maintain their car in spite of their handicaps. At the moment there is another team of them heading for the North Pole, in company with Prince Harry.

I think Bruno’s achievement in acquiring a reasonably priced boat, modifying it with simple adaptations for his special needs, can be an inspiration to such men, who would like to continue an active and exciting life in spite of their disabilities, but do not have a high-profile Charity to support them.

Bruno is showing the way at minimum cost.

- James Wharram

Bruno surfing