Colin's Sailing History

Colin first tried sailing at 15 with a friend on a Skate as crew (read counterweight on a 10’ plank) learnt nothing about the tactics of sailing but had fun on that very fast little yacht.

Below is a modern Skate, note, no trapese harness!

At the age of 20 Colin damaged his spinal chord in a hang gliding accident in 1977, leaving him reliant on a manual wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Colin subsequently took a snow skiing in a sit ski in 1988, won the 1991 Quad Skiing competition at Hotham and then added water skiing to his sports until the late 90’s when shoulder injuries (snow skiing) and a broken hip (water skiing) made him decide to focus on a sport he hadn’t considered possible - sailing.

In about 1995 Colin saw Access dinghies, tried the little 2.3 (main only) and helped start “Sailing for Everyone” at Albert Park Yacht Club sailing the larger Access 303 (main and foresail) eventually as Class Captain.

The weed and water problems of Albert Park led to trying it at St Kilda but it was not a really suitable venue.

Docklands then became “Sailing For Everyone’s” home from May 2000 and officially opened by the Minister for Major Projects on 6 September 2000. Originally given space in Shed 5, till it was demolished, then Shed 3 until early 2004 when a move was negotiated with Docklands to Shed 9.

Colin has been President of what became Docklands Sailability for the last three years. Its protected but deep waters and safety makes it a great training venue for beginner sailors. They have five Access 2.3s, one Access 303, one prototype Access Liberty, a safety boat and a C-crane lift for lifting the keels and some sailors into and out of yachts, as well as Colin’s Liberty sponsored by the Docklands Authority (Vic Urban). Sponsors and grants enable Dockland Sailability to offer the opportunity of trying sailing to anyone from the community, including disabled sailors, at minimal cost without the need to purchase equipment.

In January 2003, “Sailing For Everyone” and Sailability Victoria merged to jointly promote sailing for everyone, including the disabled sailors, using the Access range of yachts and other suitable yachts. There are many sailability clubs across Victoria and Australia catering to the wants of many people, with or without disabilities.

Competitions are based purely on levels of sailing ability, not on disability (except for the Liberty Worlds) with full integration in all classes from beginners to the elite.

In November Colin joined the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria in Williamstown, only 1 km from where he lives, to hopefully gain more open water sailing experience in his Liberty and to become involved with a full Yacht Club where he could socialise and learn from more experienced sailors.


In 2002 he came third in the Victorian titles in the open 303 class, did not compete in 2003 as he was testing the prototype Liberty, came second in the 303 open in 2004 and recently in 2005, second in the open Liberty Class and first overall for the servo sailors.


Colin travelled to the Nationals, held in Canberra, from 1999 till 2003 to compete in the open single Access 303 progressing, over the years, from coming last to 10th out of a fleet of 22 and the highest with any hand disability (as a quad, Colin has no useful grip in either hand).

In Belmont NSW in 2004, competing in his full servo Liberty, Colin came second in the Liberty Open Class (beaten by a manually steered yacht), first in the Liberty Servo Class and first in the International Class.


In the inaugural IFDS Single Person World Championships, using Liberty yachts, held at Blairgowrie, Australia in January 2004, Colin came fourth in the Full Servo Division and learnt a lot about World competition at that level. Photos

He hopes to improve on this position in the next World Championships to be held in Italy on the Mediteranean in October 2005.


2005 IFDS Single Person Dinghy World Championship & Sabaudia's Cup International Regatta, 1-10 October 2005 to be run from the Circeo Yacht Vela Club, San Felice Circeo, Latina, Italy.

Australian National Championships Docklands 2006 (part of the Volvo Series visit to Docklands).


The Liberty is designed and made by Chris Mitchell of Access Dinghies, Sth Dandenong Victoria, Australia. It is a single seat displacement hull, 3.6 m long and 1.3 m wide with a 65 kg drop in keel.

Colin was used as a test sailor for the Liberty prototypes as the hull and sail plans were developed as I was the right weight and was happy to push the yacht yet comment upon the comfort from a wheelchair user’s point of view (he also tested the prototype 303 many years before) for Chris the designer.

The Liberty has main and forsail/jib that are both capable of being roller reefed for differing conditions and can be sheeted by separate electric winches. The steering can also be electrically driven and in Colin's yacht’s case it can sail with full servo control of sails and steering, manual steering with electric sail control, or fully manual.

In servo mode the whole sailing process can be controlled by one small joystick so is a very easy yacht to sail for someone like Colin with very limited hand and arm control. We have successfully tested three Liberty yachts off Williamstown in over 35 knot winds and 2 metre rolling waves and the yacht stays dry even heeled to over 50 degrees, so is a very safe and dry yacht to sail.

For photos and article regarding that test sail, see "Wind and Waves".