First-time racer takes the trophy

First-time yacht racer Susan Morris from Northland swapped the joys of fishing and dolphin-watching to scoop the Ability Trophy in a recent national yachting regatta on Wellington Harbour.

Susan had gone to Wellington ahead of the regatta for some pre-race coaching. It paid off for her and also for second-place winner Matthew Henderson from Lower Hutt.

Fourteen teams competed for the Ability Trophy for sailors with intellectual disabilities or acquired brain injury, who sailed with a companion crew.

The Sailability Wellington Trust hosted the 2020 Hansa Class National Championships at the end of February. The regatta was held at Sailability Wellington’s Seaview base in Lower Hutt, in association with the Lowry Bay Yacht Club.

It was the biggest national regatta so far with 60 sailors from around the country and Australia participating in the Championships, which also included the Blind National Championships.

The IHC Foundation contributed $10,000 to two pre-race coaching sessions. Fourteen Sailability coaches from throughout New Zealand took part in a two-day ‘coach the coaches’ session run by Tim Coltman of Sport New Zealand. The second session of pre-race training for sailors was led by World Sailing accredited coach John Sanderson of Sydney. It attracted 18 sailors, of whom 16 were people with intellectual disabilities.

Sailability is an international programme providing sailing opportunities for people with disabilities. While some sailors are capable of sailing solo or singlehandedly, others need support in the form of an additional crew member, who may also have a disability or be able-bodied. Competitors raced in two classes of boat – HANSA 303s and Liberties.

“My 303 sailor and skipper Susan Morris was stunned by what happened, as that was her first yacht race ever,” says Chris Sharp, who crewed with the Ability Trophy winner. “She has been sailing with me for very non-competitive experiences. We often catch fish while we sail and play with the dolphins. It couldn’t get further away from racing, but with a bit of excellent coaching, this result really stumped her.”

Sailability Wellington spokesman Don Manning was thrilled with the sailors’ achievements. “The speed of the people with intellectual disabilities getting around the course was no different than any of the others,” he says.


The Nelson team, the only competitors from the South Island in the 2020 Hansa Class National Championships, fielded four sailors with intellectual disabilities. Each of them had a companion crew member, who was able to instruct them and operate the ropes on the boat, but not control the steering of the boat in any way. 


This story was published in Community Moves. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.

Read the full issue of Community Moves online here.