With AbleSailNL, Sailing is for Everyone

Operating with a small team and limited budget, AbleSailNL does whatever it can to make sailing accessible for anyone in Newfoundland and Labrador.

After returning from England, where he captained a 60-foot trimaran that was quadriplegic-accessible and built a boat for a quadriplegic sailor to cross the English Channel, AbleSailNL President Matt Debicki arrived in Newfoundland and realized there was no accessible sailing program in the province.

“I figured I might as well make one,” said Debicki.

AbleSailNL was created eight years ago with a mission to cast a wide net for whom they assist in getting out on the water. According to Debicki, AbleSailNL has a variety of equipment, boats and sponsorships to assist people of all physical, mental and financial needs who seek to learn how to sail.

AbleSailNL has the qualifications and equipment needed to assist people with physical, intellectual and visual disabilities with learning to sail or continue their sailing career. Photos Submitted by Matt Debicki

“If someone has an intellectual disability, a physical disability or if they simply can’t even afford to go sailing, but are interested in it, we want to make it accessible to them,” said Debicki. “If someone has major physical needs, we’ve installed lifts at the two places that we operate so that we can transfer people on and off the boats. In addition, we’ve worked really hard at getting a fleet of boats that are specifically designed and capable of being accessible to a wide range of body types and people.”

When he was 14 years old, Debicki found himself volunteering at a centre for people with mental disabilities. These past experiences, combined with his love of sailing, gave him the passion he has today for the AbleSailNL program.

“I’ve got quite a big toolbox of skills for helping people with things from autism to quadriplegia to come get involved,” said Debicki. “I’ve also got a background of working in teen drop-in centres, so if someone is coming from a different background, I’ve got a more open scope of seeing where they’re coming from and how to help them and get them involved in the program.”

Besides Debicki, AbleSailNL has a dedicated executive team of volunteers, like its director Hayley Redmond. Redmond, who has cerebral palsy, has participated in accessible sailing programs herself. She had previously participated in an Easter Seals camp in N.L., which used to operate a small accessible sailing program in the province. After the program folded, Redmond began travelling to Ontario during the sailing season to continue to take part in sailing.

“All of a sudden, we opened up and she became massively involved because it’s a passion of hers and something she was no longer able to do without leaving the province,” said Debicki. “She’s since gone on and competed in the AbleSail Mobility Cup, which is an event where worldwide attendees come and do a regatta. So, she’s gone and competed in that representing Newfoundland.”

Besides their executive team, AbleSailNL thrives off the work of volunteers offering their spare time to make the program what it is, like Rory and Colin Murphy.

“The Murphy brothers are two sea cadets who are also sailing instructors and are a core of our volunteer group who show up when we need them,” said Debicki. “Every job under the sun; when we need something done, they show up and do it.”

A program like AbleSailNL does not thrive on the passion of volunteers alone. Like any program of this nature, the cost of equipment, insurance and other expenses eats away at the limited budget that the team runs on.

“Our hope is that all those that can afford to join with the annual membership fee, which is a nominal fee of $50, and that includes two hours of sailing. After that, we ask them to cover the cost of the instructors if they can,” said Debicki. “For those that don’t, we have sponsorship levels and fundraising events to pay for our instructors and insurance.”

Part of the way Debicki and his team hope to bring in more funding is to bring on another volunteer in the form of a treasurer. So far, the team has put out multiple ads and other notices looking for an experienced treasurer who could help the team better manage their money, as well as apply for funding.

“The biggest thing AbleSailNL needs is a treasurer; someone with good financial experience to come and help us manage our money. It would give us the ability to apply for all sorts of funding and grants that are out there,” said Debicki. “Our problem is that I’m a sailor and most of my other volunteers are sailors, and we don’t really have that skillset needed to manage the government grants and funds that we could make avail of if we had someone who had a good background with money management.”

AbleSailNL is also always looking for donations from the community. Besides donating to them through their website at ablesailnl.ca, the group has also set up an account for Newfoundlanders to donate their recycled cans and bottles through Evergreen Recycling depots. Anyone in N.L. interested in donating to AbleSailNL can enter the code “333-7777” into Evergreen’s terminal to help fund accessible sailing within the province.

“When you drop off your recycling, that money goes to AbleSail’s bank account directly,” said Debicki. “If you’re a general person bringing in your recycling, only half that money goes to you. Because we’re a registered non-profit, double that goes into our account. It’s an easy way to help out.”


Staff Writer

1 Reply to "With AbleSailNL, Sailing is for Everyone"

  • comment-avatar
    petra February 7, 2024 (11:15 am)

    In summer 2023 we took our son, who has intellectual disabilities and is non-verbal, for his first time sailing.
    Matt supported to get him on the boat. Sailing around on the lake was then pure enjoyment that was very visible on his face.

    We look forward to next summer, when hopefully we can make it to the lake a few times.

    Thank you very much to AbleSail NL, Matt, Haley and other volunteers.

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