Slideshow: Impossible Dream steers a course for adaptive sailing

A 60-foot catamaran designed for people with disabilities docks in Menemsha.

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Windemere residents Mary O'Rourke and Ron Green on the Impossible Dream. – Betsy Burmeister

The Impossible Dream is a 60-foot catamaran. It’s an impressive enough looking craft, but what makes it unique is that it is universally accessible. It was created by Mike Browne, a paraplegic, who had a dream of creating a deep-water sailing vessel that is fully operational by a person in a wheelchair. Today, the operation of the Impossible Dream has been taken over by Shake a Leg Miami (SALM), one of the most accessible community boating centers in the world. Their stated mission is to utilize Impossible Dream, to engage the global community, and inspire people with disabilities, wounded soldiers, disadvantaged youth, and their families to improve their independence and quality of life.

Last summer, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Impossible Dream took its first extended East Coast voyage. It included a visit to the Island thanks to Chilmark sailor Charlie Shipway’s friendship with Harry Horgan, founder of Shake A Leg, who was paralyzed from an auto accident at age 22.

The boat returned Monday evening, July 25, and Mr. Shipway and his Synchronized Sailing team greeted it with a welcome performance upon its arrival in Menemsha.

I had the pleasure of greeting the boat from the dock and meeting Capt. William Rey; Susan Horgan, operations manager for SALM; Deborah Mellen, founder of Impossible Dream; mixed media artist David McCauley; plus first mate Evan Duffy. I enjoyed a tour that included taking the hydraulic wheelchair lift below deck to check out the accessible sleeping quarters and bathroom, and back on deck I got a look at the galley with everything reachable from wheelchair level.

Deborah Mellen’s involvement with SALM led her to purchase the Impossible Dream in 2014. Ms. Mellen, bursting with energy, wants the world to make all watercraft accessible for everyone, and knows from her own life’s journey, beginning sailing only after a car accident left her paralyzed, that having the freedom to experience life on the water can be a game-changer for anyone who is physically challenged.

Also on board was Susan Horgan, who reconnected with her childhood crush, Harry Horgan after his paralysis, and never stops smiling and giving hope to so many through the amazing SALM programs and outreach.

Another crew member, David McCauley, who was paralyzed after a swimming pool accident in 2008, founded The Rise Up Gallery and Little Haiti Laundromat Art Space, both which provide therapeutic art workshops and more. He told me this is the longest he has not been in his studio. Mr. McCauley is on this journey to connect with 30 artists who get a canvas made from the old jib sail to finish for an exhibit in October 2016 during SALM’s 25th anniversary ceremony in Miami. Island artist Jessica Pisano is a contributing artist.

One of the people on hand to greet the Impossible Dream was Richard Bleustein. Mr. Bleustein sailed on the Impossible Dream in 2015 and got to visit with everyone in Menemsha during their recent stay. He said he  looks forward to sailing with SALM this coming winter in Florida. Mr. Bluestein is also a founding board member of Island Housing Trust, and has been sailing since he was five years old.

While visiting the Vineyard, the Impossible Dream took 11 Windemere residents and volunteers sailing on Wednesday afternoon for three hours. Some of the Windemere residents had formerly been sailors, and returning to sea allowed them to relive their fond memories. On Thursday, they took out 10 Camp Jabberwocky campers and their assistants for a few hours, none of whom had a chance to adventure out during last year’s Impossible Dream visit. Both groups look forward to the catamaran’s visit next summer. Check out Camp Jabberwock’s blog about their sailing adventure at bit.ly/jabberwockysail.

You can follow the Impossible Dream’s journey, and if you’re interested in meeting up with them, you can get in touch at impossibledream.us; learn more about the amazing programs at Shake A Leg Miami at shakealegmiami.org, and check out David McCauley’s artwork, programs, and gallery at riseupgallery.com. If you are interested in supporting adaptive sailing on Martha’s Vineyard, connect with the Menemsha Yacht Club at menemshayachtclub.org, or for more information, contact Charlie Shipway at 508-331-0218 or cshipway@verizon.net.