Sailing for Recovery

towards boat.jpgABOVE: John O (RIGHT) walks down the gangway towards the Harmony II two-person yacht for another great day on the water! PHOTO BY SIAN STANLEY

By Warren Heggarty 

How Sailability and Flourish Australia support John to pursue his interests

Getting out into the open air and doing something physical is good for us. It’s good for our physical health and it’s good for our mental health, too. What about sailing on the harbour? It’s not just billionaires who do it. John O, who accesses Flourish Australia’s service at Leichhardt, goes sailing every second week, thanks to an organisation called Sailability. John is keen to share his experience with you and encourages you to give sailing a try, too!

Many people with mental health issues have their lives and interests interrupted and stop doing the things they enjoy. Flourish Australia aims to help people reconnect with those interests, or even find new ones!

Jason Balmer, who is a peer worker with the Leichhardt service, says it all started when John was talking about the things he used to like doing years ago but had stopped doing. He mentioned that he used to go rowing on one of the many rivers that flow through Sydney’s national parks. John also likes to go swimming and walking along the beach at places like Bronte, where he enjoys having a coffee. He finds it relaxing. 

Give it a try!

This led to the idea of linking John up with Sailability, a sailing school that gives people with disabilities the opportunity to learn how to run craft on the water. Soon, John went with support worker Sian Stanley down to the wharf at Dobroyd Point near Five Dock in Sydney’s inner harbour Sian Stanley, to give it a try. 

Jason recalled to John, “I remember when you came home from the first sailing session how you looked really, really happy!” John had to agree! 

What exactly is involved? John said, “They showed me how to set up the boat. It’s a two person boat with two sails. The instructor goes with me in the boat. I learned how to steer to the left and right and how to use the ropes. I learned how to tie the double knots.”

We asked John where he sails to once he gets going. He said, “We sail out all around the harbour and spin around the buoys then come back. Then we have a break and do it again. There are about four other boats there as well.”

What sort of gear do you need? “Before I go out I put sunscreen on, and a hat and some sunglasses. To stop the sunglasses falling off I tie a string around them. I also wear a life jacket and there is a circular lifebuoy as well.”

John agreed when we suggested it might be good to try even bigger sail boats in the future!

sailingABOVE: John and his instructor set sail from Dobroyd near Five Dock, NSW. PHOTO BY SIAN STANLEY

Sailing isn’t all John does. “I like basketball and I used to play soccer. I am a South Sydney (Rugby League) supporter.” 

John has been going to the library a bit more lately and read the book Rain Man. He has also recently received a DVD of the TV show Cosmos. He takes part in the sessions with music therapist Gina, which they hold in the private group home where he lives. He likes to play the guitar and the djembe drums. Then there are regular visits to the three households where his mother and uncles and cousins live. His family are very supportive of him.

“My sister lives overseas, in London. She comes home at Christmas.”

Jason tells us that it’s great that John can assist his mother with the shopping when he visits her on Fridays. Strong ties to family can be an important part of recovery. Every year, with the support of Flourish Australia, John will spend a few weeks with his Mum at home.

John is also a member at Flourish Australia’s Buckingham House, where he takes part in regular outings and social activities.

BELOW: John O (LEFT) in the back yard at home in Petersham, near Sydney NSW, talking to peer worker Jason Balmer, who is based at Flourish Australia’s Leichhardt service PHOTO BY WARREN HEGGARTYJohn O and Jason B in the back yard.jpg

About Sailability 

Sailability’s mission is, “to facilitate participation in sailing and boat usage at social, recreational and competitive levels on inland, estuary and ocean water, for people with disabilities regardless of age and level of disability.”

NSW Sailability’s patron is Paralympian Liesl Tesch AM. Along with crew partner Daniel Fitzgibbon she won gold in the SKUD18 class at the London Paralympics in 2012. Prior to that she had represented Australia many times in Wheelchair Basketball.

John accesses the Dobroyd branch, near where all these pictures were taken. There are a number of other branches under Sailability NSW. Here are some details…

Neil Anderson, Vice President Sailability NSW


Russell McLaren, Executive Assistant Sailability NSW



Flourish Australia Leichhardt

152 Moore Street LEICHHARDT NSW 2040

1300 779 270

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