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“Steering My Way Toward Boating Accessibility” by Bob Hachey

Read below for one man’s take on steering a kayak for the first time. Bob Hachey is a member of the Bay State Council of the Blind and has always paddled in the front of a two-person kayak. The day he recounts below was his first kayaking program with Waypoint in 2015 when he finally had the opportunity to sit in the back! The above picture is of Bob and his paddle-partner Andrea taken in 2016 on the Charles River where Bob is practicing his new-found skill for steering despite being totally blind.

From BayLines Fall 2015 Newsletter for Bay State Council of the Blind:

On a perfect July day, I embarked upon a kayaking trip with an organization called Waypoint Adventure. The boats were launched into the Charles River in my home town of Waltham. I had been on many kayak trips before and was looking forward to a relaxing time out on the water, and, perhaps a bit of power kayaking.

But this trip went far beyond my expectations. My usual trips consisted of one to two hour treks through various waterways. But something felt different right from the start on this day. Others on the trip included four persons with a variety of disabilities and a number of volunteers as well as two representatives of Waypoint Adventure. The organizers asked all of us to introduce ourselves, lead the group in a stretching exercise, and tell the group what we might like to learn about kayaking on this date. I latched onto the third of these requests. All of my time spent in a two-person kayak was spent at the front of the kayak as a power paddler. The person in the back does the steering and I’d always wanted to learn how to steer a kayak. Upon mentioning this during my introduction, I was happy to hear encouragement from the trip organizers. One of them came up behind me with a paddle with a couple of unusual tactile markings which made it very easy for me to be sure that my paddle would always be in the optimal position for best results. This was something new for me as keeping the paddle in the correct position had always been a bit of a struggle. He then showed me in detail two methods for steering a kayak. At first, I said that maybe I should let my sighted volunteer steer until we got out into open water, but he assured me that I could steer the boat right from the start.

So, off we went. I was surprised how easily I caught on to steering the boat. After I got comfortable steering the boat, they asked me to try to follow one of the other kayaks by listening to the sound of the person’s voice. At first, this was difficult; it seemed like I was not able to turn the boat quickly enough to stay on track. But after a bit of trial and error, I was able to follow the boat just by listening to the voice. I was never told when the other boat was going to turn. Within one hour, I actually mastered the art of steering a kayak! At one point, we all gathered in the middle of the river and the organizers demonstrated how to roll the kayak without falling out and how to recover if you do fall out of a tipping kayak. On the way back to our launch point, I did get in a bit of power kayaking.

From now on, when I go kayaking, I’m going to be sitting in the back and steering the boat with instructions from my wife or my sighted volunteer. My wife will be happy that she no longer needs to steer the boat. The next time we go out, I’ll be teaching her some of the techniques I learned that day. When I stepped out of that kayak, I felt like I was walking on air. For those of you who enjoy boating, hiking or mountain climbing, I highly recommend Waypoint Adventure.