Will Valentine sailed at Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating for the first time about four years ago. Since then, he and his family have returned at every opportunity.
“If you want to improve anything about yourself, you should go,” Valentine says.
CRAB is the only adaptive sailing program with access to the Chesapeake Bay. The organization primarily serves people with disabilities and veterans, as well as kids from underserved backgrounds, running free sailing opportunities on the Bay.
As a sport, boating isn’t always accessible, especially for people with physical disabilities. The organization provides adaptive equipment like bucket seating, modified sail systems and a joystick to steer the boat. CRAB’s staff and volunteers are also available to assist with boarding and getting off boats.
“It can be very challenging because of mobility issues for people to get on and off a boat,” says CRAB director of marketing Rebecca Gonser. “So it’s not very accessible as an industry without making some accommodations.”
But the health effects of sailing, she says, are clear.
“The action of being on the water engages muscles and moves the body in therapeutic ways,” Gonser says. And she points out mental health benefits as well: “We all can relate to the benefits of having a day outside in the fresh air, looking out far into the distance versus a screen or four walls.”
For Valentine, CRAB’s Family Sail Sundays offer a chance to get out of the house. The sailing has gone “better than I expected,” he says, especially when he was able to steer the boat himself.
In addition to family trips, CRAB also hosts races like the annual Don Backe Memorial CRAB Regatta, which honors the organization’s founder.
But CRAB participants are by no means expected to come with knowledge of sailing. Staff and volunteers coach each participant to meet their personal goals. They make sailing a learning experience as well as a fun day out on the water.
Gonser says a story she heard last month illustrated that teaching dynamic perfectly.
“A parent stopped by to let us know that her child, who had started in our program, has now advanced beyond us and is now sailing with peers out at Annapolis Sailing School,” Gonser says. “We hope to see young kids who are developed in our program get the confidence they need so that they can take the skills they learned in an adaptive sailing program and then possibly transfer those to an inclusive sailing program.”
CRAB is also growing. It’s currently based in Sandy Point State Park, but is in the process of building a new boating center in Back Creek — a center that will become the first fully adaptive boating center in the country. When it opens in the spring, Gonser says it will offer licensing as well as safety classes.
But to the Valentine family, it’s the people, not the facilities, that show off CRAB’s strengths. Volunteers and staff are professional, attentive and recognize the family when they return.
“The people at CRAB make me feel welcome and try to make my experience the best,” Valentine says.
Wayne Valentine, Will Valentine’s father, agrees.
“This experience has given me inspiration that angels actually do exist,” Wayne Valentine says. “They’re just not two feet tall with wings. They’re human beings that walk this earth and look just like a normal person. But in fact, they’re truly angels.”