Visually impaired take to the seas

Almost 200 visually impaired expert and novice sailors will take to the open water under the guidance of American Legion volunteers Saturday.

For 21 years, the Women's Ocean Racing Sailing Assn. and the American Legion have collaborated to create the one-day sailing experience for the blind and visually impaired.

The honorary sailors and their sighted pilots will take off from the Newport Harbor at the American Legion Yacht Club after breakfast and morning entertainment provided by the legion.

Once on the boats and out of the harbor, the pilots will pass control of the helm over to the participants and allow them to steer the boat with supervision, said American Legion Yacht Club Commodore Leo Vortouni.

"It's amazing how sightless people can feel the wind almost better than sighted people," Vortouni said. "You tell them how it works and they take the wheel and sail quite well, surprisingly."

Although the sailboats are piloted by volunteers from Los Angeles to Dana Point as well as members of the American Legion, the event has a wait list this year, event Chairman and Vice Commodore Frank Reinhart said.

Event organizers have had to work to balance the number of hopeful participants with the limited number of volunteers, he said.

"We still have more people who would like to come," Reinhart said Wednesday morning. "If we can get more boats then we can have more visually impaired visitors."

In the two decades of the event, Reinhart said he had never seen or heard of any accidents — all participants are wearing life vests and are under supervision.

For participants with guide dogs, event volunteers will have a play area sectioned off on a grassy area adjacent to the club.

Having skippered a sailboat for the event more than once, Reinhart said that the event is extremely rewarding for both participants and pilots.

"I remember one time as we we're going out of jetty and swells were hitting and rocking the boat, one of our visually impaired visitors could hear the sound of the buoy," Reinhart said. "She said, 'This swell feels so good'…it's just a heart warming experience."

How to Help: to donate to or volunteer for the WORSA/American Legion Visually Impaired Sailing event, call the American Legion Post 291 at (949) 673-5070

How To Help

To donate to or volunteer for the Women's Ocean Racing Sailing Assn. / American Legion Visually Impaired Sailing event, call the American Legion Post 291 at (949) 673-5070.

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