Darcy Attas speeds his electric wheelchair past the rolled up sails, and red lifejackets at the Queen’s Quay Disabled Sailing Program office, a blue and white portable on the dock.

 

In his left hand, which is bent stiffly at the wrist, Attas holds a white baseball cap with “Power Hockey Cup” emblazoned on the front. The sailing club volunteers and instructors greet him, “Darcy! What’s goin’ on, Darce?”

 

Attas tosses the cap at the program manager, Monica Sze. “It’s for you,” he says. He’s wearing an identical one over his short brown hair, and a big grin crosses his thin face.

 

Born with cerebral palsy, 25-year-old Attas has sailed at the club for more than a decade. An avid wheelchair hockey player in the winter, he comes to sail three times a week in the summer. It’s one of the only times he feels free. Independent. In control. Today he’s agreed to take me out on the water.


He wheels down the dock, and the instructors use one of the four metal hoyer lifts to get him into the boat. The metal contraptions seem out of place on the dock. Usually used to help the disabled into bed or a bath, they don’t normally symbolize fun.


As soon as he’s in, I totter onto the hatch behind him. It’s a hot day, with no wind. After an instructor pushes us away from the dock, we slow down and start bobbing on the water.
“Normally I’d be flying,” Attas tells me.


We’re in one of the club’s six specially designed Martin 16s. With all the sailing controls gathered in one spot, Attas can pull in the lines and steer manually. He started out using the “autohelm,” controlling the boat with a joystick, but he’s gotten stronger -- another attachment allows you to sail by inhaling or exhaling through plastic tubes. The seats are low, so there’s no need to duck when the boom swings across, and a heavy keel prevents the boat from capsizing.


We finally get some wind. The rattle of the sails and splashing water supplants the drone of the city. I ask what it’s like to sail alone.


“I can think,” he says. “I reflect about how we have to take life one day at a time. We can’t rush things.”


The wind lets up and he pulls the main sail tighter, but we start bobbing again.


“Looks like the wind died,” I remark.


“No,” he answers, and signals with his head, “it’s just over there.”