'Sense The Wind' Illuminates The World Of Blind Sailors

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Matt Chao rigging mainsail at Japan Blind World Championships


Negotiating the world without sight is a prospect that many of us struggle to imagine. We may assume that the absence of sight might make the world a smaller place, a place in which freedom of movement is restricted.

“Sense the Wind,” a new hour-long documentary by New York-based filmmaker Christine Knowlton, reveals a world in which those restrictive assumptions are cast to the four winds.
The film will be screened free of charge on Saturday, April 8 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Brooks Free Library in Harwich, in association with Pleasant Bay Boating, followed by a Q & A session with Knowlton.
Six years in the making, “Sense the Wind” follows the journey of four blind sailors as they train and compete in national and international regattas, racing across the open water by feel. Nancy, Inky, Philip and Matt sense the breeze on their faces or tension in their tillers, finding their way by listening to the pattern of waves hitting their hulls and sails luffing in the wind. The film is making its way around the globe to an enthusiastic response, receiving a Humanitarian Award at the Socially Relevant Film Festival New York and screenings across the United States as well as in Japan, Poland and Canada.
Producer/director Knowlton knew she wanted to explore the world of these adventurous sailors the moment she became aware of it.
“When I heard the words 'blind sailing' mentioned by U.S. Sailing Association Paralympic Head Coach Betsy Alison, I was driven to meet these adventurous sailors, to learn more and share this unique sport with others through film,” Knowlton says. “In the process of production, commissions for sailing highlight videos followed.”
Knowlton created videos for nonprofit organizations, including the U.S. Disabled Sailing Championships and the Robie Pierce One-Design Regattas. The experience was something she knew she wanted to share with a wider audience.
“The blind sailors have all told me how through the challenge of competitive sailing, the confidence and skills they gained helped them in every area of their lives, personally and professionally,” she explains, “and the valuable community found among other sailors and passionate volunteers enriched their lives.”

From the first presentation of “Sense the Wind” at the 2015 Blind World Championships in Chicago and at each of the 40 preview screenings, the response has always been incredible, Knowlton says.
“Whether a sailor or not, able or with a disability, any age or background, everyone finds inspiration and positive life messages from the stories in the film,” Knowlton says.
In regattas across the U.S. and abroad, visually impaired sailors learn a skill which many of us would do well to emulate: they learn not to fear what they cannot see. Sighted guides describe the racecourse and give tactical race advice. On the water disability is no longer a focus. As the four sailors in Knowlton's film train and compete at the Blind Nationals and press toward Japan’s Blind Sailing World Championships, we follow the evolution of these individuals over several years. They advance as sailors through life’s turns, including medical challenges, marriage, retirement and the vicissitudes of their sport, which is still new and evolving. Over time they help shape the future of blind sailing. They also challenge us to consider what is possible and to re-examine what disability means.




“Sense the Wind”


At Brooks Free Library, Harwich


Saturday, April 8, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.


Sponsored by Pleasant Bay Community Boating


Admission is free