I am on a boat: Chris Collin's seaward adventure aboard the Impossible Dream Catamaran

ALL ABOARD!!! Ahoy there matey’s and welcome to the Impossible Dream Adaptive Catamaran! Yes, you heard that correctly Motion Composites readers. Our New England Territory manager, Chris Collin, had the chance to live the dream this past month on a nautical adventure with the captain and crew of an adaptive boat adventure.

We met Chris at the PVA games in NYC this past August 2021 when he first gave us the news, “Yeah my buddy is a brand ambassador for the Impossible Dream catamaran, and he called me up to see if I wanted to board the ship for a multi-stop, multi-port trip starting in Portland, Maine and heading south towards a port in Onset, Massachusetts.” As you can imagine, we knew this was a once in a lifetime adventure for our colleague so, of course, we wanted to follow it up with his incredible story while aboard the boat. “I have never driven a catamaran of this size (58’) so I am a little nervous but really excited at the same time” you could hear the anticipation in his voice while speaking through a big smile.

Photo : Chris Collin

We also know this is a big project for the end-user community and it is a great opportunity to experience such a thing, so we wanted to share with you some of the ends and outs of adaptive boat life as well as how you can get involved!

Before we begin— A few FAQs answered* 

First, for our readers with zero nautical experience, we are going to answer a few questions you may have:  

What is a Catamaran?

A catamaran is a sea-bearing vessel, which is usually propelled by the wind via a sail. Most catamarans also come with a motor attached for days when the wind is not strong enough to accelerate the vessel.

The main difference between a catamaran and a boat or yacht is that it has 2 hulls (pontoons that keep the boat afloat and balanced) connected by a bridge deck. These hulls make the catamaran flexible, versatile, and gives it the ability to sail in shallower waters than a traditional boat or yacht.

I have never driven a catamaran, what is the learning process?

If you have never driven a boat before, a catamaran is one of the easiest vessels for beginners; with the help of a professional, you can learn the basics to sail a catamaran within a day. Basic moves such as a tack (a change course by turning a boat’s head into and through the wind) or jibe (another way of changing direction, in which you bring the stern of the boat through the wind) will allow you to steer the boat on open waters while maintaining the course of your voyage.

There are more advanced moves in sailing but aboard The Impossible Dream Catamaran, you will be under the supervision of 3 trained professionals. In short, to enjoy this trip you will have a half-day learning the boat layout, basic steering function, and how to take proper care of the boat through daily upkeep (all under the guidance of the staff, no stress).

Is it safe?

Catamarans are much more stable than traditional boats, and so people are less likely to fall overboard, which does make them safer in this aspect. They are larger, more stable boats, and so in most situations this will make them a “safer” sailboat than a comparably sized yacht or boat. Again, you will also be under the supervision of 3 trained professionals.

Are boats generally made accessible for wheelchair users**?

The Impossible Dream has been specifically designed for wheelchair users. This is what makes the Impossible Dream Catamaran such a big project. It is spreading the awareness to the community that this is an area of leisure that needs to be addressed in terms of accessibility. Most boats are not made specifically for end users; dimensions of doorways, skid proof flooring, railing for safety, and general deck spacing is very important features to consider when adapting a traditional boat to fit the needs of a wheelchair user. Unfortunately, most accessible boats built today must be done as a custom order.

The Impossible Dream Catamaran          

Why its unique — The Inspiration behind the design**

The designer of the vessel, Nic Bailey, is a renowned British designer and naval architect who also designed the pod-like capsules of the London Eye. While building the vessel, they ran into a few challenges that took all Nic’s expertise to overcome:

  1. Sightliness— On the boat, there are many small changes in levels. So walking around the boat, one is always adjusting its sightliness level. As a wheelchair user, your eyes are in a fixed position. Therefore, when designing the deck and the gangway, Nic kept that in mind. As a result, the flow when circulating on the boat feels very organic, each part flowing into the next.
  2. Lifts between the different levels of the ship — In this process Nic made sure that the floor could be used as a lift to help get the person and their wheelchair between each level of the deck safely.
  3. Getting from the boat deck to the dock—Initially Nic wanted to use a crane lift but shortly after came up with an easier solution; A lift that adjusted to the level of the dock before extending out a rolling ramp for users to board.

Photo : The Impossible Dream's website

The Impossible Dream Catamaran Today***

Since its humble beginning the Impossible Dream has been venturing the world’s oceans under the tutelage of a few different owners and captains. But the goal has always remained the same; to be dedicated on raising awareness for universally accessible catamarans. The design sole purpose is to break down the barriers, improve wheelchair users' quality of life and allow access to the boating world for people with disabilities. Today this is being achieved via the Transatlantic route they have been traveling.

The 58-foot-long adaptive sailboat begins its journey in Miami, Florida and travels all the way up to Portland, Maine, stopping at multiple ports to enjoy water-driven activities, site see, and advocate the world of adaptive water sports. The crew also makes it a point to stop and speak to peer—groups, rehab centers and facilities, sometimes spending up to 2 weeks at each port.

Photo : Chris Collin

Life as an advocating sailor has been made much easier with the Impossible Dream’s state-of-the-art build.

The boat has a total of 4 beds reserved for the captain, first mate, and 2 guests/ambassadors. It is wind powered through its sails but also has a motor attached in the case the wind is not up to par.

As of today, the vessel is owned and operated by Deborah Mellen, a soon-to-be APEX user. She fell in love with the design and functionality of it once she saw Chris’s APEX.

Back to our Story—Chris’s Firsthand voyage aboard the Impossible Dream

We all remember Chris from his compelling story he wrote for us on adaptive sports. Since his motorcycle accident, Chris has been a born-again adaptive sports fanatic; he spends weekends in the winter carving up the slopes on his ski and in the summer, he trades in his ski in for a hand cycle mountain bike. He is also an active member of NCART and an advocate for mentoring new SCI patients into the word of adaptive sports. He was beyond excited to try a new chapter in his life, the adaptive world of water sports!

Photo : Chris Collin

With the news of Chris’s invite to try a leg of the journey, we asked Chris to keep a captain’s log of the voyage to let our readers know what to expect if they want to experience the journey.

A Typical Day Aboard the Impossible Dream—Chris’s Experience:

Everyone’s journey will vary; for example, I was in-charge of steering the boat between 9–12 every day (both AM and PM shifts) while the other crew enjoyed various activities. Today I will share my experience while I was aboard the boat, starting with boarding and finishing with us exiting our only port stop”:

  • 5:30 p.m. —We boarded the boat, unpacked our belongings, met the captain and crew, and had a tour of the different places on the boat. Once we were finally acclimated, they gave me my boating lesson so I would be ready for my first time steering the hull (the first time is your test under supervision of a crew member).
  • 9 p.m.—12 a.m. —First time on the hull; drove the boat through the night with the help of a crew mate. It was exciting and intense to be steering this 58’ beauty under the stars of the Atlantic.
  • 12:01 a.m. —Bedtime
  • 6 AM — Sunrise: I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the NE Atlantic while appreciating the cool wind gently blowing through the salt barren sea. Being the rookie on the catamaran, I also took some extra time to examine the crew in their morning routines to get an idea of what would be expected of me while on the ship.
  • 7 AM — Breakfast time: As a team we delegate the tasks to each person who will be cooking and cleaning; the boat has a fully functioning kitchen and grill. We enjoyed an appetizing breakfast before the start of my first working shift.
  • 8 AM — 9 AM—I had the opportunity to explore the ship as the crew explained to me the daily tasks involved in running the boat as well as what leisure activities, we could participate in between our shift hours.
  • 9 AM — 12 PM—On the helm, yes that is correct, everyone is expected to do a shift steering the boat and keeping track of the high seas. It was at first nerve-racking, but I knew I was in good hands with the experienced crew; it was exhilarating to drive such a vessel.
  • 12 PM — Lunch time
  • 1 PM — We reach our destination port in a marina off the coast of Massachusetts. We do a quick cleaning of the boat, relax, and get ready for the afternoon activities.
  • 3 PM — Site seeing in the city, kayaking in the marina, and meeting new people to teach them about the incredible opportunity the Impossible Dream Catamaran has to offer.
  • 7 PM — Dinner Time
  • 9 PM — 12 AM—Back to the helm; steering at night it was a bit different as you cannot really see anything, and you must use the on-board radar system. It was also an exhausting day, so I had to splash myself with water a few times to keep myself fresh and awake.
  • 12:01 AM — Bedtime

Extra activities offered by the boat—Fishing, kayaking, chair yoga, swimming, sailing lessons, ocean clean up, and courses to learn to drive the boat.

Photo : Chris Collin

Chris, I want to be on a BOAT too! How do I get involved?!?!

Getting aboard the Impossible Dream was a different process for Mr. Collin; “While I was doing my rehab at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA, I made friends with a group of guys who were all being treated on the same floor as me. One of the gentlemen in this group of friends was David McCauley; he was from New York but moved to Florida shortly after. Upon moving to Florida, he got connected with the crew of the Impossible Dream Catamaran and became board member and brand ambassador for the company.

David kept talking to Chris about trying a day trip aboard the ship and was keen to sharing this awesome experience with his new friend. Chris finally had the chance for the day trip which was immediately followed up by ‘dude; now you HAVE to try a “leg” of the boat’s journey (multi-day, multi-port trip)’ explained David. After a few years, the time finally came where he got the official invitation to try a ‘leg’ of the trip and the rest is history…

BUT not all of us have a friend who is working on the boat, fortunately for us, there are other ways to board the Impossible Dream: ‘To book you can simply go to the “contact us” portion on their website or you can meet with the employees at one of the ports at which the boat makes stops. Each port has a brand ambassador that can help set up an appointment to see the boat firsthand. The boat has been known to stay at locations for up to 2 weeks; during these stays they visit rehab centers, peer groups and facilities to connect with end—users, share their experiences aboard the Impossible Dream and promote participation throughout the community’ informed Chris.

From the description it is obvious the crew is welcoming to anyone who has a curiosity of adaptive water sports, so do not be shy!

Photo : Chris Collin (featuring the Impossible Dream crew!)

Motion Composites thanks our colleague Capt’n Chris for sharing this experience and we overwhelmed with joy that he had the opportunity to live this once in a lifetime opportunity. Thank you to the Impossible Dream crew and company for making this possible and we hope to see you guys GO BEYOND on the open sea… Yaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!

*Sources: www.nautilussailing.com/catamaran-sailing/ & www.moorings.com/blog/what-is-a-catamaran-beginners-guide

**Source: bvipropertyyacht.com/yachting/impossible-dream/  

***Source : https://www.theimpossibledream.org/

About Motion Composites

Motion Composites has an international reputation as a leader in the design and manufacture of ultralight manual wheelchairs.