Impossible Dream Finds a New Home

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:54AM - Comments: (2)

February 18, 2014

Geoff Holt sailed Impossible Dream across the Atlantic in 2010.

At about 9 p.m., the wind picked up and the temperature dropped to 56 degrees, Miami’s version of the polar vortex. Sailing conservatively under staysail and main, the 60-foot catamaran ripped southward toward the city lights. Tucked behind the 18-inch wheel on the leeward hull, helmsman Harry Horgan, a wheelchair-bound sailor who founded one of the nation’s finest community sailing programs, squinted into the wind. To the west, the nearly full moon rose above Cape Florida Lighthouse.

“Ten knots,” Horgan said, glancing down at the chartplotter. “Pretty amazing.” It was, by far, the understatement of the evening.

Captain Matt Baker and Harry Horgan discuss Impossible Dream's helm operations. It can be operated from stations on each hull and in the cabin.

Impossible Dream is unlike any other boat ever made. Built in the United Kingdom and designed by British architect Nic Bailey (co-architect of the famous London Eye), the cat was commisioned by Mike Browne, the founder of an outdoor clothing company who became a parapalegic after a skiing accident in 1998. It was later used as an adventure platform for British yachtsman Geoff Holt, who was paralyzed in a diving accident in 1984. Holt went on to circumnavigate the United Kingdom on the boat, and in 2010, he became the first disabled sailor to cross the Atlantic. Holt has moved on to bigger things and thanks to generous philanthropist Deborah Mellen, Impossible Dream is now in Miami, where Horgan and his crew at Shake-A-Leg Miami will use it for their own adventure: making impossible dreams possible.

Deborah Mellen and her dog, Winter, on the foredeck. A wheelchair can circle the boat unimpeded by stairs.

Founded by Horgan in 1990, Shake-A-Leg stands as a model of everything a community sailing program can be. Initially opened to help set disabled people on a path toward independence (Horgan was paralyzed in a car accident when he was 22), it now serves everyone from inner city children to stroke victims to injured veterans. In recent years, an extensive environmental education program for local children, and a variety of joint programs to support local artists have extended Shake’s reach far beyond the realm of sailing. Stop by the three-story facility in Coconut Grove, and you might find yourself at an after-school tutoring session for at-risk school kids, a pre-race skipper’s meeting, or a planning session for the next adaptive scuba-diving training course.

The Impossible Dream's cockpit is fully accessible. Two helm chairs ride on tracks.

My connection with Shake-A-Leg goes back to time as a volunteer in the 1990s. Years later, when my wife, Theresa, my sons, and I were living in Newport, R.I., I was a volunteer at the first program Horgan started, now called Sail to Prevail. Since taking the helm of Practical Sailor in 2005, I made it a policy that our tested gear—with the manufacturers' support—would go to programs such as Shake-A-Leg when we were done testing it (provided we had not destroyed or compromised it during testing).

This past weekend, I was dropping off the donated Stor N Boat, when Larry Leitner, a Shake facilities volunteer, pointed me toward the Impossible Dream, which had just arrived from Savannah, Ga.

A large remote can control sheeting and furling from anywhere on the boat.

That evening, Horgan, Mellen, the boat’s skipper Matt Baker, and some strapping young volunteers set out across the bay on the boat’s first “fun” sail on Biscayne Bay. Baker gave an impressive demonstration of the hydraulically operated sheets, halyards, and furling systems. I had my trick at the helm (nearly testing the boat’s unskinkability on an unlit marker). On Saturday, I joined the boat for its sail into the Miami Boat Show, where Impossible Dream was tucked in among the millionaire’s row of catamarans that now make up the bulk of the fleet at the show's in-the-water display, Strictly Sail.

While Horgan’s big grin during our moonlight sail will surely be my most lasting impression of the weekend, another image struck almost as forcefully. As I exited Strictly Sail and looked back over the fleet of million-dollar yachts on display, my companion, who helped sail Impossible Dream to the show remarked, “No question which is the most valuable boat in the marina now.”

For more about Impossible Dream and how you can support it’s tour up the East Coast this summer to promote accessible sailing and raise funds for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, contact Shake-A-Leg at 305/858-5550, and if you’d rather put money than muscle into the effort, feel free to donate now.

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