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Blind sailors race across open water learning not to fear what they cannot see, on boats or on land. Life turns unpredictable as the wind when one of them gains something far more valuable than a trophy and must learn to live and to sail with a new sensibility. 

Sense the Wind is a documentary journey led by four blind sailors - Matt, Nancy, Philip and Inky as they train and compete at the US Blind Nationals and press towards the Blind Sailing Worlds in Japan. They compete despite the risk of a falling boom, a boat collision or falling overboard. On the water, teamwork and intuition take over. Disabilities are no longer the focus. Between regattas, life takes a turn when one of them gains more than a trophy and must learn to live and sail with a new sensibility.

The film has been made in close collaboration with our four principle characters and numerous sailors, along with input from of our advisers in the adaptive sports, disability and sailing communities. Experienced marine cinematographers (America's Cup, Volvo Ocean Race) and onboard cameras capture the race action. Interstitial aerial shots with maps introduce regatta locations in CA, RI and Japan. A short animated sequence graphically illustrates a racecourse. Point of view visual effects evoke the unique perception of our characters. Intimate, reflective moments are captured handheld. A rich soundscape has been created with visceral sounds of sailing: water, sails, winches, talking and yelling... Original music enhances the experience.

The sea is bright, there's a steady wind out of the SW, the race meeting is over and a conga-line of sailors makes its way to the waterfront. A white cane taps along the dock, an outstretched hand struggles to grab a halyard to step up onto the boat deck. In regattas across the US and abroad, visually impaired sailors learn not to fear what they cannot see.


They sail by feel: sensing the breeze on a cheek or tension in the tiller, listening to the pattern of waves hitting the hull and sails luffing in the wind. Sighted guides describe the racecourse and give tactical race advice. On the water disability is no longer a focus.

SENSE THE WIND is a journey into the sport of blind sailing and into the lives of four of its competitors. On board cameras and audio capture the high stakes tension. Camera angles at the Start, Marks and Finish Line of each race bring the viewer up close to the action. Competition is fierce in fleet racing. We are in the race with Inky, Matt, Nancy and Phil.

Our four principle characters have diverse backgrounds with varying skill levels and experience. When Nancy's sight eroded mid-life, she found freedom and independence in racing. Phil's vision was damaged during emergency brain surgery in his last semester of college. Sailing lifted him from depression and restored confidence. At fifteen, sudden blindness brought Inky from the Congo to the US, but surgery failed. Matt was blind shortly after his premature birth but speeds ahead with no image of the horizon or limitations. Matt and Inky, the more experienced competitors, steer their boats, as Phil and Nancy handle the lines and trim the sails for their teams. All train and sail hard, finding common ground with humor and camaraderie on shore. The challenge of racing helps Nancy, Matt, Inky and Phil reach for new heights at work and at home.

Between race seasons, Nancy's life takes another unexpected turn. She gains something more valuable than a trophy but must adapt, once again, to learn to sail and live with a new sensibility. The film follows the evolution of these individuals over several years as they advance as sailors, through life's turns -- medical challenges, marriage, retirement and the vicissitudes of their sport. Competitive blind sailing is a new and evolving sport. Over time they help to shape the future of blind sailing.

SENSE THE WIND brings to life stories from under-served communities of people with disabilities. A variety of advisory partners anxious to screen the film include: disability organizations, educational institutions, adaptive competitive sports teams and the sailing community. This film provides rich narrative content for viewers whether sighted, blind, vision impaired, disabled or for anyone in search of an inspiring story.

In the end, SENSE THE WIND subtly challenges us to consider what we are willing to do with the abilities that we have and to re-examine our notion of what disability means.

the film


Sometimes the best things are found unexpectedly. While attending a collegiate awards dinner with my daughter, I watched a slide presentation on adaptive sailing given by Betsy Alison, the US Sailing Paralympic Head Coach. I was impressed how these challenged individuals skillfully raced regardless of disability and, was especially intrigued by a brief mention of blind sailing. A light bulb switched on in my head. From that moment, I was driven to explore, to understand and bring to light this unique sport and the efforts of these persevering athletes.

Project Advisors, Betsy Alison, the US Sailing Paralympic Head Coach, and Arthur O’Neill founder of the Carroll Center SailBlind Program, have been generous and invaluable resources. Buttons Padin joined the team to provide invaluable marketing and fundraising assistance. Many others generously offered valuable feedback, assistance and support. Our notable Advisory Partner organizations who share our mission, will take the film forward into their communities.

Since beginning the project in 2009, film production has taken me on many journeys with these individuals: from coast to coast, on and off boats, from starting lines to finish lines, into their homes and work. Nancy, Inky, Matt and Philip became my personal guides into the sport of blind sailing and the broader disability community. Numerous blind and sighted sailors, coaches, staff and volunteers also became enthusiastic participants. Eager for their stories to be shared, our featured sailors granted open access and, on occasion, even provided a meal and guest bed. What has been found over these years working on SENSE THE WIND has widely opened my own eyes and heart, while enriching life with a diverse and inspiring circle of friends.

 — Christine Knowlton, Producer

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