Free like the wind

Fixtures of the South Australian sailing scene, Bob and Deirdre Schahinger have spent the greater part of their lives on the water. They have seen most of Australia from its coastline and travelled the globe to participate in World Championships.

With so much passion for the sport, Bob and Deirdre are only too willing to share their knowledge and expertise with others.

So, in 1995 when Yachting SA discussed introducing a ‘Sailability’ program to SA, the Schahingers were quick to support the idea, agreeing to help run the program out of the Adelaide Sailing Club at West Beach.

Originating in the UK, Sailability is a global program that promotes the growing culture of inclusion in the sport. In their words;

“Sailability enriches the lives of people of all abilities – the elderly, the financially and socially disadvantaged as well as people with physical and intellectual challenges.”

In 2008, nine years after launching Sailability in SA, Bob and Deirdre helped found Dis-Able Sailing Inc., a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing opportunities for people of all abilities to participate in the sport.

With assistance from generous sponsors, grants, and donations they set about purchasing Freedom, a custom-built 25-foot ballasted keel boat. With a roomy cockpit and very simple controls, making it an excellent boat to simply cruise in or learn the basics of sailing and gain confidence before tackling more complex craft.

Between pleasure cruises and group classes, Freedom regularly competes in ‘mixed’ competitions around SA, combining able-bodied crews with people of differing needs sailing side-by-side.

“Being able to participate in a team sport is beneficial for anyone, let alone those who are often told ‘you can’t do this’” says Deirdre.

Referencing the limited attitude some able-bodied people still hold in regards to those living with a disability.

But in sailing, that view is changing.

“This is the only sport in the world that’s accessible to people of all abilities,” says Deirdre.

“Unlike other sports that rely mostly on physicality, sailing is more about equipment, technique and tactics,” Bob explained.

This may seem astonishing to people unfamiliar with the sport; having seen people possessing wide-ranging abilities competing globally, Bob notes some of the most competitive World Cup Event sailors are wheelchair users.

Bob and Deirdre share the story of the late Andrew Hartley…

In 2003, Andrew became the second ventilator-dependant quadriplegic in the world to sail solo in a specially designed Access keelboat.

“We knew it would be a challenge,” says Deirdre.

“But since he already knew how to sail, his biggest hurdle was already overcome. We just had to get him a boat he could sail in safely.”

Assisting the Hartley family in fundraising and grant applications, Bob and Deirdre were able to help realise Andrew’s dream.

“We were all nervous watching him go out on his first solo run,” says Deirdre.

“But as soon as he caught the wind, he just reacted automatically, at one with the boat leaning into the wind and flying down the beach.”

“We all burst into tears. It’s moments like that, that make it all worthwhile.”

Andrew went on to compete in the 2004 IFDS Single Person Disabled World Championships, becoming the only ventilated quadriplegic to compete independently in a World Championship for ANY sport.

Enjoying Freedom

Currently Dis-Able Sailing Inc. operates out of the Royal SA Yacht Squadron in Outer Harbor, where Freedom is berthed.

While Freedom is more accessible than most boats it cannot accommodate wheelchair users who are unable to weight-bear.

However, the Adelaide Sailing Club at West Beach has both a personal hoist and several Hansa mini keelboats suitable for wheelchair users, available at their Sailability program on selected Sundays during the summer months.

The Dis-Able Sailing Inc. program runs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday*, weather permitting all year round. The cost is $10 donation per person. Participants are asked to bring their own lunch to be enjoyed on the Quarterdeck at the Squadron which has accessible facilities.

If you, or someone you know may be interested in experiencing the freedom of sailing, you can contact:

Bob & Deirdre Schahinger on:
Ph: 0404 033 327

Dis-Able Sailing Inc. is a not-for-profit organisation run by passionate volunteers, fully supported by grants and donations. If you would like to help support Dis-Able Sailing please see the contact details above or visit their website, or visit

*Some restrictions are currently in place due to CVOID-19, contact the Squadron to confirm availability.


Sailability SA have groups at four clubs around South Australia, including:

Adelaide Sailing Club
Deirdre Schahinger
Ph: 0404 033 327

Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club
Brian Southcott
Ph.: 0408 553 210 or Ian Barker: 0411 207 446

Port Adelaide Sailing Club
John Johnston
Ph: 0417 813 188

Murray Bridge Water Activities Club
Ian Rick
Ph: 0414 870 932

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