He Makes It Possible For Everyone To Sail
By Anne McKay Garris
The creative genius of Bruce Bayes is hidden behind a relaxed and genial smile that sparkles in his eyes. He seems more an easygoing soccer coach than a man who makes miracles happen for those who have given up on miracles. Last Sunday, at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, he moved between wheelchairs with practiced ease as over 55 sailboats were launched for the use of people for whom sailing would seem to be an impossible dream.
After eight years as an electrician, Bayes was persuaded by his brother-in-law to rent wheelchairs to the elderly in his off time. He quickly became interested in wheelchairs and their occupants.
"I worked with wheelchairs during my vacation from the electrical business," he said, "and just never went back."
"My clients are mostly pediatrics," he says.
Pointing out that Medicare and most insurance companies only pay for a wheelchair every five years, Bayes designed a chair that would fit in the same frame but could be expanded to grow with his young customers. This provided comfort for the entire five years. He named his business "Custom Mobility, Inc." and set himself to doing what was necessary to expand the horizons of his customers.
At first he used his creative gift to design adaptations for wheelchairs that made it possible to play basketball and tennis. "I found it lifts their spirits to be active," he says.
Now sailboats designed to be sailed by people with handicaps to sail are available at Clearwater's Community Sailing Center and Bayes' creative talents are an important part of the "Sailability" program there.
"He provides me anything I need for our wheelchair sailors," reports Center Director, Sandy Ackley. "Just last week I told him I needed a brace for one of my sailors with cerebral palsy and he had made me one in no time."
Furthermore, nothing daunts him. Demonstrated at the Sailing Center last week-end was a chair, designed by Bayes, for a sailor who is a C-1 quadriplegic, using a ventilator. This was a custom-made chair with a built-in box which holds the ventilator. The sailor is moved from his wheelchair to this special chair and then lowered by an overhead lift into an electronically equipped boat, donated by the Christopher Reeves Foundation.
For the veteran who sailed last week, Bayes was called on to custom design headwear to fit his head. This headgear made it possible for him to sail the boat using only his chin. Other quadriplegic sailors guide the sailboat, much as some people do their wheelchairs, by blowing into a straw like device. They call this "sip 'n puff." More than one participant in the Sailing Center's Sailability program uses this special chair and boat.
Most of the wheelchair bound sailors use joy sticks in boats that are designed with centerboards so heavy they must be lifted out of the boats mechanically and placed in a cart to be wheeled up the ramp. The heavy centerboards make the boats impossible to turn over in bay waters.
On Sunday, as the Clearwater Sailing Center celebrated their seventh year of conducting the Sailability program, the bay was well-populated with sailability boats and the dock was well-populated with volunteers who enjoy helping people find the fun and freedom of sailing. Even though most of the Sailability sailors do their own sailing, they usually have a volunteer experienced sailor aboard. According to Bayes, it generally takes four volunteers to launch and land one wheelchair sailor, but they do it with skill and enthusiasm.
Randi Harvey, daughter of Clearwater's Fire Chief, Jamie Geer, shows her delight with her first adventure at sailing, Sunday. Confined to a wheelchair by cerebral palsy, she sailed the boat by using the same kind of "joy stick" that guides her electric wheelchair. With her is volunteer instructor Tom Calhoun, recipient of this year's "Stone Soup" award for volunteers at the Sailing Center. "He does everything!" comments Ms. Ackley.
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