Blind race match glory for Belton man Dennis

FROM dreams of sailing as a young boy through to beating the world’s best in Australia as a grandfather, a Belton man has not let blindness get in the way of mastering the seas.

Dennis Manning returned from Perth last week triumphant after winning one of the most respected sailing events of its kind – the Blind Match Racing category of the IFDS Disabled Sailing International Championship.

Part of a crew of three, two of whom were blind and the third partially sighted, he and the team represented Britain and emerged over six days from underdog status to champions, beating New Zealand in the final.

Using audio aids in the buoys and their keelboats to navigate the course, the 69-year-old controlled the jib and head sail alongside skipper Vicki Sheen and Nick Donnini to gain a tight victory.

He explained how they were left behind by a tactical error but fought back “and it was a battle all the way.

“When we crossed the line it was a great shock – we had done it against all the odds.”

“Afterwards I texted our coach saying ‘shampoo’ but it wasn’t anything to do with Vicki needing to wash her hair – we have our own code for lots of words, including champagne.”

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The victory comes after a life-long fascination with boating that carried on from boyhood through to his twenties, when his partial sight gradually became blindness, leading him to buy his first boat 35 years ago and take it out accompanied off the coast of Rollesby.

He then attended his first specific blind and visually impaired event in 1978 and moved on to compete nationally and internationally.

“I just loved boats, and from when I was a little Herbert from standing on a bridge and looking out at a cruiser I always wanted to sail,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful sport. It’s both physical and mental, and at first I didn’t know that other blind and disabled people were going sailing.”

Dennis, who said that his greatest challenge in the sport “was to get people to accept I was going to go out and play boat”, trained with the crew just off the Isle of Wight ahead of the Australian championships last month.

He listed the victory as the pinnacle of his many years in boating.

And now the father-of-two has someone to keep up tradition: his son Philip, 39, also competes internationally.

“When he comes over we go out sailing and we try to work together – but you know what fathers and sons are like,” he added.