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“Sailing is my laboratory”. The inspiring story of the first paraplegic yachtsman crossing solo the ocean

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Former sky diving instructor, Jonathan Martins embarked on a solo journey on a sailboat. How many challenges does the life out at sea carry for a paraplegic yachtsman?

It was a decade ago when Jonathan and his friend, Bram were sitting around a bonfire, having a friendly chat about their work, what would its future reveal and what could they do next. Bram asked John if he would fancy life out at sea.

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“Sailing? It sounds a little bit boring, all I know is that boats are slow and you get seasick” answered Jonathan.

Today Jonathan Martins is an experienced paraplegic yachtsman

The first disabled sailor who circumnavigated around New Zealand, crossed the Caribbean Sea twice crossed the Pacific Ocean solo-handle, and by the end of 2016 accomplished the Atlantic Crossing, solo-handling as well. More about his achievement:

The yachts he sailed were not adapted to his disability

I have always tried to do everything myself, regardless of the financial position. The more you make people do stuff for you the less eventful your life will be”- he says.

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He got into sailing after attending a short weekend course. Since then he was dreaming of building his own boat and sailing it around the world. An opportunity arose when he moved back to his homeland, New Zealand. He bought “Romana”, his first boat that for the following three and a half years renovated from scratch. “It was the hardest thing I did in my life”- he admits.

He launched the boat in 2010, sailed for a little over a year and had a work accident. On New Years Eve 2012, during his last season as a skydiving instructor, he became a L1 paraplegic.

When asked about the accident he says: “I see it as a gift, a tremendous blessing in my life, but it is necessary to act quickly upon it. When you have these life changing enlightenments and you don’t act quickly, it will just fade away, go in the background and you forget about it”.



He knew that if he lived through the accident he will go back to sailing

He decided to sail solo- what it means is that there is only one crew member on the vessel. One person that does all the boat related work such as navigating, maneuvering, changing sails, night watches to everyday life activities: cooking, eating, sleeping. The best quality of a single handler is to know when to sleep and to be able to sleep as much as possible to save energy.

“Today what sailing gives me is the right environment to grow within myself not only physiologically and mentally, but also some would say spiritually. It is a laboratory that provides me all the conditions I need to search within myself for the natural truth that may be lying out there.”

Disability blends somewhere in the background

Jonathan is not using his wheelchair on the boat. He has a special sitting cushion that is strapped to his bottom as he is scooping around the boat. He likes to keep it as simple as possible when it comes to equipment and adaptation. Even when getting to shore from the boat on the anchorage he transfers to a simple rowing rig and exercises his shoulders and torso while most other people motor their dinghy with no effort.

Sailing is not always easy

It has both sides: beautiful and serene moments as well as thrilling ones. During Jonathan’s journey across Pacific in 2014, the autopilot got broken and one of the wires that holds the mast started snapping. “Perhaps the fear within ourselves of dying it is what keeps us alive ” – he answers smiling to himself recalling those memories.

Jonathan likes challenges, on his last journey across the Atlantic Ocean, he decided to give up music and movies- something that surrounds as a lot in everyday life.

“This is the kind of experiments that I do in solitude. We all have truths within ourselves and they are just not being heard because we have no time to listen.”

Now, he is preparing his second journey across the Pacific Ocean. You can follow his current adventures on facebook:

He is also finishing writing his new book. A philosophical book based on his own life story: how from a skydiving instructor he become a paraplegic yachtsman crossing solo the oceans.

“It is about my last journey I did across the Pacific, the motifs how I got there, how I did it, how I failed, how I carried on and all of these particular philosophies that are hidden in there.”

Autor: Anna Szutenberg – physiotherapist, traveler and writer with a focus on promoting an active lifestyle.