Visually impaired sailor Chris Albert going for gold again

A visually impaired South Tyneside-based sailor aims to ride the waves of both good and bad fortune to clinch his second consecutive world sailing gold medal.

Monday, 10th June 2019, 4:13 pm
Chris Albert with the gold medal he won in 2017

Chris Albert, 53, has used the onset of blindness caused by diabetes as his inspiration to gain the skills to represent Great Britain and become a world-beater.

In 2017, the South Tyneside Council employee was part of a four-strong team that came first in the Blind Fleet Racing World Championships.

It surpassed their efforts of two years earlier, when they secured a second place silver medal in the gruelling week-long 17 race competition.

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He is now gearing up to get the wind in his sails as part of new-look team that will compete for Great Britain in the biennial tournament, which takes place in Canada in September.

However, he is seeking financial support to raise the £6,000 he needs each year to train and compete – and is about to launch an online JustGiving page.

Chris, a divorced dad-of-one, who works as a Technical Support Officer in the council's Hearing and Visually Impaired Service, said: “I’m confident of getting gold again.

“I really have to believe that or there would be no point taking part in this competition.

“In the two previous times I have represented Great Britain in this competition, I have been with the same three sailors, one of whom is also visually impaired.

“But since the start of the year, I have been with an entirely different crew. We have been training together very well.

“My sailing is self-funded and costs around £6,000 each year. I will soon have a JustGiving page up and running.”

He added: “I love the interaction you get with other people when you sail. For me, sailing has replaced driving a car – I feel the adrenalin, and it puts me in control.

“A lot of it is adapting the senses to orientate instead of being able to see. It’s quite alien to anyone who is sighted.”

Chris, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, took up sailing by chance in 2013 when a friend was sent a paper flier advertising the sport to new participants

A taster session in the Lake District led to his introduction to Great Britain selectors and his soon-after pairing with long-term partner, helm Laura Cammidge, with whom he enjoyed silver and gold success.

She has now stepped aside, and has been replaced by Liam Cattermole, from the Isle of Wight, with Jonnie Stephenson and Johnny Cormack stepping in as the sighted crew members.

All three have previously represented Great Britain in the competition but with different crews.

Chris, who practices at twice-a-week at South Shields Sailing Club and monthly with the national team - and is expert at handling the mainsheet of the vessel - lost his sight in 2008 and now has only limited vision.

Teams from the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, as well as a second GB crew, are expected to compete in the championships, being held from September 2 to September 8.

Councillor Norman Dick, the Mayor of South Tyneside, said: “Chris is a truly inspiring individual who has shown remarkable talent and tenacity to win a gold medal in this international competition.

“He is an exemplary ambassador for both South Tyneside and the council and a wonderful role model for our younger generations who may also have a visual impairment.

“I wish him the very best of luck – I am sure he will do us all proud.”