Sense the Wind

a documentary by Christine Knowlton

5 sailboats at a very tight rounding of a mark trying to avoid collision during a disabled sailing race

About the Film

Sense The Wind is a documentary journey into the sport of blind sailing, following Matt, Nancy, Phil and Inky as they train and compete for the Nationals and Blind Sailing World Championships. Nancy and Phil must rely on their skills to trim the sails and be sure-footed crossing the deck. As skippers, Inky and Matt navigate with an acutely developed sensitivity to the wind, listening and reacting quickly to descriptive cues from sighted guides. They sail blind, with an image of the racecourse in their mind’s eyes, ever alert to a suddenly swinging boom or boat collisions on open water.

Diverse in cultural backgrounds and with varying levels of ability and experience, their camaraderie develops as teams and as competitors in blind and disabled events. Friendships are forged, but tensions can arise and tempers do flare. Competition is fierce in fleet racing. Even amongst the blind sailors there is concern about team advantages with some less impaired skippers and with elite tacticians.

With perseverance and Olympic level coaching in practices and regattas, they strive to round the marks without fear and to move forward confidently in life. On the water, teamwork and intuition take over. Disabilities are no longer the focus. But on the ground, between race seasons, life takes an unexpected turn when one of them gains something more than a trophy and must learn to live and to sail with a new sensibility.

Film Characters

Nancy Jodin - Blind Jib Trimmer Pic.jpg

Nancy Jodoin

Born with Nystagmus, a condition caused by a defective pathway between the brain and the eyes triggering uncontrolled eye movements and reduced acuity, Nancy compensated since childhood by tilting her head to find a still point in her right eye from which she could focus. Nancy successfully became a registered nurse and raised two children in rural Western Massachusetts. When her vision gradually diminished to the point she was declared legally blind and had to give up her driver’s license Nancy found herself isolated and without transportation or social services. Her 35-year marriage fell apart as she was rehabilitated and resettled outside Boston, but Nancy’s resilience and spirit prevailed as she re-adapted her skills and embraced her newfound independence and new circle of blind friends. During her vision rehabilitation Nancy was introduced to sailing and she quickly became a fearless crewmember on a SailBlind team skippered by Sengil Inkiala. When not competing on the water Nancy works full time as a RN Care Coordinator at Long Term Solutions and is a dedicated advocate and speaker for the blind and visually impaired. Upon Arthur O'Neill's retirement, Nancy took over the position of Director of SailBlind and has since restructured the program.

Matt Chou - Blind Skipper.jpg

Matt Chao

As one of the first blind sailors in the Carroll Center for the SailBlind program, Matt has proven to be a highly competitive athlete. Now the most senior in the program, Matt has sailed for more than 30 years, sailing all 20 Blind Nationals, winning 6, competing at Blind Worlds as well as sometimes being the only blind skipper in sighted regattas. Born two months premature, Matt lost most of his sight before his first birthday from Retinopathy of Prematurity. But as the son of a Chinese mechanical engineer and an English professor he grew up in Massachusetts with the same high expectations and aspirations as anyone else. The confidence, skill building and sense of teamwork Matt found in sail racing further empowered him off the water. He completed a degree at Brandeis University, a masters degree, a certification in rehabilitation counseling and has retired from running a shop at the Bay State Correctional Center that produces Braille books for school children using computer technology and inmate labor. He also enjoys blind skiing but it is Matt’s deep passion for navigating the open water that inspires and propels him forward.

Sengil Inkiala (Inky) - Blind Skipper.jpg

Sengil Inkiala (Inky)

As a child living in the Congo, around the age of 14 Inky began to complain of vision problems and was given traditional treatments. One day at school he failed to read test questions on a blackboard, having suddenly lost most of his sight due to undiagnosed severe glaucoma. A Belgian doctor was flown in to attempt to repair his detached retina but it failed. Inky flew with family to the US and underwent unsuccessful surgeries in the US, leaving him fully blind in both eyes. Recognizing the discrimination and lack of opportunities for the disabled in Africa, his family arranged an adoption to a family in Massachusetts. In his new home, Inky had vision rehabilitation, continued his education and learned to sail with his new brothers. With hard work and resolve Inky completed his education at Amherst, married and returned to work in the Congo for 6 years. Upon his return while learning computer skills at the Carroll Center for the Blind, Inky joined their SailBlind team and with Ken Legler's guidance is now a top ranked skipper. Inky currently works as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the MA Commission for the Blind and is also a pasionate Blind Baseball competitor.

Philip Kum, blind jib trimmer

Philip Kum

During his last year of college at San Jose State University as a Biology major, a chronic migraine led doctors to the discovery of a tumor beneath Philip’s skull, which was exerting tremendous pressure on the brain. Emergency neurosurgery successfully removed the benign tumor but damaged his optic nerve leaving Philip legally blind and in depression. In an effort to re-engage and motivate Philip, his rehabilitation and mobility instructor recruited him to be the first blind sailor in the Marin Sailing School Program for the Blind. In his first year of learning to sail Philip’s CA 1 team competed in the Nationals and the Blind Worlds in New Zealand where they struggled to work themselves up from last place. The confidence and independence he gained through sail racing helped him to return to college to complete his degree in Biology and land a job as a Management Analyst at an environmental government agency. Philip was instrumental in the success of the first 2010 California Invitational Blind Sailing Regatta and the dynamic growth of the blind sailing program in Northern California. He is now happily married and the proud parent of a beautiful daughter.