Sense the Wind

a documentary by Christine Knowlton


The sea is bright, there's a steady wind out of the SW, the race meeting is over and a conga-line of sailors makes its way to the waterfront. A white cane taps along the dock, an outstretched hand struggles to grab a halyard to step up onto the boat deck.

In regattas across the US and abroad, visually impaired sailors learn not to fear what they cannot see. They sail by feel: sensing the breeze on a cheek or tension in the tiller, listening to the pattern of waves hitting the hull and sails luffing in the wind. Sighted guides describe the racecourse and give tactical race advice. On the water disability is no longer a focus.

SENSE THE WIND is a journey into the sport of blind sailing and into the lives of four of its competitors. On board cameras and audio capture the high stakes tension. Camera angles at the Start, Marks and Finish Line of each race bring the viewer up close to the action. Competition is fierce in fleet racing. We are in the race with Inky, Matt, Nancy and Phil.

Our four principle characters have diverse backgrounds with varying skill levels and experience. When Nancy's sight eroded mid-life, she found freedom and independence in racing. Phil's vision was damaged during emergency brain surgery in his last semester of college. Sailing lifted him from depression and restored confidence. At fifteen, sudden blindness brought Inky from the Congo to the US, but surgery failed. Matt was blind shortly after his premature birth but speeds ahead with no image of the horizon or limitations. Matt and Inky, the more experienced competitors, steer their boats, as Phil and Nancy handle the lines and trim the sails for their teams. All train and sail hard, finding common ground with humor and camaraderie on shore. The challenge of racing helps Nancy, Matt, Inky and Phil reach for new heights at work and at home.

Between race seasons, Nancy's life takes another unexpected turn. She gains something more valuable than a trophy but must adapt, once again, to learn to sail and live with a new sensibility. The film follows the evolution of these individuals over several years as they advance as sailors, through life's turns -- medical challenges, marriage, retirement and the vicissitudes of their sport. Competitive blind sailing is a new and evolving sport. Over time they help to shape the future of blind sailing.

SENSE THE WIND brings to life stories from under-served communities of people with disabilities. A variety of advisory partners anxious to screen the film include: disability organizations, educational institutions, adaptive competitive sports teams and the sailing community. This film provides rich narrative content for viewers whether sighted, blind, vision impaired, disabled or for anyone in search of an inspiring story.

In the end, SENSE THE WIND subtly challenges us to consider what we are willing to do with the abilities that we have and to re-examine our notion of what disability means.

About the production:

SENSE THE WIND has been made in close collaboration with our four principle characters and numerous sailors, along with input from of our advisers in the adaptive sports, disability and sailing communities. Experienced marine cinematographers (America's Cup, Volvo Ocean Race) and onboard cameras capture the race action. Interstitial aerial shots with maps introduce regatta locations in CA, RI and Japan. A short animated sequence graphically illustrates a racecourse. Point of view visual effects evoke the unique perception of our characters. Intimate, reflective moments are captured handheld.

A rich soundscape has been created with visceral sounds of sailing: water, sails, winches, etc. The original music, composed by a frequent Taymor/ Goldenthal collaborator, enhances the experience.

A fully accessible Festival Version of the film, with an option for playing with Video Description for the blind and visually impaired or with closed captions, has been produced. DVDs are available at our preview screenings or upon email request to: Because the film is not yet comercially released to the public, all viewings of the film must be private and any group showings must be upon our approval and cooperation.