Community

A life-changing opportunity aboard the Impossible Dream

Rob Klein and Steve Baker both lost the ability to walk after bad accidents. For Mr. Klein, it was a diving accident in a swimming pool, and for Mr. Baker a motorcycle crash. 

“When something like that happens you think your life is pretty much over,” Mr. Klein, 51, said. “I really didn’t think I could get back to something good, let alone to be on the ocean again.”

In the past few years, both men, who use wheelchairs for mobility, separately learned about a specially fitted catamaran called the Impossible Dream, whose backers outfitted the sailboat so it could handle wheelchairs and take people with physical disabilities out into open water. 

The purpose of the Impossible Dream is simple and noble: to take disabled people out on two-hour cruises, “to get the wind and salt air in their faces and teach them to sail,” as the boat’s captain, William Rey, said.

Mr. Rey, 54, brought the Impossible Dream into Greenport Harbor last Thursday and docked it at the village-owned dock in front of the carousel. Their stopover would be brief — they would leave by the weekend for Mystic, Conn. But their brief stay in Greenport served a purpose: to see if next summer they could bring the Impossible Dream to the village and introduce sailing to other disabled people.

“Just last summer,” Mr. Rey explained as he sat on a cushion on the catamaran on a hot Friday morning, “we took out more than 1,000 handicapped people and introduced them to sailing. What we found in the summers we have been doing this, is that the sails for these people are nothing less than completely life-changing. It opens up an entirely new world for them, one they never thought would be possible.”

They accomplished these trips at stops up and down the East Coast – Miami, Baltimore, New York City, Mystic, Martha’s Vineyard, and Maine, among others. At each stop they docked and invited people onto the Impossible Dream for two-hour open-water sails, all at costs picked up by the Impossible Dream Foundation.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer they are still sailing the boat up the coast, but they are also filming virtual excursions they are posting on the boat’s YouTube channel, Impossible Dream Catamaran. Additional information about the boat’s unique mission can be found at a website, theimpossibledream.org.

The Impossible Dream catamaran is specially equipped to accommodate the physically handicapped. (Credit: Steve WIck)

To bring the Impossible Dream back to Greenport next summer, which Mr. Rey and his crew hope to do, they will need free dockage and help from local groups — they call them “ambassadors” — to put out the word about the boat’s mission. The foundation that owns the boat is completely funded by donations. The sailing trips for the disabled are free — no one is charged.

“We want to come back,” Mr. Rey said as he surveyed Greenport Harbor. “This is a beautiful place. It’s perfect for our mission.”

Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said everything about the Impossible Dream appealed to her. 

The best part of being on the boat is meeting disabled people like me. We thought our lives were over.

Steve Baker

“I will talk to the mayor. I think it’s a great idea. It’s one of those things that makes Greenport Greenport. That’s a real community project we could get behind.”

The Impossible Dream was built in England and outfitted for accessibility and for disabled people to be able to both stay overnight on it and also to work its lines and sails during the day. In 2014 it was brought over to the U.S. to a sailing center designed to help the disabled in Miami, where the boat now winters.

“The boat was designed to be fully accessible,” Mr. Rey said as he showed a visitor how a small lift near the stern raises and lowers to accommodate a wheelchair. “The goals are to improve quality of life for people with disabilities but also give them a perspective on what is possible for them. Just being on the boat tells them they can do so much more.”

Mr. Baker, 59, was on the boat last week as it sat in Greenport Harbor. He had heard about the Impossible Dream and wanted to be involved; this is his third summer as a member of the crew.

“I raced boats before my injury seven years ago,” he said. “When I woke up from my accident I never thought this was possible. I thought that joy was behind me. There were no accessible sailboats. I had to bury those emotions. The best part of being on the boat is meeting disabled people like me. We thought our lives were over. There wasn’t a point in going on. You wake up paralyzed. Your life is in chaos. It’s all about what you can’t do.

“Now, I get to be with people who had that mindset that their lives were over. They get on the boat and share their stories. We take away that mindset that life is over for them, and we show them that something they never thought would be possible — to get on a boat — is actually possible. The impossible becomes possible.”

They will finish out this summer as far north as Maine, then head back for the winter months in Miami. Next summer, if luck comes their way, they will be docked in Greenport, welcoming people just like Mr. Baker and Mr. Klein to the world of sailing.