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What they were thinking: Sailing without sight

Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Every Sunday, Boston Globe photographer Stan Grossfeld asks the subject of one of his photos to explain what’s happening in the shot.

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Who’s up today: Blind sailor Matt Chao skippers a J24 sailboat out of the Courageous Sailing Center in Charlestown, May 12, 2013. Chao is a member of the Carroll Center’s SailBlind team, which will be competing in the Blind Sailing World Championships later this month in Japan. Each crew has sighted guides onboard.

Chao: “I was just focusing on steering a straight track. Just keeping an eye — through the feel on my face — of where the wind was so we wouldn’t accidentally jibe. When you do that it can become unsafe. What I’m doing when I’m sailing downwind and facing backwards is I’m feeling where the wind is going relative to the boat and making sure it doesn’t go through a certain point so that the boom will come over. I’ve been sailing since 1979, after a while there’s very little to be scared about because I’ve been doing it so long. I’ve capsized, I’ve gone overboard, been hit by the boom. It’s part of sailboat racing. It’s not like driving a powerboat that may catch on fire. You use all your senses. I have light perception in my right eye, so I use that. I can smell when we’re getting close to shore. I can feel the breeze, of course. I can feel the heel of the boat under my butt, so I know we’re supposed to be under a certain angle of heel. I dial into the feel and it’s faster than I describe it. Sailing, for me, is almost like a second profession. I do it because I love the sport. It allows me to challenge myself on a personal level and show mainstream society that even though we are blind, we are capable. It fuels my competitive nature in terms of life as a whole.”

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at
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