Adaptive Sailing, hosted by ROVER – First Time in Chattanooga!

Adaptive sailing – ROVER

Adaptive Sailing with Betsy Alison in Chattanooga.


So, do you know what adaptive sailing is? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.  I know didn’t.  In early spring, I was approached by James Macrelis to photograph the first ever adaptive sailing event in the Chattanooga area.  It was hosted by his non-profit company ROVER (Regional Outreach Veterans Engagement Resources) whose mission is to get veterans with disabilities (physical and emotional) out of the house.  James is a disabled veteran who spent a very long time in the hospital recovering from his injuries – including a TBI (traumatic brain injury).   He started ROVER in response to the increase in suicide rates among veterans, of which he could have easily been one.  Thanks to the increased media coverage, we have all read or heard the statistics for suicides among veterans, which have been  surging at an alarming rate since 2001 – the NY Times reported in July 2016 that suicides have increased by 35 percent since then.  So, in order to get the Veterans out of the house, even for just a few hours, ROVER hosted this 3 day adaptive sailing course.  Adaptive sailing is exactly what it means – sailing adapted to persons with disabilities.

When he first asked if I would cover this event for him, all I could think of, was the limited exposure I had to sailing.  That exposure, seriously, was limited to me sitting in a sailing boat while my father made it sail.  So, my first question was – what did this entail? And when he said, I get to sit in a boat and take pictures, I was all for it.

Betsy Alison, a National Sailing Hall of Fame member and a US Sailing Paralympic Coach, taught the course.  (I know she’s a hot-shot, but I’m not familiar with the sport, so if I got her job wrong, please forgive me).  Her knowledge, and the speed of which she taught the veterans (how much she covered in how short of time), was incredible.  For the first 1-2 hours, she instructed them in the classroom.  We then all moved outside and learned about the boat they were going to sail.  (And if I knew more about sailing, I’d be able to tell you what kind of boat they were going to sail, but I don’t, so I won’t).  Once she finished the dry land instruction, all the veterans got in the boat and headed out.

Adaptive Sailing Course hosted by ROVER in Chattanooga and taught by Betsy Alison

Introduction and instruction

Land Instruction of the Adaptive Sailing Course hosted by ROVER in Chattanooga and taught by Betsy Alison

Familiarizing themselves with the sailboats – dry land instruction – before heading out on the water.

They took me out on a pontoon boat (I think). Slower than a speedboat, but fast enough to catch the sailboats. Admittedly, there was a lack of wind the first day, so it wasn’t too hard to catch up.  Each group of veterans had a “captain” or at least a person proficient in sailing. From a photographer’s point of view, they all seemed to be doing great.  It was so cool to see them use their (new) sailing knowledge and navigate the Tennessee River near the Chickamauga Dam.

Adaptive Sailing Course and the course participants sailing on the Tennessee River near the Chickamauga Dam. Hosted by ROVER.

The water was definitely a bit too quiet which resulted in the boat I was in towing in all of the sailboats for lunch.

Adaptive Sailboats being towed in for lunch

The obligatory “class” pictures. All the groups and their “captains”:

The groups and leadership of the Adaptive Sailing course held in Chattanooga in April 2016.

I’d forgotten how nice it is to be out on the water.  Growing up we’d go sailing on a tiny little lake. I still remember the wind in my hair and face, and boat tilting to where you didn’t have to reach too far to touch water.  And you know, I have a soft spot for veterans. My father was in Korea, though I don’t think he ever saw the front lines. But after he retired, he spent a lot of time at the local VFW post, became a Chaplain and made some new friends. He was so proud to have served his country. I suppose this is my way of giving back for him.


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  • These are lovely! And what a great cause! Being out on the water is such a fun and calming experience for me, I'm sure these veterans appreciated it as well!