Blind World Magazine

New Zealand.
Blind sailors complete Pacific journey.

November 10, 2005.
New Zealand Herald.

Americans Scott Duncan and Pamela Habek arrived in Whangarei yesterday to become the first blind people to sail a yacht across the Pacific.

Friends waved white canes in farewell when the couple left San Francisco on October 12 last year on their 10m cutter Tournesol for a planned world circumnavigation.

They expect to cover about 32,000 nautical miles over three or four years.

They started with a 9000 mile loop taking in Mexico, the Marquesas, Tahiti, the Society Islands and the Cook Islands.

Ms Habek, 43, and Mr Duncan, 39, have both had impaired sight since birth and both carry white canes on land. But their 10 per cent of normal vision didn't restrict their enjoyment of beautiful sunsets, tropical islands, whale and dolphin encounters and a wonderful sense of freedom on the open ocean.

They both had big smiles after they were escorted into Whangarei Harbour by the Coastguard vessel Superyacht City Rescue, which left them tied up to the Main 3 wharf at the southern end of the port.

Fellow American yachties Frank and Rachel Hoffmann, who had met the blind couple in Tahiti, were there to help the Tournesol make its way to a Town Basin marina.

But the cutter's trouble-plagued motor overheated and died and the Pacific crossing looked like it could end with a minor disaster.

However, passing fisherman Greg Hayes tied the drifting yacht to his 17m seiner Melodeon and towed it to a berth.

Mr Duncan started sailing Lasers at age 13 and owned an 8.5m keeler before acquiring the Tournesol. He used to be in business producing adaptive computer technology for blind people and the cutter has special navigational aids such as a talking GTS system, a video magnifier to read charts, and a talking computer.

All ropes on the Tournesol are colour-coded for different functions and Mr Duncan said he and his partner had no trouble sailing the craft, although they frequently sought help "parking" it in ports.

They intend to spend up to a year in New Zealand, fixing the motor and making other boat repairs and visiting schools for blind children to get across the message that blind people can achieve just about anything.

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