Much Ado About Raw Faith

No, I?m not talking about a religious experience, I?m talking about a sailing vessel. To be more specific, a wheelchair-accessible three-masted schooner named Raw Faith. And until Thanksgiving she wasn?t really in the news.

Raw Faith is the brainchild of Captain George McKay whose goal was to be able to provide wheelchair-accessible tall ship sailing adventures to disabled children and their families. And he wanted those adventures to be free. Yes, that?s right, free as in zero, nada, nothing, nil, no cost. So he sold his house, liquidated his assets and founded Accessible Sailing Adventures. Then he built Raw Faith.

I became aware of Raw Faith?s recent notoriety a few days ago when I received an unusual e-mail from a Rockland, Maine schooner captain. She urged me to remove the link to Accessible Sailing Adventures (who operate Raw Faith) from the Emerging Horizons website. The reason she gave was simple. She wrote about a recent accident and explained, ?An order has been issued from the Captain of the Port at the Marine Safety Office in Portland Maine that Raw Faith is not to leave port until her damages are repaired and inspected by the Coast Guard.?

It all sounded rather ominous to me, so I did a little investigating on my own. As it turns out AP reported that Raw Faith suffered some rudder damage in rough seas and was towed into Rockland Harbor on November 26, 2004. According to AP, the crew was unharmed.

The local papers seem to have another take on it. In fact, it has opened up quite the can of worms in the Rockland maritime community. It seems many of the local schooner captains feel that Raw Faith is not seaworthy, even after she passed a Coast Guard inspection. But it goes a little deeper than that.

As Captain George McKay writes in the Raw Faith ship?s log, ?I get attacked by some for attempting to bring this adventure to these families, challenged by others because I?m not a big name in the sailing world, persecuted for risking the lives of others, and ridiculed for my naivet?. After all, we know the disabled don?t belong on the sea, or so they think.?

And in the Bangor Daily News, Lt. Daniel McLean, Coast Guard supervisor explains the ?concern? some of the locals have about Raw Faith as something that ?revolved around the distinctiveness of the vessel.? He notes that although Raw Faith is modeled after a 16th century English-built galleon, ?this craft is designed to take disabled people on sailing adventures.?

By ?distinctiveness of the vessel?, does Mr. McLean mean that it is built to carry wheelchair-users?? Would all of this fuss be made over a schooner that only carried able-bodied passengers? Or are the local schooner captains worried that the ?free trips? provided by Raw Faith will cut into their market? After all, one in five people in the US has a disability and it?s pretty hard to compete with ?free?.

I don?t know the answers to these questions, but to be honest I?m troubled I even have to pose them. A first-hand account of the whole incident is posted on the Accessible Sailing Adventures website.

Is this incident being blown out of proportion by a local community that doesn?t understand integration, or is Raw Faith really an accident waiting to happen? Click on the title of this blog entry to read the ship?s logs and decide for yourself.