Advocate: Boating plan should consider disabled
PUNTA GORDA — This city will take another stride toward becoming a “premier waterfront community” next month by dredging an unused boat basin at Gilchrist Park. The goal is to open it to the public for small-craft sailing and boating.
Dennis Peck, founder of the Charlotte Harbor Community Sailing Center, however, hopes that will include disabled sailors.
That would require not only the city’s long-planned use of seven floating docks donated to the city after they were used for the 2012 International Federation for Disabled Sailing World Championship, but also some additional facilities not yet in the city’s plans.
Peck is set to propose that the city also include a hoist big enough to set small boats into the water at the basin, and a place to store the boats on land with their masts upright, he said Wednesday. That would make launching a disabled sailor “a 15-minute project instead of a 45-minute one,” Peck said.
Peck said many of the IFDS regatta’s sailors, who raved about their Charlotte Harbor regatta experience in worldwide sailing blogs, share his goal of promoting disabled sailing here.
“They loved this community’s effort and they would like to leave behind them a legacy,” Peck said.
His comments came Wednesday as he and two volunteers, Jeff Drechsler and Ken Canji of Mainsail News TV, rigged up several tiny 2.4mR sailboats at Laishley Marina. They were working to enable Gary Gunsher, a Punta Gorda Isles retiree disabled by a stroke a few years ago, to return to sailing, while also demonstrating the need for the proposed facilities.
Drechsler said he was filming the event to produce a DVD about the proposal to give to the City Council.
It took the volunteers more than an hour to erect the masts, string up the control lines and launch the vessels. Gunsher, who has paralysis on his left side, was lowered into the cockpit with the help of Peck and Gunsher’s wife, Holly.
Peck also owns several hand-operated hoists that can be mounted on the floating decks to lower sailors into their boats, if necessary.
Gary, a retired General Motors executive, said he learned to sail 30 years ago on the Great Lakes in New York state. He and his wife moved to Punta Gorda following a nine-month cruise because of Charlotte Harbor’s ideal sailing conditions.
Before his stroke, Gary served as a member of Team Punta Gorda’s Mariners Committee, the Boaters Alliance and the city’s Canal Maintenance Advisory Committee. That was in addition to racing in Punta Gorda Sailing Club regattas and riding a bicycle 100 miles per week, his wife said.
He seemed to lose some of his zest after his stroke. That’s why his return to sailing is so important, she said.
“Oh, he was up early because he couldn’t wait to do this,” Holly said.
“I believe Punta Gorda needs a disabled sailing center and I’m trying to push that fact,” Gary said. “But also, I’m doing it to get out on the water. It’s good for me, mentally and physically.
“Sailing’s not hard,” he added. “It’s getting on and off the boat that’s hard.”
The city will spend $175,000 in grant funds on the basin project. That includes $150,000 for dredging, $15,000 to install pilings, and $10,000 to purchase a ramp to the floating docks.
The city has no agreement to provide space for storing or hoisting boats, or funding for those improvements, said Dennis Murphy, community development director. Peck will need to request council approval, he said.
However, there’s no problem with anyone attaching a lift to one of the docks to hoist a disabled sailor into a boat, Murphy said.
“That’s the whole purpose, to be accessible to everybody, John Q. Public, whether able-bodied or with a slight handicap,” he said.