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Phenomenal Success For South African Blind Solo Sailor

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from Imfama, the bi-monthly magazine of the South African National Council for the Blind, January 21, 1998.

Durban - South African yachtsman Geoff Hilton-Barber has become the first blind sailor to sail an ocean single-handedly - successfully navigating the treacherous Indian Ocean from Durban to Fremantle, Australia, defying friends, family and experts who termed his endeavor "a suicide mission".

Hilton-Barber (46), who is totally blind, set sail on the 6,000-nautical-mile voyage 50 days ago on his 33-foot yacht, Abicas.

Yesterday he was being escorted through the shipping lanes near Fremantle by close friend Roy Bowden, who boarded the yacht for the final hours to see him home safely. By common convention, blind sailors are allowed to have sighted people escort them through the shipping lanes when they set sail and arrive near their destination. Friends at Royal Natal Yacht Club in Durban yesterday described Hilton-Barber's adventure as one of the most outstanding ever recorded in sailing. So far, a blind American sailor has sailed from Los Angeles to Hawaii, but no blind person has ever sailed single-handedly across an ocean. "This has got to be one of the most phenomenal human achievements ever," said Capetonian solo sailor Anthony Steward, the first sailor to circumnavigate the globe in a tiny open boat.

Hilton-Barber, who works for the Natal Society for the Blind, used Braille charts and audio electrical equipment. Instead of having to read his position on the yacht's global positioning system, an electronic voice would tell him where he was at the push of a button. The rest of his yacht was virtually standard, however, and he had to perform all tasks like a sighted sailor. Hilton-Barber has fulfilled a dream of proving that "blind people aren't as handicapped as most think". The Comrades runner and ex-skydiver steadily lost his sight from about the age of 20 and has been blind for several years. He had never sailed solo before.


Dear Geoff, Congratulation for your fantastic exploit. At the age of 22,
I built a 37' steel Colin archer type of ketch. Single handed in 4,5 years time in Switzerland I sailed it to Sydney . the Pacific single handed. Arrived here in 76. I love it here.
Cheers and "CHAPEAU". Like we are saying in French: respect & agnoledgement of a good deed.
Ulric steiner