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Issy's transatlantic adventures

Issy (20) who is severely to profoundly deaf shares her experiences of sailing across the Atlantic.

"When my mother signed nine-year-old me up for dinghy courses at the Portsmouth Outdoor Centre I refused to go. My excuses included my hearing aid getting wet and that I wouldn’t be able to hear what was going on. But my mother never thought being deaf was a valid excuse not to do something, so I did not one but three dinghy courses – proudly gaining my level three certificate.

I was born hearing but had progressive hearing loss, thought to be a consequence of antibiotics for bronchitis, as my family has no history of deafness. I have severe hearing loss in my right ear and profound hearing loss in my left. I wore hearing aids in both ears from age three but stopped wearing my left hearing aid at around age seven or eight as it wasn’t helping.

When I was 13 I was very self-conscious and acutely aware that my hearing aid set me apart (I attended a mainstream school where I was one of two deaf students). I found most social situations difficult, struggling to understand what was going on and know what new things were happening in the school day.

Then I got a cochlear implant in my left ear (I still wear a hearing aid in my right ear) and I felt as if I could do anything! I could hear so much better; I could understand what was going on. That’s not to say that everyone benefits from cochlear implants and some people choose not to get them but for me, growing up in an oral family, my cochlear implant paved the way for a new life.

"To make it a real challenge I enrolled myself in the transatlantic leg."

I had a dream to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef at the time and I was concerned that my shiny new cochlear implant would prevent me. The Southampton Cochlear Implant Centre put me in touch with Deaf F, a charity running activities for deaf children and young adults, which has since closed due to lack of funding. Deaf F arranged for me to go on a deaf diving course; I had to take my implant off but there was a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter so I didn’t have any problems.

A few weeks later I received an email asking if I’d be interested in doing a Tall Ships Race that summer with an organisation called Discovery Sailing Project. Discovery was looking for two deaf ‘adventurers’ to join Sea, Hear, Discover – an initiative to get more deaf people into sailing – to advise on making sailing accessible to all.

Four years after my first sea voyage I am now a Watch Leader for the Sea, Hear, Discover scheme. Discovery has fitted a loop-system into their boats and is currently looking for qualified BSL interpreters with sailing experience. I have also passed my Royal Yachting Association Day Skipper exams.

This year I decided to combine my love of sailing with a challenge to raise funds for the National Deaf Children’s Society. I enrolled as a crew member on board the Jolie Brise, which was participating in Sail Training’s Rendez-Vous Regatta.

The regatta is made up of nine legs – totalling over 7,000 nautical miles. To make it a real challenge I enrolled myself in the transatlantic leg. The voyage would take just under four weeks, with 20 days to cross the North Atlantic. Yes, you read that right, the North Atlantic. What was I thinking?!

"I have more support than I ever did at school."

After spending the whole of May on board the Jolie Brise and meeting all sorts of characters from different countries and ways of life, I returned safely to dry land – and was very proud to have raised £550.

Before the trip I’d been concerned I might be excluded or judged by my crew mates because of my deafness. I needn’t have worried. People behave differently at sea; they’re more open and authentic and any differences seem unimportant when you’re in the middle of the Atlantic. There’s also no room for discrimination when you’re relying on each other in life and death situations. I think the only deafness related challenge was remembering when to change my batteries!

I believe that if it wasn’t for the National Deaf Children’s Society and their vision of ‘a world without barriers for every deaf child’ which I absorbed every time we received Families magazine, I’d never have found the inspiration that kept me going through the years of struggling with self-confidence and being deaf in a hearing world.

Long before I found my home in sailing, the National Deaf Children’s Society showed me examples of deaf adults who were leading successful lives in Families magazine. This, as well as providing my teachers with resources to help me in my education, kept inspiring me and made me feel like I wasn’t the only one battling out there; there were people who were on my side.

I hope my transatlantic adventure will inspire other deaf children and adults and help them see that deafness should not be seen as a hindrance but as an asset, propelling you on to amazing things and fabulous adventures.

I started studying Anthropology at university last autumn and have settled in well. My classmates have accepted my deafness and I have a strong relationship with my support worker and the disability office. I have more support than I ever did at school!

I’m enjoying my subject and my time here immensely and I will keep on sailing and continuing to defy society’s expectation of what it means to be a deaf person in a very loud world.”