PATRICK Souiljaert is an accomplished author, motivational speaker and meditation teacher.

He lives with cerebral palsy, but doesn’t think of himself as disabled, and regularly sails with the charity Sussex Sailability at Sussex Yacht Club.

Patrick, 45, from Shoreham, talks about what sailing means to him and why the planned rebuild of Sussex Yacht Club, which will make it one of the best centres for sailing for the disabled in the UK, is so important.

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“Being born with my umbilical cord around my neck in 1973 deprived me of oxygen and I’ve lived with the physical challenges caused by cerebral palsy since that moment.

“Cerebral palsy is a physical disability, which makes the physical demands of life difficult. It affects movement, balance and, in some cases, the person’s speech.

However, I’ve never thought of myself as being disabled and I’ve always believed that I can do anything I want to.

“I started sailing in the summer of 2013.

“My friend Mike from down the pub, who was a member of Sussex Yacht Club, told me about Sussex Sailability which gets people with all kinds of disabilities sailing.

“He said I should give it a go because I might like it, even though I’d never done sailing before.

“Straight away I knew it was for me. It was something completely different from what I was doing in my work life. It’s pure escapism and I find it so peaceful. When I’m out on the boat I feel really in the present moment, which is awesome.

“I suppose on that first time out on the water, I was a bit apprehensive that the boat might capsize. I can swim, just not very well, but I was wearing a buoyancy aid and I was with a volunteer, so I felt safe.

On my third visit I went out on a boat on my own, it felt exhilarating – even though a lot of the time I was just going around in circles because I didn’t know how to sail.

“When I’m out there, on my own, it’s quite exciting because I’m in control – yet in some ways I’m not because my direction is guided by the wind.

“It’s a sporting activity and I’m doing something I wouldn’t normally do, plus there’s an element of danger – of thrill-seeking.

“I still think of myself as a novice, but then I don’t take it very seriously – for me it’s a bit of fun on a Saturday afternoon.

“For my first three years I went up and down the river on my own in the small access boat.

“Then I went on the RS Venture Boat out to sea which was a completely different experience.

“For a start you are part of a team of four people, so you can’t just do whatever you like, it’s also a much heavier boat so turning it takes a lot more time and effort. It’s much more serious sailing.”

l Sussex Sailability relies on experienced sailors who volunteer their time to run the sessions, allowing people with disabilities the chance to learn and enjoy the sport in a safe and controlled environment on the charity’s specially adapted boats.

Those using the facilities might be completely new to sailing, like Patrick, or they could be sailors who have become disabled through accident or illness.

Patrick said, “If it wasn’t for our wonderful volunteers, giving up their time to help us, none of us would have the opportunity to sail.

“It just wouldn’t happen. What they give people is a lifeline. It will be exciting to have a new clubhouse and better facilities that will cater for everyone.

“Sometimes it’s the small things which make a big difference.”