Notes from the waterfront

Belfast gets a glimpse of the (Im)possible Dream

Universally accessible catamaran visits city on return from Quebec
By Ethan Andrews | Aug 09, 2017
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Deborah Mellen, founder of Impossible Dream Project, at the helm of the fully handicapped-accessible ship of the same name.

Belfast — You don't have to know anything about Impossible Dream to sense the ambition.

The 60-foot catamaran was in Belfast Harbor recently, sporting a colorful mess of sponsorship decals — rum, hospitals — a web address across the boom, and the name of the boat on each of its two hulls, the "Im" covered with a defiant X of red tape.

Aboard, crew member Bradley Johnson, an athletic guy with iridescent sunglasses, dreadlocks and two prosthetic legs, mentioned in passing that he had won a bronze medal at the 2004 Paralympic Games, and sailed for the U.S. team again in 2012. "I skipped Beijing because I went back to volleyball," he said, laughing.

In the pilothouse, Deborah Mellen, the boat's underwriter and the mastermind behind the Impossible Dream Project, described the boat with the reserved confidence of someone who has overcome major obstacles, or has a lot of money, or both. The boat is one of the only, if not the only, universally accessible sailing vessels in the U.S., she said.

Mellen — shock of short gray hair, loose-fitting clothes, dark sunglasses — has been in a wheelchair for 25 years. Before that, ironically, she had never sailed. She learned the ropes at Shake a Leg Miami, an accessible water sports center, and when she heard of an adapted catamaran for sale in England, bought it with the dream of bringing people of all abilities aboard to experience sailing.

To that end, Impossible Dream is equipped with wheelchair lifts that go from the dock to the deck and down to the double berths in the holds of each of the twin hulls. In the pilothouse, a pair of captain's chairs locked into a semicircular rail follow the sweeping panel of cockpit controls. Mellen said she usually pushes them aside and drives the boat from her own chair.

Impossible Dream has traveled several times up and down the East Coast working with hospitals and organizations along the way to arrange sailing excursions for disabled people and their families.

The boat was in Belfast Harbor for two days between stops in Halifax and points south. The stop didn't appear on the official itinerary. As Captain Will Rey put it, the city is "one of the more unassuming, less touristy" ports in the area.

The Impossible Dream crew sailed with the Tall Ships in Quebec and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. After two nights in Belfast, they were headed south to meet a group of disabled sailors in Kennebunkport, then to Boston to work with Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

More waterfront notes

The Bar Harbor-based whale-watching boat Atlanticat, a 120-foot catamaran, was hauled out of the water at Front Street Shipyard Aug. 7 so a leaky water seal could be repaired.

Across the yard, a 112-foot Westport motor yacht, Checked Out, was on jacks undergoing repairs to the stabilizer.

Shipyard President JB Turner said Aug. 7 that he expected an 88-foot yacht to arrive later that day for a new stabilizer. The 140-foot schooner Spirit of South Carolina is scheduled to arrive at the end of the month, he said.

Impossible Dream at the public landing in Belfast Aug. 6. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Bar Harbor whale-watching boat Atlanticat motors into Belfast Aug. 6, bound for Front Street Shipyard to have a leaking water seal repaired. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
At Front Street Shipyard Aug. 6: a 112-foot power yacht, Checked Out, in for stabilizer repairs, left, and Bar Harbor whale-watching boat Atlanticat, right, entering the travel lift. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
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