MYSTIC — The breezy waters off southeastern Connecticut proved a welcome relief from last week’s heat for the dozen crew and guests aboard the Impossible Dream, a 60-foot catamaran with a special mission.
The boat set sail from the north dock at Mystic Seaport Museum Wednesday afternoon, spending several hours on the waters around Mystic and Fishers Island Sound.
Aboard were several people who use wheelchairs, including the CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Impossible Dream, Deborah Mellen.
Each of the vessel’s four sleeping cabins is wheelchair-accessible. There’s also a bathroom in each of the catamaran’s two identical hulls.
The top deck has plenty of room for wheelchairs to maneuver among the various steering and navigation control areas as well.
“A person in a wheelchair or with any disability can drive this boat, practically single-handedly. Everything happens here. Even cooking works for everybody,” Mellen said.
It’s by design — literally. The boat and everything on it was designed and built to accommodate those with physical disabilities, freeing them to travel the open seas.
“She’s the only one that’s been built in that way,” Mellen said.
Mellen, the crew and the boat are in the midst of an almost 4,000-mile journey that started in June from its home port in Miami and will take it up the eastern seaboard to 16 destinations along the way. It was docked at the Seaport for several days last week.
“We also do races to up our profile and talk about what people with disabilities can do. We just finished a 450-mile race from St. Petersburg to Isla Mujeres, Mexico,” Mellen said. Five of the seven people onboard for that race have disabilities.
“We came in first in our class,” she said. “On every leg of the trip we take on sailors with disabilities as crew. And they work on the boat.”
At each stop along the journey, the Impossible Dream team contacts disability organizations and rehabilitation hospitals to take people sailing.
“We love to make people smile,” Mellen said. All ages are welcomed aboard. The goal is to get individuals with a disability out on the water, and to promote discussion of issues of accessibility.
The boat’s captain, Will Rey, estimates the Impossible Dream sailed more than 10,000 miles last year in its mission.
The boat returns to Miami for rest and repairs at the end of October. It then starts its offseason role at Shake-a-Leg, an adaptive water sports facility in Miami for people of all abilities.
Shake-a-Leg founder Harry Horgan is Mellen’s partner in the Impossible Dream.
Mellen had never sailed when she was badly injured in a car accident in Italy 25 years ago and started using a wheelchair.
A surgeon in Miami took her to Shake-a-Leg, where she not only met Horgan but also learned to sail.
An experience aboard an accessible boat led Mellen to start talking with Horgan about someday owning such a boat.
She found the Impossible Dream for sale in England through an online search, and was able to purchase it and start the nonprofit in 2002.
“I just started embracing everything I could, and figure if I try to do 100 things, at least I’ll do 10, which is great. And I’ve met the most beautiful and courageous people through this.”