When you take your first look at the 60-foot catamaran Impossible Dream, you can’t help but stare at its sweeping curves. Looming large and stately above the other power and sailboats docked at Shake-A-Leg Miami sea base on Biscayne Bay, its elegant design almost belies its purpose and function.
“It’s a magnet for people,” said Deborah Mellen, the part-time Key Biscayne resident and philanthropist who raised more than $400,000 to buy it for Shake-A-Leg. “Beautiful, light, and fully accessible.”
What sets Impossible Dream apart from numerous other luxury sailing cats that sweep in and out of Miami throughout the winter regatta season is that it’s one of very few that a disabled person can operate independently on a trans-Atlantic crossing. Shake-A-Leg Miami founder Harry Horgan says it’s the perfect addition to his organization’s fleet of fully accessible keelboats, dinghies, deck boats and fishing boats used by both disabled and able-bodied mariners in the community.
“We believe the boat can stimulate people to believe that anything’s possible,” Horgan said.
Designed and built in 2002 in the United Kingdom for British outdoor clothing retailer Mike Browne after he was paralyzed in a skiing accident, the Impossible Dream is equipped with decks wide enough to allow two wheelchairs to pass. There are three helm stations, one forward and two aft, with 360-degree visibility for steering. The four sails — Genoa, staysail, mainsail and spinnaker — can be raised and lowered with the touch of a button to cruise comfortably at about 10 knots. The boat has four wheelchair lifts — two on the outside deck for boarding and two on either side of the salon for reaching berths and heads below in the twin pontoons. It has berths for eight people, an accessible galley, an aft swim platform and a forward trampoline for lounging. Twin 70-horsepower Volvo diesels supplement the sails.
Horgan said the new flagship will be used as a training vessel and a model for the marine industry demonstrating the value of products targeting disabled boaters.
“We want the industry to look at this and say, ‘Wow!’ ” he said.
Just about everybody standing on the dock at Shake-A-Leg, including an Olympic coach’s dog, wanted to board Impossible Dream for a fun cruise last week on Biscayne Bay. But 15 — including eight wheelchair users — got to set sail, along with lucky dogs Winter and Rocky.
“There’s no boat that I’ve been on where we can have this amount of chairs on board,” Horgan said.
Captain Will Rey — a longtime Shake-A-Leg volunteer — maneuvered the sleek cat out of its slip using the twin engines and pointed it toward open water. On the outside deck and in the salon, passengers lounged, conversed and watched a nearby fleet of Star sailboats competing in the Bacardi Cup.
Out on the bay, Rey shut down the engines and crew member Jody Hill pushed buttons from his wheelchair to raise the mainsail and later, the Genoa. The boat glided along almost silently at about 6 knots in the mild breeze.
“What’s nice is the ride,” Horgan said.
Evidently, Winter agreed. The blonde Lab plopped down on the stern and fell asleep.
Horgan has big plans for the Impossible Dream: an August cruise to the World Disabled Sailing Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, stopping at ports along the East Coast, and a 2016 voyage to the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“This boat is an ambassador,” he said. “It’s uncommon. It’s purposeful. It’s attractive. You don’t think of it as a boat operated by people in wheelchairs.”
But that’s who sailed it back to port — Horgan, Hill and crewmate Francis Wenkey.
Said Horgan: “Hopefully, there will be more boats like this out on the water.”