Blind couple are bound for Asia

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The pair are continuing their circumnavigation in a new boat, spreading their message of no boundaries

The pair are continuing their circumnavigation in a new boat, spreading their message of no boundaries

For two legally blind Californians, sailing unassisted across the Pacific was only the first part of an ambitious voyage around the world. This spring Scott Duncan and his girlfriend, Pam Habek, plan to continue their circumnavigation, sailing west from New Zealand and stopping in as many countries and ports as they can to speak to people with visual disabilities.

“We want to meet people with disabilities and share with them our journey and what we’re doing,” says Duncan, who is 39, in a phone interview with Soundings from Whangarei, New Zealand. Duncan and Habek, 44, were spending the winter in Whangarei preparing a Pearson 39, Starship, for the next stage of their odyssey. “We want to tell people not to let others set limitations for them. Everyone has limitations, but you need to reach inside yourself and figure that out on your own. You’ll find, with a little adaptation, there are amazing things you can do.”

Duncan and Habek — both of whom were born with congenital eye conditions — left their home port of San Francisco Oct. 11, 2004, and sailed a Valiant 32, Tournesol, more than 10,000 miles to New Zealand, making landfall Nov. 10, 2005. Along the way, they made stops in 26 ports in six countries and spoke with hundreds of local people about their adventure.

After making New Zealand, the couple returned to the United States sans boat, where they found jobs and saved money for the next leg of their circumnavigation. “We really are excited about getting under way again,” says Duncan. “We’re planning to visit some of the most remote places in the world. Plus, we just love being at sea. We love the ocean, and love depending on each other and the boat to get us there.”

Duncan and Habek do have some vision, but they rely on special equipment to help them trim sails and navigate. Some of their equipment includes a talking GPS, speech output and large-print software (magnified 16 times), color-coded lines, and telescopes and magnifying glasses. They also use headsets to communicate when they are on opposite ends of the boat.

“A lot of the time here in New Zealand we’ve spent outfitting Starship with our equipment,” says Duncan.

The couple sold the Valiant 32 and purchased the Pearson 39 because they needed a bigger boat. “We loved Tournesol,” says Duncan. “She was probably more seaworthy than Starship, but we need more space. Besides having more room for provisions, now when we’re stuck below in bad weather for days we’ll have our own space.”

Duncan and Habek launched Starship in February for a shakedown cruise along New Zealand’s east coast. “It’s like we’re starting all over again, especially considering our condition,” Duncan says. “We really need to acquaint ourselves with the boat before setting off.”

They were planning to set sail from Whangarei in late March or early April, heading to Australia, then on to such destinations as Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. From there they will push west to Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. They intend to spend about five months in Thailand. “We love Thai food, which helps, but I think becoming acclimated with the culture will still be a challenge,” Duncan says.

Duncan and Habek hope to wrap up their circumnavigation back in San Francisco in the next two to three years. “I’m excited about the complete unknown of it all,” says Habek. “We talk about it, but I still can’t believe that we’ll be visiting all of these amazing places. I hope we have even more encounters with people with disabilities on this leg than we did on the last.”

For more information about the voyage or to participate in online discussions, visit www.blindsailing.com .