In 2000 Russell Vollmer completed the Cape to Rio yacht race without making the cut-off date. In Rio his wife Heidi immediately predicted, “I suppose you will have to do the next race because you did not finish this one.”
Although, Russell, medically classified as a quadriplegic, did not compete in the next Cape to Rio, this year he fulfilled his dream by finishing the inaugural Cape to Salvador race as a crew member on board the55 foot catamaran, Omnimed Segue. It also turned out to be more than the achievement of a dream; it has given Russell a newfound freedom in sailing.
Russell started sailing at age 13 but a diving accident, in which he broke his neck and lost the ability to walk as well as some hand function, stopped his sailing aspirations. In 1989 Russell and his dad bought their Miura, named Chen, and Russell competed in all major regattas around Cape Town in Chen, winning the Miura Nationals in 1996 and 1998. In between the nationals, they competed in club races and had a number of handicap victories. These smaller races were all in preparation for the big one, the Cape to Rio race. In 2000 together with a friend, Tony Read, Russell fulfilled this goal and raced to Rio in “Windforce”, a 41-footer.
This set in motion his participation in the Sydney Paralympics. He competed in the 2.4m single handed class R class. Unfortunately, he did not pick up a medal but it was, as he describes it “An awesome experience and something I hope to repeat in 2008 in Beijing”. While Russell was unsuccessful in 2000, this year, he and the crew ofOmnimed Segue successfully arrived in Salvador 20 days and a couple of hours after leaving Cape Town. “We would have liked to have gotten there quicker. The Race is simple in the sense that it is a South Atlantic crossing, on a fairly forgiving sea. The fi rst few days out of Cape Town were fairly rough – then we got into the trade winds and rolling swells of the Atlantic and a steady wind, which was sometimes good, sometimes too light, but never nasty.
“The heavy weather limited my mobility, but I soon found my sea wheels and was able to manoeuvre around the saloon without risk or damage.” For Russell sailing on a catamaran was a main direction shift – he normally sails a monohull - but he found the yacht very suitable and functional for his needs. “Omnimed Segue is a fine craft and one on which such a crossing is an absolute pleasure. It is a broad and fairly level vessel, making it easy to manoeuvre with a wheelchair. “I was able to move from the main salon to one area and then another; to navigation, steering, radar, the radios, in the wheelchair.” Sailing is not just the about the racing for Russell. It is also about being independent. “Yachting has brought me into the vast world of like-minded people who have seen beyond my wheelchair and with support and friendship of the crew I have achieved things that I only dreamed of back in 1976. "On my Cape to Rio trip I was very dependent on the crew. This time it was completely different. My personal comfort has been ideal with my camp bed aft and my toilet/shower. It was a simple yet effective set up that made self sufficient. It was a real pleasure to be able to shower, especially with fresh water. “It was a huge insight into how much more pleasant it can be, and how independent I can be. With the monohull it is difficult to move in a wheelchair when conditions are rough, while on the cat movement is very possible. “My goal for the future is another ocean crossing in a catamaran but I would like to do so with another two or three people with disabilities in the crew."