There is a special boat afloat on the ocean. As it often happens to boats, she was created following the dream of a young man. But this boat somehow differs from the others, because even if she was born out of one man’s dream, she soon became a dream open to everybody, especially to those people who don’t have the opportunity to sail because of physical disabilities.
Andrea Stella is an italian sailor who had the strength and courage to face and overcome a serious accident, the paralysis of the lower limbs. He didn’t only fight to keep his dream of sailing the ocean alive, but he also created a project that aims to help society in a broader sense.
With the help of family and friends he built a catamaran that would allow a person with disabilities to be totally autonomous in sailing the boat and living aboard. The association with the same name was created around the project of the boat. The fundamental idea behind the project is that if they were successful in creating a boat that was comfortable and accessible to people with disabilities why not use the same design philosophy to improve the accessibility standards of our cities, buildings and transportation? Why not realize integrated projects which allow everyone, regardless of disability or limitations, to live better?
Andrea’s case is very emblematic of the desire to make sailing really accessible to everybody, and I had the pleasure to ask him few questions about his life and his projects:
FB: Hi Andrea, tell me about the relationship you have with the sea, what emotions you feel when you see the earth disappear from the horizon?
AS: The ocean gives me freedom, it makes me appreciate the small things of life and enjoy the wonders of nature. I never lose a sunrise or sunset when I am sailing and I always feel deeply focused on what surrounds me.
FB: After that unfortunate and tragic evening in Miami, what made the desire of sea and sailing come back?
AS: During the period of rehabilitation my father was always proposing positive actions, he pushed me to return to my passions. So I believe his insistence was a good start, and then the beginning of this new project of “going back to normal” took over.
FB: How did the project of “Spirito di Stella” start? What has helped you most to realize your project?
AS: I believe in the first place the great motivation was to redeem my personal negative experience but above all I think I found the mission to prove that without barriers we can all live much better.
FB What were the responses of society to your dream?
AS: I encountered a lot of help and support, many people were willing to listen and to contribute with what they could. Of course I also had to deal with a lot of superficiality and rhetoric, as it often happens in regards to certain difficult social topics like disabilities.
FB: Tell me about the boat, how was it designed and equipped?
AS: “Lo Spirito di Stella” is a catamaran designed thinking specifically to my situation, for people on wheelchair but also considering other types of disabilities, like a friend of mine with muscular dystrophy that has very little strength in the upper body. She was built to address these challenges and she is a beautiful and comfortable boat accessible to everybody, the proof that problem solving helps to really create solutions and functional design.
FB: Is it possible to transfer the experience and learnings from Lo Spirito di Stella other boats?
AS: Of course, it is possible! We want to do even more. As an association we hope that the same philosophy would be applied not only to boats but to everyday life, on trains, buses, houses and public buildings that could be made accessible to every person, independently of age and physical limitations. Only when a mother can change a baby in a public space or elderly people can walk everywhere in safety, then we would be really inclusive of everybody.
FB: How do you live the concept of limit?
AS: Like something that it can be overcome if studied carefully, or at least bypassed.
FB: You have other dreams that you would like to see implemented?
AS: A lot! But the very next project is WoW (Wheels On Waves), the Atlantic Crossing, from Miami to Rome via New York City. From the U.N. To Pope Francis, with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities printed on our sails. 12 legs with 12 different crew, everybody can participate and sail with us, not as passengers but as true crew members. You can go on the website wheelsonwaves.com to know more!
FB: What is the “Spirit” of Stella?
AS: A smiling spirit! The desire to have fun while doing things that help open people’s mind and help everybody understand that limits can be overcome!