Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Are Sailors Dyslexic?

Are sailors dyslexic?

Of course not. What a stupid question.

But on my recent vacation at Minorca Sailing, someone posed a more subtle question about sailors and dyslexia. She was at Minorca Sailing to learn to sail and by profession she was a tutor for dyslexic students at a well-known British university. After a few days of sailing lessons she expressed the opinion that sailing was a skill that might be easy for people with dyslexia to learn and wondered if, as a result, dyslexics are over-represented among sailors.

Dyslexia, if you're not familiar with the term, is a learning disability that impairs a person's fluency or comprehension accuracy in being able to read. Most people don't learn to sail by reading a book, or at least not by only reading a book (although there was one client at Minorca Sailing who was doggedly studying a sailing textbook in between lessons and he was having more difficulty than most at mastering beginner dinghy sailing.) Ultimately you learn sailing, especially dinghy sailing, by hands-on practice and experience. Instruction is often given verbally, so difficulties with reading are no real barrier to learning to sail. Perhaps my tutor friend was on to something?

A quick Google on dyslexia and sailing throws up some supporting evidence for her theory. "Pull the Tiller Toward You" is an article about a sailing school and especially about how well dyslexic kids respond to sailing.

“We found a curious thing along the way with learning disabled children, particularly dyslexic kids,” Mrs. Parry said. “Sailing is an absolute natural for them. There is no reading. It’s all hands on. It’s all auditory.”

And here's another example. Jessica Watson who became the youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world last year at the age of 16, is apparently also a dyslexic.

Do any of my readers have experience on this question? Are sailors dyslexic?


Corri said...

I am. Which may explain why I'm awesome at sailing right until someone puts a darn wheel at the driver's station.

I could totally see sailing being more understandable to dyslexics. In my opinion, only from living through my eyes, dyslexia doesn't just have to do with words, like being left handed doesn't just have to do with writing. I see many things from a completely different perspective as most, and I've heard people say in sailing that many things seem "counter intuitive." For me, it all made immediate sense. I've always chalked that up to fate telling me I was born to be a sailor. Maybe being dyslexic also means I was born to be a sailor. If so, I forgive it everything I ever blamed it for. :)

Tillerman said...

Thanks for the quick response - and confirmation of the theory - Corrie.

Your comments raise another related question. It's likely that dyslexics can learn to sail as well as anybody because the ability to read isn't needed much in sailing, but do dyslexics actually find it easier to learn to sail than the rest of us (as you seem to imply)? I think this what my tutor friend was getting at too. Do dyslexics actually do better than the rest of us at skills that are learned through feel and touch?

By the way people, check out Corrie's blog A Pleasure A Day. Sumptuous photos (and hardly any words.)

Tillerman said...

Oops. That should be Corri, not Corrie. And I don't even have the excuse that I'm dyslexic.

Baydog said...

Has anyone that's transitioned from tiller to wheel sailing experienced confusion now and then regarding which way to turn the wheel? When your hand is on top of the wheel and you push hard to the lee, the boat moves in that direction. However, when you push a tiller to the lee, you round up into the wind. I haven't T-boned anybody yet but occasionally I'll make that mistake.

And is it Menorca or Minorca?

Tillerman said...

The island's name is Menorca in Catalan and Spanish, but usually Minorca in English. The sailing holiday company is called Minorca Sailing.

Although I am writing in English I have chosen to use the Catalan or Spanish spelling when referring to the island, but haven't changed the name of the company. Minorca Sailing also refer to the island as Menorca on their website.

Now which state is West New York in?

Andy Rooney said...

Didja ever wonder why there's a West New York, but no East Jersey City?

Andy Bernard said...

No Andy, I never did. Did you ever wonder why there are two Kansas Cities and one of them isn't even in Kansas?

Corri said...

Hmm. That takes some thinking about. I don't know how much dyslexia allows for better consumption of skills acquired through touch. However, I do think it helps with a few of the basic sailing skills, and some of the not so basic. Also, I think it might help with sailing diagrams. I can't explain it well, but sailing is about movement, and really so is dyslexia.

I would love to study this more though. I have theories on disabilities like dyslexia having been survival skills at some point.

Baydog said...

Did anyone ever drive west on rt. 80 in Pennsylvania and pass an exit for Jersey Shore?

Tillerman said...

Exit 192. Rte 880.

Jersey Shore PA was originally named because the residents of the settlement on that side of the Susquehanna River all looked like Snooki.

yarg said...

I don’t know if sailing has more than its fair share of dyslectics, but there are lots of things in my teacher training that would explain why they have no trouble learning sailing. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory proposes 7 types of intelligences (and 2 more have been added recently), and maintains that each of us have varying abilities in the different types. It is easy to see that linguistic, mathematical, musical, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences would be very different. Learning style theories say that we similarly have varying propensities to learn in different styles. The one I like has seven styles: visual, auditory, verbal, logical-mathematical, solitary, social, and physical-kinesthetic. Dyslectics have serious issues with visual and verbal, and very likely compensate for their disability by getting better at the others.

I found this tidbit on the internet (source of all knowledge) describing dyslectics:
“The talents and accompanying challenges vary enormously, but dyslexics usually share these common traits - they are highly aware of their environment, very curious, intuitive and insightful, and have vivid imaginations.”

Give me someone with high kinesthetic intelligence, who is highly aware of his environment, curious, intuitive and insightful, and I think we can develop an excellent sailor.

In my situation of working with high school students, sailing offers a unique opportunity to use intelligences not otherwise valued in an academic environment where only linguistic and mathematical intelligences (especially as measured on a standardized test) seem important.

Eric said...

I know that a lot of people on our sailing team at our university have ADD or other types of mental disabilities, and we've been pretty consistently ranked in the top 5 over the last year or so. I know for a fact some of the best college sailors in the past few years have had ADD.

Unknown said...

Firstly I'm dyslexic and therefore you must excuse and spelling mistakes in the following post.

I was first made aware that dyslexia was quite common in sailing by a talk at my local club by a chap who had just missed out on qualifying for the Olympic teams, bit was giving talks instead he apologised for any spelling mistakes in his flip chart scribbles explaining he was dyslexic and many of his team mates were too. This got me thinking.

I believe the main reason for this is not because of any inability to read books or know your left from right but that generally dyslexic people (of the type that I am) have very good spacial awareness, they can see things visually and therefore are able to adapt quickly to the challenges that sailing throws at you, especially when you get into racing and port/starboard situations come at you quick and fast in big fleets.

I agree with Yarg above curiosity, intuitiveness and insight-fullness are also relative strengths for me.

I defiantly believe that it is a great outdoor activity for people with dyslexia, albeit it being rather too expensive for most and would encourage local sailing clubs to discuss this with their local education authorities.

Unknown said...

If this is true, then sailing should be a very popular sport, because after all 25 out of every 18 people are dyslexic.

Unknown said...

I would agree with the general belief that dyslexics are naturals when it comes to the practical aspects of sailing. However I came across this discussion while looking for some 1-1 training/support in mastering navigational theory. Having scraped through the Day skipper course several years ago I took the plunge to do Yacht Master last year. By week 5 I couldn't take any more embarrassment at the fact I couldn't retain the formula long enough to work out CTS, COG and all those other stress invoking acronyms!! If anyone has any suggestions as to how I can master these concepts I would be very grateful?

Anonymous said...

It's to do with the 'Dyslexic Advantage' - 'big picture' thinking, 3D visualisation etc
The ability to read and write has only become important to humans in the last few hundred years; it has not been subject to natural selection. Dyslexic wiring favours certain traits (at the expense of reading and writing), many of which make sailing more natural. My dyslexic son took to it and was soon beating his instructors!

Anonymous said...

My son until recently raced a Topper dinghy. We, the parents had a discussion about dyslexia and it was surprising how many of the young sailors were dyslexic. It is perhaps the ability to sail and explore that has made the dyslexic genes so prevalent.

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