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Thursday 27 July 2017

Blind sailor over halfway through round-Ireland trip - and it's all for a good cause

Chris Egan is spending two months at sea in order to raise funds for Irish Guide Dogs and the RNLI
Chris Egan is spending two months at sea in order to raise funds for Irish Guide Dogs and the RNLI

Rebecca Lumley

A man who is 'legally blind' is more than halfway through a sailing expedition around the country and is due to dock in Dublin today.

Chris Egan, who is sailing around Ireland for the second time in his life, is spending two months at sea in order to raise funds for Irish Guide Dogs and the RNLI. An avid yachtsman, Mr Egan first sailed around Ireland in 2013, following a brush with cancer.

Shortly after receiving cancer treatment, Mr Egan travelled over 750 miles with friend David Bevan, who was also battling cancer at the time and had to receive chemotherapy when the boat docked in some ports.

The pair successfully made it around the country and raised over €25,000 for two cancer charities and the RNLI.

Mr Egan described it as something he had wanted to "tick off his bucket list."

Shortly after, Mr Egan was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosis, a degenerative eye condition that will soon leave him fully blind. Undeterred by his declining vision, which he says is  "like looking through a tunnel", Mr Egan set sail once again at the start of May, leaving from Limerick.

Speaking to Independent.ie about his condition, he said: "You just have to watch yourself a lot more. You can’t go bouncing around the deck like you used to.

"I would have a problem when I come in from the daylight into the inside of the boat. My adjustment would be very slow with the conditions inside. I was actually using a torch in a lot of cases to help me with my vision around the boat but once my eyes get adjusted to the inside I’m fine. I’m familiar now with the boat."

Mr Egan recently completed a course in long-cane mobility with Irish Guide Dogs, as well as a course in independent living skills. When his sight worsens he will use a guide dog.

This spurred the Limerick man to help when approached by the charity.

He said: "I was asked if I’d be interested in doing any fundraising, or if I had ever done any fundraising. I said the only fundraising I’d done was to sail around Ireland and they said well, will you do that for us? And I said hold on, let me think about it. It’s no small task, you know.

"They supply a great service to people like myself with the guide dogs and also people with autism. I thought well, I wouldn’t mind helping out because they’ll likely be helping me out with a guide dog at some stage."

Mr Egan was also keen to prove himself, despite his impaired eyesight.

"This challenge is also about promoting sailing for people like me who may have been sailing for years but who have acquired a disability."

Mr Egan, accompanied by sailing partners Gerry Hutton and Jim Humphries, will sail into Dun Laoghaire’s East Pier today.

Weather has been on the group’s side so far, though the journey is still a significant undertaking, even for seasoned sailors.

Mr Egan said: "We’ve been lucky with the weather so far but the West Coast can be very hazardous in rough conditions. There’s a big sea swell there, it is a very rough coastline.

"We’ve been lucky we’ve been able to get out most days and we haven’t been hindered by the weather too much."

The group set sail from Limerick on May 1 and have travelled north, visiting the Aran Islands, Inis Boffin, Kilrush, Clare Island and Rathlin.

They have raised over €14,500 for the charity so far, with more donations coming in every day.

The project has been dubbed “Gangway for Guide Dogs” and the crew are providing daily updates of the group’s progress on their Facebook page.

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