Three hundred sixty-five days a year the sparkling waters of Biscayne Bay beckon one and all. Fortunately not everyone heeds its siren call. Otherwise the soothing sea might more resemble I-95 during morning rush hour instead of a placid place for relaxation, contemplation, or recreation.
Those rush-hour nightmares may come true this weekend, however, during Go Sailing! Day, a national campaign devoted to getting people off their duffs and into a sailboat at least for a day. "Our mission is to reach out and be the doorway to Biscayne Bay for the general public," says Harry Horgan, founder and executive director of Shake-A-Leg Miami, one of the cohosts of the open house along with Sail America, an industry association based in Newport, Rhode Island. "The event we're putting on is a free sailing day where we invite people from the community to come on out and go for a free ride," Horgan explains. "We have a program that's fun and challenging and wet!"
A nonprofit organization that runs a water-sports program specializing in working with youth and people with disabilities, Shake-A-Leg was established by Horgan after he sustained a back injury that paralyzed him in the mid-Eighties in Newport. Ten years ago, at the suggestion of doctors at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, Horgan relocated Shake-A-Leg to Miami. Since then the group has been teaching people with spinal cord injuries, birth defects, or developmental disabilities how to sail or just exposing them to the outdoor environment and the joys of the sport.
Horgan claims Shake-A-Leg puts about 5000 people on the water every year. It's an extraordinary feat helped along by a fleet of 30-some vessels that are anything but ordinary. Eleven specially equipped 21-footers are designed not to capsize, have swivel seats that allow side-to-side movement, and boast a large cockpit that contains all the rigging to control the sails. "Once you're out there sailing, it's easy," Horgan notes. "It's getting on the boat and getting out that is the tough part."
On land Shake-A-Leg's headquarters currently are housed in a couple of trailers behind the old Pan Am airplane hangar in Coconut Grove. Ultimately the group hopes to create a world-class water-sports center, a process that could take years. Until that time, however, they intend to soak up the good vibes that gliding around the bay offers. "Sailing provides an opportunity to leave your disability on the dock and get out there and enjoy," Horgan says. "We all take it for granted, but there's a magical quality; the serenity is a stress releaser. It's just great to get out there and relax and be energized by the magic of the bay."