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A Vision

Vince Morvillo: Lakewood Yacht Club member and Texas resident Vince Morvillo took the Ensign National Championship in Newport, R.I. this August. Competing against 40 other teams, Morvillo, age 60, who has been blind since the age of 20, beat the competition squarely with a margin of 11 points over the second place finisher. Now that is impressive.

SA spoke to Vince this week:

Vince, congratulations on a great regatta. You took the national championship with a win against seven past national champions, finishing 11 points ahead of the second place finisher, against 40 able-bodied skippers and crew. What did it take to sweep this regatta and take the title?

I had to put together a team that consisted of 3 able-bodied sailors who could share the dream of a blind sailor of winning. It meant they had to be excellent sailors in their own right & crazy enough to get in a boat with a blind skipper.

Forgive our naivety, but how visually impaired are you?

When I was young, I had extremely poor vision which faded away to just the light perception I have today. I do have the ability if the light is right to identify shadows.

How do you “see” around the course? In a sport so “feel” oriented, we assume this is mostly how you do it?

This is an interesting question. If you think about it when you feel the change in the boat, the worst has happened. Speed is a function of not letting things happen that reduce speed. We developed a communication system which allows me to know what the boat is about to do so that it won’t do it. This includes position of the boat in the groove, wave sets, direction towards mark, etc. This task is assigned to the mainsail trimmer. The activity & communication at the starts amongst flogging sails & aggressive competitors is unbelievable. I would not want the sighted guides job.

You clinched your national title in Newport, R.I. just four miles away from where you first learned to sail many years ago. How important was returning to your roots for you and do you feel local knowledge helped you?

I sailed there 47 years ago so I don’t remember much about local knowledge. Kent Gordon studied the bay & the currents & made some real incredible calls. To win in Newport on Narragansett Bay was very special. A lot of important moments of my life happened in that area. It had been my goal to win there from the time they announced the venue.

As a visually-impaired sailor racing on the rough waters of Narragansett Bay, what is the most important thing for you as far as crew work goes as a skipper. How long has your team sailed together?

The most important part for me was to feel the rhythm of the boat as the waves bumped the bow up & down. The ability of the team to adjust sails to my steering, the constant trimming as I move up & down in the groove, harmony, & positive thinking at all times & each respecting the other are needed to create the trust that everyone is doing their job. This team is relatively new. Dick & I have sailed together since 1989. Buddy & Kent joined us this season.

What is the significance of the name of your red-hulled Ensign “Novie Mari.” And, what can you tell us about the caliber of racing in the Ensigns around the country and in your home area of Lakewood, Texas.

In Seabrook, Texas, the caliber of racing is outstanding. Several national champions have come from our Ensign fleet including Dean Snider & Clarke Thompson. Remember also that great sailors like John Kolius, Charlie Ogletree, Bye Baldridge, Marvin Beckman, & Jay Lutz to name a few sail there also. When I purchased the boat, I had a partner who was a paraplegic. His Mom had just died & he asked if we could name the boat after her. After the partnership dissolved, I left the name the same, feeling that the mother of a disabled person was fitting name for the boat.

What are your primary regattas in your area of Lakewood, Texas? What is going on in your area in the sport of sailing and what would you like to see happen to the sport?

We have several good regattas in the area. The Leukemia Cup, which raises the largest amount of money of any of the Leukemia Cup regattas in the country, the NOOD regatta, an active offshore series, & many other open regattas. Houston Yacht Club has hosted many national and international events & has been the venue for several Olympic qualifiers. I would like to see a greater emphasis on one-design racing, particularly in the smaller boats. I would also like to see the local high schools include sailing as an after-school sport.

As a visually impaired sailor, how has sailing enhanced your life? What would you tell other disabled sailors about the sport. What advice would you give to other visually impaired teams?

I think that all persons, disabled or not, should go out & do those things they choose to do. No one should ever be intimidated about trying something new. Sailing gives a feeling of freedom, & develops positive energy. It is a wonderful way to enjoy the subtleness of nature. So I would encourage disabled persons to get involved in the many sailing programs for the disabled.

So, you grew up in Rhode Island and eventually ended up living in Texas. Would you say that you are still a New Englander or do you like the Texas way of life. Do you find that sailors are the same throughout the country?

I love the Texas way of life although I miss the seasons of the Northeast. I have found that sailors are the same around the world.

What is your next goal now that you have clinched the National Title. Was this your first championship win overall?

This was my 1st National championship against able-bodied sailors. Previously in Blind Sailing events, I have held National and World titles. Right now we are focusing on the Champions of Champions regatta. The challenge here is it’s being sailed in a dinghy & it’s me & 1 crew. I’m looking forward to sailing against the other champions.

What can you say about being in your 60s and racing at the level you are currently sailing at. How often do you sail and compete? What is your secret?

I own a Yacht dealership which is a low-stress job. I exercise daily & eat a healthy diet. I probably get to race once a month. I think when your work is around a passion and you hang out & compete with young people, you just stay young. My crew member, Dick, is 75 and can still climb a mast.

How do you follow the sport of sailing? Would like to see more radio commentary on it? Do you follow the professional side of the sport?

I would like to see more local newspaper coverage and a broadening of the cable network coverage to include major amateur regattas.

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