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With the support of his crew aboard SV Blueprint, Captain Luke Spink returns to racing after a car accident left him paralyzed

With the support of his crew aboard SV Blueprint, Captain Luke Spink returns to racing after a car accident left him paralyzed
April 2024

Spink will be at the helm during Charleston Race Week (April 18-21)

Age: 35
From: Manchester, England
Lives: John’s Island
Works: Eastern US vice president of sales for Panaz Textiles
Family: Wife, Emma; children, Lottie and Oscar
Notable fact: First paraplegic sailor to race with the Charleston Ocean Racing Association

Less than a year after Luke Spink was paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident, the lifelong sailor was back at the helm of the SV Blueprint, his Beneteau First 36.7, participating in 2023’s Charleston Race Week and becoming the first paraplegic to compete with the Charleston Ocean Racing Association. 

This year, the determined 35-year-old captain’s goal is to finish in the top three of the race, which is being held April 18-21. Here, he shares what motivates him and how he and his teammates overcame the obstacles.

CM: It’s clear that you enjoy being on the water. What do you love about sailing?
In sailing, you’re in charge of your own destiny as you go out and are powered by the wind alone—it’s the most thrilling adventure. The competition aspect of racing with my team gets my adrenaline pumping like nothing else. I enjoy the high-pressure start of the race and the challenge of more weathered conditions. Plus, racing isn’t only a physical sport; it’s also strategic—like a chess game in which you’re always having to think ahead—and skills-based, as you bring multiple talents on a team together. It isn’t just individuals who make the race, it’s a team who wins it.

CM: Tell us about your sailing experience.
As a child in England, I learned how to sail on dinghies—I loved it immediately. In 2017, I earned my captain’s license in Portugal, and from there I engaged in multiple deliveries and races in the Solent [a strait in the United Kingdom] and enjoyed racing as a bowman out of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club. 

After moving to the United States shortly before COVID, we got itchy feet to get back on the water and bought SV Blueprint in 2020. Since we couldn’t go back to the UK for Christmas that year, we decided to cruise around Florida as a family with our nine-month-old daughter. While I always knew I wanted to race with Blueprint, I also dreamt of the boat offering us memorable family experiences and helping my children become water-savvy.

CM: How did you and your crew adapt SV Blueprint to meet your physical needs?
We bought additional seating, improved life jackets, and a climbing harness I strap into to keep me stable while helming the boat. However, most of the changes were less about the boat’s physicality and more about our sailing strategy—I rely on the crew more heavily than before, and we’ve shifted our communication styles. Now that I’m paralyzed, I’m determined to prove that disability can’t hold me and my team back.

CM: How does sailing in Charleston compare with other places you’ve lived and traveled?
Charleston Harbor offers some of the best conditions for racing I’ve ever experienced in the world. The local sailing community is so close-knit and supportive—my wife, toddlers, and I learned this firsthand after my accident when these friends were so generous to us.

CM: As a captain, how do you keep crew morale high?
I strive to create a community of friends, which is a huge component of my passion for sailing. I want everyone on the boat to be a friend, as well as a sailor, which I hope creates a greater sense of purpose and a common goal to work toward as a team. 

CM: What goals do you hope to accomplish this racing season?
I’d love to see us podium in this year’s in-shore summer racing series. I want to empower my crew to grow as a team and continue our strong sense of trust. To keep the team developing in skill and having fun together—at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.