SAN DIEGO — Dennis Howard has been sailing for decades. He’s got thousands of miles of experience sailing the ocean by himself.
But he’s never attempted anything like this before.
“I don’t know anybody that has,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s spectacular, it’s just bizarre.”
What he’s planning to do is sail from San Diego to France solo on a 20-foot Flicka boat named the Avalo. And what makes this trip so bizarre is that Howard is legally blind.
Howard has been legally blind for four years. He lost his sight to Glaucoma. Over the years, pressure had built up in his right eye, destroying the optic nerve, causing it to go completely blind. His left eye began to shut down not long after.
“I tried to get help at a number of centers up and down the west coast…nobody would touch me,” he said. “The reason was that when you have high pressures like this, nobody wants to do surgery because you might end up blind.”
Howard was able to connect with a specialist in New York. His right eye was so far damaged that it was removed, but he was able to have a surgery to save some of the sight in his left eye. He has only 5 percent to 7 percent vision total in his left eye, but it’s something he’s grateful for.
“It’s not a sadness; I’m so lucky to have that,” he said. “It’s not a small thing to me.”
Howard explained his vision: “If you cover your one eye with a hand, and you imagine looking through a drinking straw with the other, that’s what I see, but I see it perfectly…my joke is, is that I can read a license plate from across the street, I just can’t see the truck.”
Howard is based in Half Moon Marina, which is just outside of Humphreys Backstage where he will perform in a fundraising concert that was set up by the people of the marina.
“I play music regularly,” Howard said. “My music style is more along the lines of pop-blues, a little bit of jazz, but not really…mostly acoustic.” When Howard takes to the stage, Encinitas mandolin player Jay Philips will join him.
Headliners of the concert include violinist Jamie Shadowlight and jazz musician Daniel Jackson to name a few. The concert will feature a wide variety of styles with other bands as Bogota’s Toto Mundo.
The event will also host a silent auction and a raffle with prizes donated by local restaurants and businesses.
“Nobody has to participate in anything,” Howard said. “They can come and hear the music.”
The money raised will be going towards his trip, in a way, Howard explained. The money will help to defer some of the medical costs accrued by his recent eye procedures.
Howard has spent almost two years working to refit his boat the Avalo, which is the diminutive of the Buddhist word for compassion, to not only prepare it for the voyage, but to also accommodate for his sight. “I have every confidence it’s all going to work out, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Flicka is legendary for ocean travel, Howard explained.
“They’re very small boats, but they’re extraordinarily well designed and built,” he said.
Howard is expecting to embark on his voyage at the end of October or early November, depending on the hurricane season.
The benefit concert will be held Oct. 1 at Humphreys Backstage from 1 to 4 p.m. There is no cover to attend and Humphreys will be selling food and drink at discounted prices. Humphreys Backstage is at 2323 Shelter Island Drive.
More information may be found at insightsailing.com.