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Case story

A dream journey becomes possible with electric actuators

Anders Lehmann is paralysed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair, but that does not stop him from realising his dreams. He wants to sail across the Atlantic and be part of the crew on equal terms with the others. This requires certain adaptations to the boat, including a specially designed wheelchair console. Anders designed it himself and chose to use LINAK actuators for the adjustment mechanisms.

Anders Lehmann with wheelchair console and boat

Click and read the follow-up after returning home

July 2023

Anders has always been interested in sailing, and fortunately, he was able to continue this interest even though he had an accident in 1999 in which he broke his neck. On the water, where there is more space and everything moves at a slower pace, it is possible to steer a boat, even if you are paralysed from the neck down, like Anders.

 

The first boat

Unfortunately, when Anders began researching wheelchair access in the sailing world after his accident, few options were available. Therefore, he set out to create one himself: "I originally trained as a production engineer and have always been passionate about technology. Despite it taking a little longer, I could still use the digital drawing programmes I used before the accident. As such, there was no reason why I could not develop a boat for disabled sailing myself," says Anders.

The goal of Anders' first boat was to ensure anyone in a wheelchair — regardless of how they manoeuvre their wheelchair — should be able to sail it. Thus, he developed a wheelchair platform that used the movement of the wheels to steer the boat: "We have had numerous wheelchair users out on the water, and it brings me great pleasure to show, particularly children with disabilities, that they too can steer the boat. They can participate on an equal footing with others and are not limited."

Anders and his crew members have sailed both the Baltic Sea and the inshore Danish waters with the first boat. However, Anders had a boyhood dream of a grander journey – across the Atlantic.

 

The wheelchair console

To fulfil his boyhood dream, Anders needed to purchase and construct a new boat specifically for that purpose: "The entire project was based on the premise that my health would allow me to undertake such a long voyage. Being paralysed and in a wheelchair, one faces the inherent issue of pressure sores and ulcers. I cannot remain in a static seated position for extended periods," explains Anders. Thus, he set about designing a unique wheelchair console that would allow him to adjust his seated and lying positions while sailing.

"I knew I wanted to use LINAK® actuators to adjust the console. I have previously had three wheelchairs equipped with LINAK actuators that performed well, making LINAK an obvious choice for me," Anders explains, continuing: "Furthermore, I know that Bent Jensen, the owner of LINAK, developed an actuator to assist a friend in a wheelchair during the company’s early days – this told me that LINAK would be inclined to offer assistance and possesses the right competencies."

Anders was correct, because when he approached LINAK about his actuator requirements, he received sponsorship for all the products. "I use four LINAK actuators on the console. An LA20 to elevate the seat, an LA36 to tilt the seat from side to side, an LA33 to tilt the seat back and forth, and another LA33 to adjust the backrest. The movement of the waves is in fact beneficial for me, but it is also vital that I can adjust the console if, for instance, we need to sail in a crosswind for several consecutive hours," explains Anders.

The backside of the wheelchair console with actuator adjustment.
 
 

Follow-up – back home

 

March 2024

Anders Lehmann is now back home in Denmark after his journey across the Atlantic Ocean. We caught up with him to find out how the journey went and if the LINAK actuators worked as they should.

 

Anders Lehmann on a boat, sailing on the open sea.

 
 

"It was a huge experience", says Anders Lehmann. "It was both a pleasure, hard work and a relief that it was actually possible."

Before being able to cross the Atlantic Ocean, the boat was sailed to the Canary Islands. And already on this first part of the journey, Anders and the crew had many experiences: "Among other things, we were fined for sailing too close to an oil rig in the North Sea, we had engine problems in Spain, and around Portugal, we followed a lot of dolphins".

 

Crossing the Atlantic

The journey from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic Ocean went via Cap Verde. The eight crew members spent a total of 20 days on the crossing. Anders says: "It was incredible to sit out there in the middle of the ocean, knowing that it was 2000 kilometres to land, no matter which way I looked. It was almost meditative to be so far from everything. All we could see was the blue sea. In those 20 days, we only saw four sailboats and a sperm whale – so we were very much alone out there".

"The trip certainly lived up to my expectations. I got out of the daily grind, and I was on an equal footing with the others in steering the boat. It was a great experience!", says Anders.

Another advantage for Anders was that the weather was nice and warm. As he puts it: "Normally I struggle to keep warm here in Denmark, and I need to be wrapped up well. There was no need for that when it was 26 degrees Celsius in the middle of the ocean. It was great that I did not need so much care from my four helpers".

 

Powerful actuators

Anders spent most of his time at sea in his wheelchair console, which doubled as a chair and could be converted into a bed. The console worked well: "The actuators worked really well – they worked as they should for the whole trip", says Anders and continues: "I need to change my position just a little bit several times an hour, so that I do not sit completely static for too long. I used the actuators for that, and I have no complaints – I was really happy with it".

However, Anders was a little nervous that he had chosen actuators that were a little too powerful for the purpose: "I was responsible for making sure the wheelchair worked and did not break. And actually, I realised that it was a nice feeling that the actuators were not under pressure, but had enough power".

Anders Lehmann on a boat, lying on a console converted into a bed.
 
 

The future

Such a long trip takes its toll on any boat, and it now needs some maintenance. But once it has been refreshed, Anders will be back on the water: "The plan is to make a few short trips to places like Oslo in Norway and Bornholm (Danish island in the Baltic Sea). And then we are going to take other people with disabilities out on the sea again, just like we did on my old boat. It is great to get out on the water", Anders concludes.

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