Jakub Koucký is an adventurer who dives into everything head first. He never gets bored, loves adrenaline and especially lovers water and the sea. He’s been in a wheelchair since birth, but still manages to do more things than most able-bodied people. He got completely hooked on yachting, which levels the playing field on board.
We talked about what it's like having a disability on a yacht, but also about travelling, sharks, diving and barriers. About those in cities and those we have in our minds. Get inspired. Setting sail and fulfilling your dream is easier than you might think!
How did it come about, sailing for the first time? Was it always a dream of yours?
That's many years back. I’ve always enjoyed the water. And indeed all sports. 11 years ago we founded a non-profit organization dedicated to adrenaline activities. And that led me to water more and more. I started to ride on water skis, on rafts ...
And then came diving and everything water-related. All I had left to do was yachting. It was relatively inaccessible at the time, and nobody had much experience doing it. And then, by chance, I met a man who rode a yacht every year. So we agreed to give it a try.
How did it turn out?
And it’s there that I found out that it didn’t take much to be able to control the whole ship. All it takes is for the winch and everything else to be to hand at the back, and then a wheelchair user can not only sail, but actively engage in all things, driving, controlling the sails. Which of course I regularly do.
We were together in Croatia for the first time about 9 years ago . It was an autumn cruise, so sailing with all the trappings, no relaxing holiday or sunbathing, it was really all about sailing.
Do you have a skipper's license?
The limitations of diving are probably less than on a yacht?
And how do you get around on a yacht?
Being used to it since childhood makes it natural for you?
I've persuaded people to do a lot of activities and they’re always looking for reasons why not to do it. Eventually they do it and they love it. They discover they can just handle it.
So it's possible for several disabled people to be on board, even when it's beyond their imagination?
I dive into everything head first and see for myself
What surprised you on a boat for the first time?
The only thing I didn't really know if I was going to suffer from sea sickness. Well, of course I did in big waves :) Like anyone else. I don't spend too much time below deck, that would be bad for me fast. I spend the whole week above deck and mostly sleep there when the weather allows.
And what causes wheelchair users the biggest problems?
And the toilets on board are a problem for some. I can fit, but I have to go sideways, I have wide shoulders. Otherwise, I go in the sea. With everything that goes along with it. In the end, it’s the best 😊.
You don’t have to deal with these problems yourself much….
I'm the type that dives head first into everything to see for myself. And when there is a problem, I don’t call it a problem but a challenge. It's not an unsolvable problem, it's a challenge and a solution has to be found.
And that's how I try to approach everything and I have to say that a solution has always been found. It's all about a positive attitude. But a lot of people tell me that I am a “special case", an exception that can’t be used as an example. I can't judge that myself 😊.
And what would you recommend to other disabled people who want to go?
So far so good, I haven't fallen overboard yet
What boats have you taken, is there a better option for disabled people?
Have you ever considered a special barrier-free boat?
Is there anything a charter company could do when they know that a wheelchair user will be boarding?
And I always feel like a nuisance wanting an engine on the dinghy. Lots of wheelchair users can’t paddle and when you have to pull the wheelchairs to the shore, they have to go back and forth four times.
I can't imagine dedicated mooring spaces for the boats. But the charter could anchor the boat as close as possible, perhaps even sideways. Or reserve a short-stay place just to board the crew. But I don't really know if the benefit would be so great.
But it seems stupid for me to speak for everyone. I have few ailments. I'm not even addressing steps. You can get off the wheelchair, but for some it can be undignified…
Do you take anything special along on the yacht?
Where do you like to sail the most?
How often do you go?
In truth, those who need more help would probably have a problem at the extreme end - you have to help yourself. Especially in tricky situations. Maybe a year ago, we were hit by a hurricane, and it was pretty funny ....
What did you do, did you shelter?
We shone a torch on the wheelchair and sea urchins were already gathering
What are the barriers in marinas?
First, the gangway floated up, then him... but, of course, not the wheelchair. We shone a torch on it and the sea urchins were already gathering 😊. The others wanted to leave it there until morning, but it would have been destroyed by then. In the end, we grabbed it with a hook on a rope. The chair survived.
Therefore for the disabled it’s always best for the pier to be at the same level as the stern. And for some, anchoring sideways is best with the right side to the pier.
And the marinas themselves?
I don't understand how someone can get bored
How do you break down the barriers? How do you help other disabled people overcome fear, not be afraid to give it a try?When people are scared, I always try to get them to focus on positive experiences. But it is different for yachting. Rather, people find it strange to remain in one spot for a week and do not know what to do on board for a whole week. They think it's boring. As if you’ll just be lying around like on an ocean liner. They don’t understand that you get to go where you want, and it is superb sailing when the wind blows ……
Are you ever afraid of getting bored on the boat?I don’t get it. I can't say I ever get bored, even when there is no wind. We toss out a rope, pull ourselves behind the boat and make a toast to Neptune ... Or you just look at the beautiful scenery, other boats, learn, try the sails .... For me it's a breeze.
I generally don’t understand how someone can get bored. But today, you can do whatever you want, nothing limits you. You don’t need to be rich to be able to do something ... you can go running, bike, pick mushrooms, read, walk, learn new things. There are numerous options available today.
In the evening I'm sometimes upset that I have to go to sleep. That I'm losing x number of hours when I can't absorb any new information or make some progress.
What else do people fear?A lot of people think it's very expensive. Believe me when I tell you that if you order your boat in advance and have your own captain it actually costs less than a beach holiday.
So I'm trying to drag friends along. Persuade them to form a group that will sail regularly and get the word out to the world. It’s possible. And it's no problem at all. Like a lot of things when it started, it was exclusive, but now commonplace today. Such as golf or scuba diving.
Do you like scuba diving a lot?I love diving and I'm sorry that yachting can't be combined with diving. For me it would be a wonderful diversification. I don't like to swim too much. If I could dive too, I’d be completely happy. But it’s true that if you want to enjoy true sailing under the sails, you wouldn’t have any thought or time for it.
I’m tempted by diving with sharks. I was diving with them once in an aquarium in New Zealand. There were about 40 sharks, one was about 4 metres in length with a mouth like Jaws.
Doesn’t it scare you?I really like sharks and admire them, they are incredible animals. And because I was in Australia, I'm not afraid of them. Once, one came up to me and tapped my forehead with its nose. Well, I had wide masked eyes. When he found out I wasn't food, he swam off :)
Have you been sailing elsewhere other than in Croatia?
Where did you train?
What was that boat like? Probably a lot different from a recreational yacht?
On the road is often better than home
Do you have a lot of activities, what else do you do?
When you compare, what's the difference than at home?
In Australia, everything is wheelchair accessible and there is a level playing field for wheelchair users. But then you go to East Timor, where they subsist solely on agriculture and fishing ... Those people don't really have anything. And there is nothing barrier-free. But everything’s still possible there. There you feel a sense of family cohesion, harmony with people who simply have not been so lucky in life. And they are nice and friendly people. I walked across the city on foot, when there was a step, somebody helped ...
What is it with us Czechs? The past? The unwillingness of people, disinterest?
In what way?
And if people can’t even take care of this, then why would they address creating places for people with disabilities or making their life easier. So I don't care about anyone making things easier for me and I don't even think it would be the right way.
I like Australia's system. Wheelchair users pay for public transport. But the transport is truly barrier-free. Why let a pensioner, a wheelchair user and all these people go for free? Why not use the tax and money to redo the stations? I miss the logic here. And of course, if you get something for free, you don't appreciate it.
What are you looking forward to in the summer? What are you going to do?I wanted to go to Croatia. By car because I only know it from the deck of a boat. And because I'm tireless, I wanted to add something meaningful and map the barrier-free facilities. If I manage it, I'll be glad ...
And I would like to change one thing that really gets to me. A lot of people are looking at barrier-free arrangements needing to be done solely for wheelchair users. There are also parents with children, prams, seniors. Why separate it? Wheelchair accessibility is for every single person. Everyone can end up on crutches, in a wheelchair and grow old.
You've travelled a lot, can you handle more challenging trips now?Um ... I've been planning to travel somewhere for almost two years. I always wanted to take part in a trip for a foundation. I wanted to shoot video and photos, the proceeds would go to foundations, companies would also contribute. But I enjoy travelling, I don't want to spoil it. So I'm saving up now so I can go without any obligations and travel where I want. And not let anyone dictate to me what I should say in every interview ...
Where?Australia. I've been there twice and I've always gone through one part. Now I want to connect it all and drive around it. And I want to go alone. I want to have time to take photos, fly drones and shoot video. If I went with someone, it would limit me or them. And I want to pick up on the pitfalls by going alone. How to get around, what to take ... There will be no one to help me with a heavy suitcase. Plus I have contacts there, if I get stuck, I’ll always have someone to contact.
If it’s a success, do you want to continue?This will be a kind of test run for me 😊 And then I want to continue. South America appeals to me, Africa, I’d love to go to Alaska. I’ll save Europe for my retirement, although I’ve kind of been in retirement since I am 18 😊 ... I’ve already travelled a bit, but now I want to explore more distant places.
I enjoy independent travel. Meeting the locals. Spending time with them. It enriches you. You realize that they have nothing to eat but are still very happy. And here people don't know what to do with all their money, and they're unhappy.
Apart from the hurricane, have you had any other edgy sailing experiences?
Every experience pushes man forward. That's why I plunge into everything head first. Coming to premature conclusions whether something will happen or not… we could all still be in the trees.
To finish, share with us the most beautiful experience you’ve had at seaIt’s impossible to say. Just being on board is truly beautiful 😊
I love to sail a butterfly. At that moment the ship looks completely divine. And I enjoy the speed, the tilt of the ship. When you know the limits of the boat. That's great and I like it. Playing with it, adjusting it, tuning it… .that is incredible fun for me.
And the sea, fresh air, physical activity and good mood. In any weather. I don’t mind, even when it rains. Just water to water 😊 It belongs together. Man is fully-equipped for it. Even when I’ve gone on a voyage with all the equipment, I’ve still ended up with a wet neck anyway 😊 - and it was great. I really enjoy it.
And I'd love to compete in a race. Something amateur.
Come with us next year at Easter 😊 A boat for tourists was successful this year.So I’ll wipe the floor with them next year? 😊
We look forward to it. Thank you and we wish you fantastic sailing and travelling experiences!